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European bishops stress importance of common free time in EU

By Susan Gately - 24 February, 2018

Catholic Church and Trade Unions demonstrate how social, religious and civic engagement is declining in the EU due to the lack of “common free time and free Sundays”.  

Thomas Mann MEP, addresses gathering.

A panel debate in the European Parliament has highlighted the challenge of reconciling social commitment with increasingly flexible working schedules.  COMECE, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, together with its partners, the European Sunday Alliance, organised the debate on the role of common free time for social, religious and civic engagement and volunteering. The event, hosted by MEPs Evelyn Regner from Austria, and Thomas Mann from Germany, took place on Thursday (22nd February 2018).

According to COMECE, participants “exchanged ideas, experiences and statistics” shaping a dialogue on the effects of the changing world of work on European society, where social, religious and civic engagement is declining due to lack of common free time and free Sundays.

“The issue of synchronised free time for all citizens in Europe is important at a personal level to ensure an adequate time of rest and for social, cultural or sports activities, but also at a spiritual level as a day of rest and religious edification,” said COMECE.

Quoting Pope Francis, they said, “Sunday is a holy day for Christians, sanctified by the Eucharistic celebration, the living presence of the Lord among us and for us. It is necessary to revive this awareness, to recover the meaning of the celebration, the meaning of the joy, of the parish community, of solidarity, of the rest which restores body and soul”.

During the event Agnieszka Piasna (European Trade Union Institute), demonstrated how collective free time is closely related to well-being and civic engagement. “It helps EU citizens to spend more time in activities that promote personal growth and community involvement,” she said.

Agnieszka Piasna from the European Trade Union Institute

Chris Droogenbroeck from a Belgian trade union, said that new digital ways of social engagement could not replace traditional social and civic engagement. Involvement in trade unions was declining, he said, because of more flexible working schedules and “increased pressure while at work”.

The panel debate was the 6th meeting of the Interest Group on Work-life Balance, launched in 2015, by the European Sunday Alliance in order to raise awareness for the need for EU actions aimed at a better articulation of private, family, and work life.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Ireland is represented in COMECE by Bishop Noel Treanor who worked in Brussels with the organisation from 1989 to 2008 rising to Secretary General in 1993, a role he held for several terms. COMECE endeavours to inject Christian values into the European process.

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