Ecumenical bridge-building in Rome

January 23, 2014

OR and Herman LiikanenAfter two frenetic days in Beijing, where together with the Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem I had a number of fruitful discussions with the Chinese authorities, on 16 January I began a short visit to Rome. Needless to say, there is a striking contrast between the capital of the world’s largest emerging economy, a place of constant transformation for the past three decades, and the timeless majesty of the ‘Eternal City’.

My mission to Italy was an ecumenical one, both spiritually and politically. Spiritually, the highlight of the mission was certainly Saturday evening’s Ecumenical Vespers at the St. Maria Church and St. Birgitta Convent in Trastevere. The Archbishops of the Evangelical-Lutheran and Greek-Orthodox Churches of Finland, Kari Mäkinen and Leo, and the Catholic Bishop of Helsinki, Teemu Sippo, performed the ceremony with sanctity and elegant simplicity. The event took place on St. Henry’s day, which symbolises the Christianisation of Finland some 850 years ago. It was followed by a supper kindly hosted by Sister Marja Liisa and her colleagues. In the end, we asked the Salo Church Choir to perform Finlandia, and there was no dry eye in the house.

Another event of European bridge-building – this time North-South – took place in Villa Lante, the Finnish Cultural Institute in Rome. Dr. Alpo Rusi, Finnish Ambassador to the Holy See and Switzerland, gave an interesting talk on Finland’s diplomatic relations with Vatican and the pursuit of peace in 1943-44. We had earlier met with Monseigneur Camilleri of the Holy See to discuss topical foreign policy matters.

skannaaminen0001With some fellow Eastern Finns, we ended the event by doing a solemn pilgrimage to the nearby statue of another Eastern Finn, Herman Liikanen, “Un Garibaldino finlandese”, originally from Ristiina, late in life in Hirvensalmi. He is a great-great-uncle of Governor Erkki Liikanen, my predecessor as the Finnish Commissioner. The Finnish-Italian connection goes thus much further than to Kimi Räikkönen at Ferrari!

I naturally met in Rome with Finance Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni for an exchange of views on current issues. We did this over a working lunch kindly hosted by the Ambassador of Finland, Petri Tuomi-Nikula. The Italians around the table were perplexed to be offered a glass of ‘Finnish limoncello’ at the end of the meal (made from lemons grown in the garden of the Ambassador’s residence in Rome), but they seemed pleasantly surprised upon tasting it.

Like Rome, Italy as a whole is admired around the world for the wealth of its art, architecture and food, and for the vibrancy, creativity and resourcefulness of its people. The underlying strength of the Italian economy is built on these longstanding assets. The challenge Italy faces is how to change those factors that are currently preventing the country from taking full advantage of its great strengths and substantial growth potential.

The broader upswing in Europe is creating a more benign climate for a recovery in Italy too. For the sake of the Italian people, I sincerely hope that Italy will seize this occasion to step up the momentum of reform, address with determination the well-known challenges the economy faces, and release once again its great potential. As the eurozone’s third largest economy, that would be welcome news not only for Italian citizens, but for all Europeans. And for all those who, like me, admire Italy and want to see the country and its people succeed.

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