FRONT PAGE Combating poverty together Churches and European Institutions: a pre-eminent commitment The Plenary Assembly of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) that was held in Brussels April 14 to 16 was primarily dedicated to the fight against poverty. An informal meeting with the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy took place April 15. The dialogue with the European Council President. The meeting with Herman Van Rompuy, president-elect of the European Council, of remarkable human and professional stature, was the highlight of the works of COMECE's Plenary Assembly. President Van Rompuy underlined the momentous relevance of the humanistic tradition and of the Christian roots of contemporary Europe and stressed the need to relate them to contemporary circumstances whilst preserving the fundamental values of the past and present times. "This President is capable of recovering Europe's soul", was the comment recorded by SIR Europe at the end of the meeting. Combating poverty. The main theme of the closed-door meeting was the fight against poverty and social exclusion. "The Bishops have suggested to the EU decision-makers that they broaden the current tools used to measure poverty in order to include not only material criteria, but also the relational dimension", states the final message. It is an issue of primary importance to the Church, a major actor in the fight against poverty in Europe. The bishops blame politicians for "having failed to address the problem at its roots to prevent future crises", such as the ongoing crisis, which "has further aggravated the conditions of poverty of too many European citizens". In fact, the bishops underline, "it is a moral crisis marked by excesses and by a confusion of values", notably the unbalance between individual and collective interests. The bishops conveyed their commitment so that this issue, along with other issues, may become the object of the "open, transparent and regular'" dialogue between the EU and the Churches that has recently entered into force with the Treaty. "The speech of Johannes Laitenbe rger, Head of Cabinet of the EU Commission President, helped us acknowledge the fact that growth depends on economic and social planning and that the fight against poverty ought to be understood not only as a symbolic gesture but also in terms of concrete social commitment", Italian COMECE member Msgr. Gianni Ambrosio, bishop of Piacenza-Bobbio, told SIR Europe. In defence of religious freedom. In the institutional dialogue with EU political decision-makers the bishops of EU Member States "wish to address the question of religious freedom in the world". In fact, the document drawn up by the COMECE bishops in recent days will be submitted to MEPs and to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton. The Report titled "Religious freedom, Pillar of the Human Rights Policy in the external relations of the European Union", the bishops explain in the final statement, "reminds us of the origins of the right to religious freedom, mentions the violations of this right throughout the world and proposes a series of recommendations for the attention of European decision-makers in order to promote this fundamental right". Nuclear disarmament. The bishops developed the "Proposals for European policy" in view of the upcoming Conference on the revision of the Treaty on Nuclear Non-Proliferation, (May 2010). In the document the bishops suggest to "promote nuclear disarmament on the principles of transparency, verification and irreversibility, but also to include more of civil society in this fundamental debate for the future of Mankind". "In realty - Msgr. Ambrosio explained - nuclear disarmament is a very delicate theme, since it is necessary to make a distinction between nuclear programs for peaceful purposes, which characterises European countries such as France, and war. A theoretical distinction is easily done. However, there are very subtle differences when it comes to practice. For this reason the issue ought to be addressed at national level". Climate and migration: questions that must not be overlooked. In his remarks to SIR Europe Bishop Ambrosio, referred to two crucial "emergencies in contemporary Europe, which institutions ought to value accordingly. One is climate change: after the failure of the Copenhagen summit - mentioned by COMECE president and bishop of Rotterdam Msgr. Adrianus van Luyn in his opening address - the theme of "climate justice" and the change in lifestyles ought to be recovered. The second question that Europe must jointly face is migration. "A basic instruction ought to grant equal attention to reception and to the respect of fundamental rights", Msgr. Ambrosio said. "If the EU provided the grounds for this proposal it would greatly benefit national policies". During the plenary meeting the bishops listened to the experiences of those involved in projects for the fight against poverty and social exclusion such as Fr. Georg Sporschill sj, founder and director of the Concordia project, which provides assistance to children in Romania and Moldavia. A liturgy was officiated in suffrage for the victims of the Polish plane crash, and in commemoration of bishop Josef Homayer, former COMECE president, recently passed away. Czech Republic, Albania, Germany Czech Republic: 80th plenary meeting of the bishops On April 20-21 the 80th Plenary meeting of the Czech Bishops' Conference will take place in Prague. The major superiors of male and female religious orders will attend it, among others. On April 19, a solemn Mass for the 5 th anniversary of the pontificate of Benedict XVI will be celebrated in the city's cathedral. Msgr. Vojtech Cikrle, bishop of Brno, will deliver the opening remarks, followed by the speech of the new archbishop of Prague, Msgr. Dominik Duka on the national and international situation, the Press Office of the Czech bishops referred. The following themes will be addressed during the two-day meeting: "The Bible for the Young", the 2010 pastoral plan on the Holy Scriptures and the Second Vatican Council, the catechesis for Roma people and the preparations for the Congress on Divine Mercy due to be held in 2011. During the plenary the bishops plan to elect the new president who will replace Msgr. Jan Graubner, whose second mandate has expired. The new president will meet journalists on April 21st in a press conference on the outcomes of the meeting. Albania: 150 years of the seminary and the solidarity with the Pope Albania celebrated the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the National Pontifical Seminary in the city of Shkodër, where the Seminary is located, on April 16 - with reflections on priestly service by bishops and priests - and on April 17 - attended by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education. His Eminence presided over a Eucharistic celebration in Shkodër's cathedral attended by the Country's bishops, and by the bishops from the Albanian areas of Kosovo and Montenegro. On April 18 the Cardinal presided over a mass in St. Paul's Cathedral in Tirana, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the pontificate of Benedict XVI. In the welcoming greetings to the Cardinal, Msgr. Rrok Mirdita, archbishop of Tirana-Durrës, President of Albania's Bishops' Conference, conveyed the fidelity of the Church of Albania to the Holy Father, "which has been ongoing even during the Communist persecutions". In his homily His Eminence recalled the Mass for the inauguration of the pontificate of Benedict XVI and delved into the images of the fisherman shepherds offered in the Sunday Gospel readings. The cardinal reaffirmed his "solidarity to the Holy Father and to his mission as Pastor of the Church". In Albania, the Prefect of the Congregation pointed out, "an obscurantist ideology wished to cancel God from men's hearts with force, and annihilate the importance of the Roman Pontiff and of his teachings. Today I gladly convey here with you in Tirana my gratitude to the Lord for the gift of Peter and of his successors. And in particular today I thank the Lord for having bestowed upon us five years ago the gift of the current Pontiff Benedict XVI. It is with happiness that we jointly convey our full communion with Him. In particular we wish to convey our filial solidarity to the Holy Father for the unjust and slanderous attacks he has been a victim of over the past days". Germany: the "Festival of Faith" in Trier The "Heilig-Rock-Tage", the festival of faith of Trier, was inaugurated on April 16. This year's edition, ongoing for 10 days, focuses on the special relationship between the dioceses and Bolivia. In fact, for 50 years Trier has been supporting projects in the Country, which is among the poorest in South America. The partnership began in 1960 with the commitment of Msgr. Matthias Wehr, the then bishop of the German city, and of the then bishop of Sucre Msgr. Jose Clemente Maurer, for the realization of pastoral structures in Bolivia. In the following years many projects were implemented with the cooperation of different organizations. Today the trail of Germany's support is to be seen across the entire country. Some 80% of the Bolivian population describe themselves as Catholic, but the Church has to face the competition of Evangelical sects which are very active, especially in the social and educational environments. Bolivia is forced to address ongoing social tensions. Only three out of ten workers can live on their salary, while many families depend on the remittance of relatives living abroad. Also the global crisis has its effects: these phenomena are monitored by the ecclesial institution Fundacion Jubileo in La Paz, which representatives of the diocese of Treviri will visit with their colleagues from the diocese of Hildesheim, that also has a partnership with Bolivia. Portugal, Cyprus, England Portugal: bishops' plenary assembly The 174th Plenary Assembly of the Portuguese Bishops' Conference was held in the Casa de Nossa Senhora das Dores at the Marian Sanctuary of Fatima from 12 to 15 April. In his opening address, the President, Archbishop Jorge Ortiga of Braga, took inspiration from Benedict XVI's Encyclical "Caritas in Veritate", declaring that the blind logic of uncurbed lucre and consumerism must be replaced by a joyful distribution of wealth so as to transform the economy into a means of support for poor people and those most in need". Celebrating the Pope's birthday with affection, less that a month before his pastoral journey to Portugal, the bishops expressed all their joy: "We are convinced that the ceremonies and meetings presided over by the Holy Father will be able to reinvigorate our faith, revive hope and re-inspire our pastoral commitment of justice and charity". Referring to the question of the abuse of children committed by priests, the bishops reaffirmed their determination to exercise close vigilance: "In view of the gravity of the problem, both in terms of the administration of justice and the support we need to give to the victims, we will abide closely by the recent instructions issued by the Holy See, without forgetting the necessary reinforcement of prevention and collaboration with the competent civil authorities, in total respect for human rights". A few months ago the Portuguese Bishops' Conference began a study on the general state of the Portuguese Church, called "Reviewing the Pastoral Ministry Together", which has finally led to the presentation of a working document: "It's a synodal itinerary that will conclude at the end of 2011, and that is aimed at establishing links and defining synergies of collaboration between Church institutions, religious congregations and apostolic movements, both at the national and diocesan level" - says the final communiqué of the plenary assembly. The document also reports the approval of a Pastoral Letter, soon to be published, on the missionary dimension of the Church and of the Christian, which will have the title: "So that you also should do as I have done to you". Cyprus: Maronite and Latin Catholics salute the Pope "A great opportunity to promote human and Christian principles and values based on freedom, forgiveness, peace and reconciliation". This was stated in a joint notice by the Maronite and Latin Catholic Churches of Cyprus, about Benedict XVI's visit to the island, from 4th to 6th June 2010. "The Pope - it states - will walk in Saint Paul's footsteps, and in a spirit of brotherhood he will meet the Orthodox Church, the other denominations and all people of good will. Let's get ready, then, spiritually and culturally, to welcome the Pope. His presence is a blessing for us". The notice, as well as announcing the schedule of the journey, also contains the address of the new website of the Maronite archeparchy of Cyprus (www.maronitearcheparchy.org.cy), with a greeting by the Maronite archbishop, mgr. Youssef Soueif, the explanation of its contents, which give priority to information (organisation, activities, mission…) and educational aspects of the Church, which have to do with the announcement of the Gospel and the character of the Maronite Church. England: growing membership of Scouts Renewal for growth: the Scouts have done just that. Membership of the very popular youth movement increased by 16,500 members last year, reaching almost half a million, the fifth consecutive year of growth and the largest increase in the last 38 years. Yet, between the mid-1970s and the turn of the millennium, the followers of Baden Powell seemed in irremediable decline, with a drop in UK membership from 600,000 to less than 440,000. "We had to improve the way in which we proposed our message", explains Wayne Bulpitt, the new UK Chief Commissioner of The Scout Association, "So that's why we have made our programme more adventurous". The activities being offered today include so-called "zorbing", rolling down a hill in gigantic plastic bags. And that's why Bear Grylls, an expert in adventurous expeditions, whether it be crossing oceans in an open boat or scaling Everest, has been chosen as Chief Scout. The movement has also begun expanding in inner city centres, precisely the areas that are associated with the highest levels of crime and poverty in Great Britain. Groups have been founded in Tower Hamlets and Southwark, among the most socially challenging districts in London, by volunteers who wish to improve their communities. The growth in membership is especially due to adolescents. There are now over 65,000 adolescent Scouts, a growth of over 26% since 2001, but even among adults the movement is strong. Some 2800 adults enrolled in a programme for leaders, a growth of 3.1% over 2009. Some 33,500 youth are on the waiting list because there's a shortage of volunteers. SPAIN Enlightening instructions The bishops' plenary meeting: solidarity to Benedict XVI On Monday April 19 the 95th Plenary Assembly of the Spanish Bishops' Conference opened in Madrid. Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, President of the Spanish Bishops' Conference, and Apostolic nuncio in Spain Msgr. Renzo Fratini, delivered the opening speeches in which they read the message to participants by the Holy Father. Education and religious symbols. Msgr. Renzo Fratini conveyed his joy for the beatification of the young Jesuit priest from Spain father Bernando de Hoyos on Sunday April 18 th, whom he described as a "devoted witness of the love of God, a role model of priestly life, and a zealous proclaimer of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus". Referring to the fifth anniversary of the Papal election of Benedict XVI, Msgr. Fratini said: "In an ever-more secularized society, Christian formation and education is needed in the family and in the school environment. Parents' role is irreplaceable. They hold the right to guide their offspring according to their own religious beliefs and moral code". The nuncio commented on the "delicate issue of the presence of religious symbols, notably the crucifix, in the public environment" and recalled that it represents "protection, comfort, fortitude in pain", and it is a sign "of the profound cultural roots in Spain". Sins that hurt the soul. "We render grace to God, who called to Peter's See a man with such visionary and generous devotion to serve the Church", said Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela in his prolusion, recalling the fifth anniversary of the papal election of His Holiness Benedict XVI. On April 21 the Spanish bishops will officiate a Mass in the Santa María la Real de la Almudena cathedral in Madrid to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Benedict XVI's pontificate. "The serious sins and crimes by brothers in the priesthood and by religious who abused of children, betraying the faith entrusted to them by the Church and by society as a whole, are wounds inflicted to our souls", His Eminence said. "The same sins were committed by lay faithful with ecclesial responsibilities. Those committing such offences are responsible to God and to human justice. Like other bishops' conferences, we have taken and will continue to take more care and adopt adequate means to prevent child abuse by priests, so that nobody will think that priestly service or consecrated life is compatible with these sins". "We support Benedict XVI". "Such a serious violation of chastity, justice and charity, abuses of a responsibility that should be placed to the service of these virtues and to the witness of the love of God". At the same time the Spanish bishops' pledge their "support to Benedict XVI", just like "the great majority of the faithful. There have been attempts to tarnish his figure by making people believe that abuse has been common without the pope and the bishops taking determined action against it". For His Eminence, "Even one single case of abusing a single child is too much". "Nor can we admit that insidious allegations are spread in the form of slander against the priests and the religious in general, and by extension, against the Pope". "We support Benedict XVI", reiterated Cardinal Rouco Varela. "To him we owe the enlightening instructions for the renewal of Church life in fidelity to the Second Vatican Council, along with his three encyclicals, his devoted Magisterium with the highly-attended audiences, the calling of the Pauline Year and the Priestly Year", as well as the dialogue with "culture, with the Jewish brothers, with Islam and the other Christian confessions" along with the measures taken to prevent and sanction abuses on minors and in other Church environments. The Pope's forthcoming trip to Spain. The prelate's speech also addressed other issues: the expectations for Benedict XVI's forthcoming visit to Santiago di Compostela, for the Compostelan Holy Year, and in Barcelona for the consecration of the Sagrada Familia church, the masterpiece by architect Antonio Gaudì, due to take place November 6-7 2010; the special meaning of the last visits to Spain by John Paul II and Benedict XVI; the new Spanish saints and blessed proclaimed in recent years or due to be proclaimed soon. As relates to the theme of the family in Spain, in the framework of the upcoming consecration of the Sagrada Familia church during Benedict XVI's visit to Barcelona, Cardinal Rouco Varela tackled the serious crisis affecting marriage and the family, partly caused by recent laws on social cohabitation. His Eminence defined the new bill on abortion "a serious step backwards that reaffirms the culture of death". POLAND Tremendous Mourning Tribute to the Smolensk victims As of Saturday April 17 the Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife will lay to rest in the crypt under the Silver Bells Tower of Wawel Royal Palace in Krakow. The sarcophagus has been placed against the atrium wall that will also include a memorial tablet of all the other 94 victims of the Smolensk plane accident. Creating a shrine, the atrium will include an urn with earth from Katyn, where in 1940 by order of Stalin 22 thousand Polish officers were killed. The Polish presidential couple will rest next to Poland's most famous kings of the 700, King John III Sobieski famous for the victory over the Turks, General Wladyslaw Sikorski who led the nation during Nazism. "Nations do not die", wrote card. Angelo Sodano in the funeral liturgy sermon that the Dean of the College of Cardinals wasn't able to celebrate due to the irruption of Iceland's volcano. The prelate hopes that the tribute paid by the Polish President and "the reverent words to the victims of Katyn, that the late President wanted solemnly to honour, will help create in Europe and worldwide a new era of cooperation and peace". The dean also added: "Experience has taught us that the Polish people are capable of reacting with dignity to the challenges of life and finding the way towards a better social co-existence and stronger national unity". 100 thousand people gathered on Saturday in Warsaw to pray for the victims of the plane accident in Smolensk, and 150 thousand who attended on Sunday the Presidential couple's funeral liturgy in Krakow, are a clear proof. The late President was a controversial figure but was applauded by the crowd lining in front of St Mary's Basilica in Krakow when the current head of Solidarnosc, Janusz Sniadek in his prayer remembered Kaczynski's faith in God and his country for a "better Poland". True tribute to the victims. Bronislaw Komorowski, President of the lower chamber, currently governs the country. "We will truly pay a tribute to the victims - he said - if our arguments will be for the common good." Without falling into easy rhetoric he was able to express words of gratitude to President Dmitrij Medvedev and acknowledged the concrete help shown after the disaster and unexpected and spontaneous compassion of the Russians. Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz who conducted the funeral mass also addressed President Medvedev, who arrived in Krakow, notwithstanding the volcanic ashes. Highlighting that the Smolensk tragedy "has freed among people and nations great resources of good", he stressed "a reconciliation between the two Slavic nations" "who play an important role in our generation". Gestures of reconciliation took place in the Basilica. The last farewell was given following the Latin and Byzantine rite, attended by the Russian President and other orthodox countries. Leaving from Krakow, the Russian President Dmitrij Medvedev said: "we are now ready to undertake serious efforts to help our countries to find a solution to our problems". A Polish person asked for the truth in Stalin's killings during the 50-year dictatorship but as it has been remembered these days, even only mentioning the Katyn forest publicly was severely punished by the regime. "Unveiling the truth of that massacre was the real reason of Lech Kaczynski's trip to Katyn". Leaving Krakow, the Russian President, answering an appeal remembered that "the univocal assessment of the Katyn tragedy by Russia places the blame on Stalin", but also added he is willing to carry out a "thorough historical investigation". A catharsis. The nation's mourning for the tragic Smolensk plane accident has turned into a Polish catharsis. The country came to terms with its recent past, with that of 70 years ago, and the one further down in time and also the difficult period of Lech Kaczynski's Solidarnosc. Perhaps the cloud of ashes protected Poland during its intimate intense moments from the participation of Barack Obama, the Spanish King and Queen, the heir to the throne of England and many heads of state. BY ANNA T.KOWALEWSKA (POLAND) SHROUD In the last night Card. Schönborn: the mystery of Holy Saturday "Considering the events of the 20th century, to be concerned with the Holy Shroud, the day in which God is silent, seems more timely than ever", declared the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. His Eminence delivered a reflection on the mystery of Holy Saturday past April 12 in the Dome of Turin, on the occasion of the Exposition of the Shroud (ongoing until May 23rd), delving into the significance of Christ's 'descent' into hell. "Christ 'experienced' death to redeem mankind, as the Shroud impressively expresses". Today "it is not easy to understand this article of faith", since the idea of a hell that contains the souls of the dead, "seems completely remote from our contemporary rational conscience". His Eminence points out that we must "make an effort to understand precisely when the questions appears complex and obscure". Dwelling, not eternal damnation. "Kingdom of death", "inferior world" and "hell" "do not indicate the place of eternal damnation - the Cardinal said. - Rather, they are the dwellings of the dead". The Biblical accounts "confirm Christ's descent to the dead as the real experience of death, as the expression of deep solidarity with mankind". Also for Church Fathers, "In death Christ shoulders the destiny of mankind and experiences the separation of the soul from the body. He is dead in the body, while his soul descends to hell, within the redeeming vision of God". Like Esther. "Nocturnal dialogue" is a brief play written by Edith Stein in 1941 for the name-day of her Prior, Mother Antonia, in the Dutch convent of Echt. The drama by St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, the philosopher and Carmelitan nun killed in Auschwitz, focuses on the figure of queen Esther, who appears before the Prior, and along with other righteous of the Ancient Covenant, experiences Christ's "descensus ad inferos": "We dwelled in peace but with no light; always longing for light… that night the Cross disappeared, but a new light suddenly shone in the darkness…And within moments He was amidst us". Eastern Church icons. Adam, Christ and a male nude figure lay on the ground. These are the main characters of the most ancient depictions of the Easter icons in the Eastern Church. The icon is titled "Anastasis", resurrection. Differently from the Western Church, which links the theme of resurrection to the image of Christ risen over his tomb - explained Cardinal Schönborn - the Eastern Church "depicts the intimate relationship that exists between the Passion and the Resurrection of Christ and human redemption: through the Passion of the Redeemer human passion comes to an end. In his descent to the dead, he calls out the fallen to the light of life". Silence and Expectation. ""The silence of Holy Saturday, of which the Shroud speaks to us in such an imposing way, is the attitude of expectation of the whole earth", His Eminence said. "It recalls the silence that preceded the Creation, when everything awaits the powerful works of God. Death fails to keep the Son of God dead. His descent to the world of hell is triumphant". Abandonment and glory. According to Hans Urs von Balthasar, who tackled the theme of the descent to hell - also since the visions of Adrienne von Speyr had a "strong impact on him" - "at the centre of death lies the experience of God's abandonment of Jesus". "Only then did Jesus truly suffer human death". "On Holy Saturday, Christ's death does not bear in itself, in the first instance, any triumphalism" - the Cardinal underlined - "A glance at the Shroud confirms this; we experience it in the liturgy of Holy Saturday which is extremely simple, without any Eucharistic celebration". "At first the death of Christ leaves the disciples and all the Church in consternation, affliction and fear. The faithful are called to silence, recollection and adoration. The Salvation accomplished in the descent to hell on Holy Saturday is still concealed, death still preserves its power, which it will be stripped of thereafter". Cardinal Schönborn highlights another aspect: glory. Jesus Christ has truly died, but he did so to "seize men from death and lead them to the Most High". The descent to hell, His Eminence said, quoting from the Meditations on the Holy Week of Cardinal Ratzinger, "means that also on the last night in which no word penetrates, in which we are all like children crying, abandoned, there is a voice that calls us, there is a hand that takes us and guides us. The insurmountable loneliness of the human person has been overcome." AIR SAFETY EU below the ash cloud How to deal with such phenomena? The situation remains "fluid", just like the ash cloud generated by the eruption of the Icelandic volcano of Eyjafjallajoekull. And while the forces of nature proceed without impediment and without abatement, Europe, and not only Europe, is having to come to terms with the problems of air traffic (thousands of cancelled flights), with the economic damage created by the closing down of airspace and flight cancellation, and with the interconnected question of air safety for the travelling public. Coordination at the European level. "The inconveniences and problems linked to the eruption" of the Icelandic volcano "have so far created" in the transport sector "an impact even greater than that following 11 September with the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers", admitted Siim Kallas, Commission Vice-President and Commissioner for Transport, in a briefing to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 20 April, analyzing the situation in the European skies created as a result of the volcanic eruption (even if the presence of MEPs at the session was severely reduced as a result of the very problems Kallas described, which had made difficult transport between their countries of residence and the city in Alsace). Kallas touched on the questions of air safety, the emergency situations created in the transport of passengers and goods, and evaluated the huge financial losses being run up by airlines. "A pan-European approach for situations of this gravity is needed", he insisted, emphasizing two points in particular: "First, safety standards must be respected because people's lives are at stake. Second, after what has happened, each minister ought immediately to have taken decisions at the national level, but once again the reality on the ground has demonstrated that a European coordination is needed to tackle crises of this scale". Passenger safety comes first. Kallas outlined the agreement reached by transport ministers of the 27 EU member states at their meeting on 19 April. "We have unanimously agreed to intensify European co-ordination, based on the spirit of collaboration. Second, we all agreed on the priority that needs to be assigned to flight safety. And third: we established the urgent need to open the skies in a progressive manner, while continuing to keep developments monitored by Eurocontrol", the European agency that monitors air traffic safety. The Commissioner also recalled that the ministers of the 27 have "indicated the approach recommended in a package" called "European single sky". It's in line with this, he said, that "we ought to take into consideration various aspects" of the situation created in recent days, including possible financial interventions with state aid for the airlines most badly affected, "to safeguard businesses and jobs". According to Kallas, "it's also essential to resume flights to avoid creating panic. At the same time, the rules for the protection of passengers need to be applied": for example, their right to receive precise information from airlines about flight delays or cancellations, receive assistance, and be given the chance to choose between a refund or be re-booked on a later flight. Kallas, lastly, confirmed that "the situation is evolving", also consequent on the natural phenomena in Iceland and the meteorological conditions in the hours ahead. Continent divided into three areas. Spanish Secretary of State Diego Lopez Garrido, who holds the rotating chair of the Transport Council, then clarified in detail the decisions taken at the EU. "Europe has been divided into three areas: first, that in which there's greater concentration of volcanic ash and in which flights are banned; second, that is which the presence of volcanic ash is lower, and in which flights can resume, but in which atmospheric controls still need to be carried out every 6 hours; and thirdly, that where the ash cloud has not yet reached and in which no restrictions on flights have yet been imposed". In the meantime, what's needed at the national level is to "guarantee that citizens be offered valid alternative systems to travel": and here the key role of the railways and road transport comes into play. Among the many inconveniences registered throughout the continent, the work of the European Parliament itself suffered significant variations due to the difficulties faced by MEPs, administrators, commissioners and journalists in reaching Strasbourg. There were many defections from Northern Europe, the UK, and the Scandinavian and Baltic countries. The plenary session, planned for 22 April, has been shortened by one day, while the political groups have decided to go ahead with the scheduled debates, though without voting on any legislative provision. The debate between MEPs' was rather heated: many deputies deplored the delay in taking appropriate action on the part of national and EU authorities; others criticized the "experts" who had failed to give precise indications, thus leaving the airlines in a state of uncertainty; yet others maintained that in too many cases passengers had been left in the lurch, both in airports and in railway stations, with serious inconveniences for citizens.