Last week I had the pleasure of joining the Diakoniewerk in Gallneukirchen, Austria, for the annual celebration day. Each year on Ascension Day they open their doors and invite people from all over to learn about their work, to discuss and to see the work many of their service users do. Diakoniewerk is not just active in Upper Austria but works across Austria as well as developing services in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovakia and Romania. Like many diaconal organisations they act with the commitment to reduce the causes of unjust social conditions and preserve the dignity of those who are served by their work.
A number of things made an impression on me. Firstly, the support Diakoniewerk has from the local community. The opening church service was full to overflowing of people from the local area including local politicians and community representatives. Throughout the day it was expected that thousands would join the festivities. Secondly, I was impressed at how staff and users of services were working in partnership to deliver and participate in the activities of the day. They all seemed to be having a great time and there was, at least to me, a sense of pride in showing what is possible if we work together. Thirdly, the awareness of the need to co-operate in Europe was refreshing to hear at a time when there is much talk, and prospective reality, of a fracturing Europe. Many questions were being asked about how Europe can address the increasing number of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, how
Europe can work to reduce political rhetoric that is xenophobic, and to reduce those causes of unjust social conditions. There was a place for Europe and European co-operation in their work.
So I came back from Gallneukirchen, a small town in Upper Austria with big ideas. Ideas as to how to build more opportunities for European co-operation, more thinking about how to engage service users more in our work and motivated to continue our work engaging with our European partners.
Have a good weekend