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Saturday, October 1, 2016
Conference report: bishops discuss role of Christianity in Europe
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¬†Catholic leaders from 34 European countries met in England for the first time from 29 September - 2 October, to discuss the role of Christianity in Europe. The event ≠ a four-day assembly of the Council of the Bishops' Conferences of Europe (CCEE) at Hinsley Hall, Leeds ≠ was the biggest gathering of senior Catholic bishops in Britain since the Synod of Whitby in 664, more than 1,300 years ago. In a message to the meeting, Pope John Paul II said he would pray that "you will guide your respective peoples to rediscover their common spiritual roots and the enduring wisdom of their Christian heritage". The Holy Father also said he knows that "your commitment to a new evangelisation is an act of faith in the perennial value of the Gospel, which in the history of the peoples of Europe has produced abundant fruits of holiness, education, culture and civilisation". The Pope added: "By your witness believers will be strengthened in their own specific identity and hence capable of building together 'a Christian culture ready to evangelise the larger culture in which we live'." The main issues discussed by the meeting included Christianity's significance in Europe today; ecumenism; the churches and the European Constitution; a Third Ecumenical Assembly; co-operation between bishops' conferences; and CCEE projects, particularly in the areas of evangelisation and pastoral strategy. Looking at the reality of today's Europe and the role played by the UK, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, President of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and CCEE Vice-president, said in his opening remarks: "We come from countries, some of which have lived comfortably alongside the State; others, for years, oppressed by it. We each witness to the same faith but with different backgrounds, experience and testimony." Archbishop Patrick Kelly, Vice-president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and Archbishop of Liverpool, said: "In 1794 we were assured freedom of worship, of cult; in 1825 we were guaranteed by law complete emancipation, freedom of religion. I am convinced one of the most searching issues across this country, the whole of Europe, the Middle East is: what does freedom, not only of cult but of religion, mean for people of all faiths?" Bishop Amedee Grab, CCEE President, set the tone for the discussions with two questions: How do others see us? And how do we see ourselves? He argued that if the answers were very different, it posed a serious communications challenge for the Church. The Church is often perceived as being in competition with secular culture. The Church is seen as one possible spiritual element. It has a vision of life opposite to the ethical values embodied today by medical research and the tendency of faith to be confined to the private sphere rather than public belief. Bishop Grab said: "We are fully, but not exclusively, citizens of this world. This world's values are not enough for us ≠ yet we do not despise them or look down on our culture. Our culture is the context for our mission, and the more we understand and respect it, the less of a problem there will be with our work for this culture and for those who live it Our challenge: to belong to two societies at one and the same time." The delegates spoke of the key issues that their particular bishops' conferences were focussed on, and considered the importance of asking themselves where the Church is going, what the shape of Europe and its Churches would be 20 years' time in the light of the need for evangelisation and the declining strength of the Church in continental Europe. Archbishop Jean Pierre Ricard, Archbishop of Bordeaux, introduced the main theme: the significance and role of Christianity in Europe today. He pointed out that there are moral toxins which Europe has to fight and reject for the sake of its harmonious development: the slide into secularisation, with the phenomena of individualisation and mass production; the tendency to consider religion as a hindrance; and the rise of fundamentalism and terrorism. Archbishop Ricard also spelt out the ways in which the presence of the Church can be a richness for European society: in defending the dignity of each and every person and family, and especially those most in need such as the poor; creating a distinct and proper relationship between politics and religion; forming a truly ecumenical and interreligious dialogue; and bringing about a culture of solidarity in a Europe truly open to the world. Three practical engagements were formulated: to strengthen the dialogue with contemporary culture; to look for a closer dialogue with the Islamic communities in Europe, especially in universities; and to campaign for the defence of Sunday as a day dedicated to God. One of the highlights of the meeting was a visit by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. In his introductory remarks to that discussion, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor spoke about the positive ecumenical experiences of the churches in England and Wales, particularly in the field of theological dialogue on themes such as the Eucharist, ministries and authority. He said there was "no going back" on the ecumenical path, adding: "It is a road without an exit." Dr Williams placed the onus on the importance of "spiritual ecumenism" which comes from recognising that we all belong to the Body of Christ and seeing one another as "a gift". He spoke of the drive within the Church of England for a "mission-shaped Church", dedicated to evangelising and giving a new shape to society. Churches have a responsibility to contribute to the development of society: they are not looking for power, they are seeking a public space that gives them visibility and enables them to fulfil this responsibility. He said the Churches need to develop together a theology and a culture of service. On the future of the ecumenical movement, the Archbishop of Canterbury affirmed that there are uncertainties about the institutional form of unity the Churches will reach, but still the journey has to go on and the ecumenical search continue, through prayer, common witness, meetings, dialogue and authentic friendships. After the initial dialogue between Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor and Dr Williams, the presidents of the Bishops' conferences living in countries where the Orthodox Church is the majority Church pointed out a mixture of "light and dark". On one side, divisions still exist between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches of both rites; persisting mutual ignorance, proselytism, incomprehension. But on the other side, there is growing trust that unity is a gift of God; a new ecumenical commission is being built in Russia; consciousness of sharing common challenges, such as violence and terrorism, is increasing; and meetings between bishops' conferences and holy synods are happening in places such as Serbia. Churches have to free themselves from the anxieties and fears they still bear towards one another and recreate a space of mutual trust. On the basis of these reflections, a discussion about the possibility of a new European ecumenical event took place. The CCEE plenary assembly expressed its gratitude for the official invitation received from the Churches in Romania. The event is seen as a continuation of the process begun with the Basel 1989 and Graz 1997 gatherings. In particular, the following elements were considered important: 1) the assembly takes the form of a process rooted throughout Europe at local level; 2) that it should be a strong moment of spirituality and communion; 3) that it may contribute to a new solidarity between east and west and, therefore, pay particular attention to actively involving the orthodox Churches in the process. A report on the activities of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) opened a discussion on a range of the European Union policy issues of interest to the Church: (1) the constitutional treaty; (2) the Lisbon strategy; (3) migration-related issues; (4) the forthcoming European Commission report on Turkey; (5) bioethical issues that arise in research policy. Particularly attention was given to the Constitutional Treaty, its structure, the import of Article 1-52 and other provisions in religious freedom, the final result of the debate on the preamble, and the ratification process. The anthropological importance of the bioethical issues arising in numerous areas of European policy was underlined. In the light of all these discussion, it is necessary to strengthen co-operation among the European Bishops' conferences. A key issue is the question of evangelisation and of dialogue with other Churches, religions, beliefs and cultures. For this reason a CCEE commission on "evangelisation and dialogue" is to be set up. Besides that, the CCEE networks on issues including migrations, vocations, communications, catechesis and pastoral care in schools and universities, and responsibility for creation will continue their work during the coming year. On Saturday, the bishops were warmly received by the Abbot and monks of Ampleforth Abbey, where Cardinal Basil Hume, a former Archbishop of Westminster and CCEE president, lived for much of his life. The Assembly came to its end with a solemn Mass in Leeds' Cathedral, followed by a reception hosted by the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Christopher Townsley. Source: CCS
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