Vice-president of the Bradley Foundation (USA)

 

Academic conference: “The Ukrainian cooperative movement”

Opening

June, 12

 

Three years ago, from June 11-14 the Institute of Ecumenical Studies convened its inaugural conference entitled “Friendship as an Ecumenical Value.” That conference opened with the words of Benedict XVI spoken by a participant in that event the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic. “The consequence is clear” Pope Benedict wrote, “we cannot communicate with the Lord if we do not communicate with one another. If we want to present ourselves to Him, we must also take a step towards meeting one another. I am aware that expressions of good will not suffice for this. We need concrete acts that penetrate and shakes consciences.”

 

As we are gathered here today three years later on the occasion of the opening of this Ecumenical Social Week “Help Your Neighbor!” Pope Benedict’s call to action read to the audience then helps to clarify our thinking now on the reasons for gathering here to consider the main themes of this conference, and in the coming days of this program, help chart a course of concrete acts for the future which have within them the capacity to penetrate and shake consciences. Concrete acts, neighbor helping neighbor, serving to form and strengthen the moral bond of trust in this community and in communities across Ukraine. The moral bond of trust, that is, the unspoken, unwritten bond between fellow citizens that facilitates transactions social, political and cultural – empowering individual creativity and justifying collective actions.

 

For the past five years the Bradley Foundation has been a proud sponsor of several significant projects at the Ukrainian Catholic University. One of those projects has been and continues to be the Institute of Ecumenical Studies. The program developed for this week is not only compatible with our grant making activity but in its content is central to our vision about what works in building a vibrant and healthy civil society, central to carving out a public square which allows for the expression of diverse opinions by any and all citizens either individually or through local institutions.

 

The Bradley Foundation’s understanding of civil society, citizen, citizen-believer acting responsibly for their own and the common good in the public square is informed by the American experience, with voluntary associations, religious and non-religious. That experience, the American experience, differs from the European experience even though at the core America’s approach shares with the Europeans and others the fundamental concern that all societies value the concern for the dignity of our fellow man.

 

Certainly, one unique American trait is the emphasis most Americans place on voluntary charity as an important virtue. In a 1977 book, To Empower People, two influential scholars Peter Berger and Father Richard John Neuhaus argue something Americans find uncontroversial (but which is out of the ordinary for Europeans) that people, not governments are best positioned to make decisions of social importance, and that citizen-empowering mediating structures” – neighborhoods, families, churches, and voluntary organizations – should be protected and enabled to flourish. Non-governmental organizations have held a celebrated place in American social history not to be undermined by government interference.

 

While this tendency toward allowing space in society for private associations to fill publicly beneficial roles distinguishes the American political system from those of Europe and Asia, the human impulse to form associations is not at all unusual. It is in our nature as human beings to seek to be in community, social contact with others, to make friends, to help our neighbors. We want after all at the most fundamental level to trust each other.

 

The twentieth century presented the greatest challenge to idea and practice of an empowered citizenry. At one moment the century saw the flourishing of democratic principles, values, and institutions, and, at the same, was witness to the great challenges to all that was democratic. Indeed, the central political debate in the 20th century turned on the role of the government. How big should it be and how much should it be involved in planning the political, social, and cultural structures of society. The more professional experts from their various posts in government guided others’ lives the better off all would be in the end.

 

In the 21st century we have begun a new debate. The central debate of our time is over what it takes to provide for a quality of life. Government is destined to play a role, but not an all encompassing one.

 

Instructive in this regard is the recent tragic events in China. From the moment the earthquake struck on May 12, the New York Times reports, the Chinese government dispatched soldiers, police, and rescue workers in a mass mobilization effort typical of the ruling Communist party. But an unexpected mobilization immediately came from outside official channels. Thousands of Chinese streamed into the quake region and donated sums of money in an unprecedented and unscripted public response. Ordinary people understanding that they need to take action on their own even though their habit has been to follow through strictly the lead of officials. Neighbors helping neighbors.

 

Thanks to easier travel, and more widely available communication technologies, opportunities exist for not only the creation of small local associations but of connecting them to other local, national and international ones.

 

Through the latter half of the 20th century, many people thought the large professional institution of the central government held the greatest hope for mankind. Today, an ever expanding number of private, voluntary organizations in every country in the world mobilize individuals in problems both large and small at the local and national level. These organizations made up of neighbors helping neighbors, creating friendships, building social trust, are emerging as the greatest social and political phenomenon of the 21st century.

 

The Bradley Foundation concluded that the Ukrainian Catholic University working through the Institute of Ecumenical Studies was an institution that understood this turning point in this historical debate over the social, economic and political character of civil society, and the opportunity it presented to start anew with fresh ideas and approaches to building friendships and creating social trust. The Bradley Foundation is pleased to be able to provide modest support to help it continue along this path. Our Foundation’s directors and staff are excited about joining with all the distinguished participants in this social week in celebrating what has been already accomplished and looking forward with hope to the great work that lies ahead.