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Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Text: opening speeches at historic EU Bishops' Conference
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 This is the first time so many bishops from across Europe have been in England, not just since the Reformation, but since the Synod of Whitby in 664. There was an argument then between Rome and the Celtic Church about the observance of Easter. St Wilfred, speaking for Rome, said: "The Easter which we observe we saw celebrated by all at Rome. We saw the same done in Italy and France. We found the same in Africa, Asia, Egypt, Greece and all the world, wherever the Church of Christ is spread abroad, through the various nations and tongues; except only among those and their accomplices in obstinacy: I mean the Picts and the Britons who, foolishly, in these two remote islands of the world, and only in part even of them, oppose all the rest of the universe." And there was I thinking euroscepticism was a modern invention! The interesting thing is that it was the King of Northumbria, one of the northern kingdoms of Britain, who settled the dispute with some remarkable words: "I say unto you that Peter is the doorkeeper, whom I will not contradict but will, as far as I know, and am able in all things, obey his decrees, lest, when I come to the gates of the kingdom of heaven there should be none to open them, he being my adversary who is proved to have the keys." We owe that remarkable account to the Venerable Bede. It has an immediacy which shrinks almost to nothing the gap of fifteen centuries which separates Whitby then from Leeds today. What is striking is the vibrancy of the faith of the men, and women (for they met in the monastery of St Hilda, one of the great innovators of the early church in Britain), of that time. We are meeting at a time when many of our Christian values are still looked up to: the European Union has its roots in that Christian tradition though its values are not exclusive. Yet fewer people go to Church. 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. Support for the institutional church within our societies is weak. But the search for faith is strong. Witness of the Church in its ministry to the poor and disadvantaged is as strong as ever. Changing circumstances demand a new partnership between clergy and laity. Not a challenge to the authority of the Church. But is a challenge to its leadership and adaptability. Last week I attended a Semaines Sociales meeting in Lille, with 4,500 Catholics from 30 European countries. Catholic men and women from all walks of life working out how they can mobilise their faith to create a society in Europe which reflects our values. I look forward to sharing our experience in a similar way. I have only to look at the issues under our first agenda item (Christianity's significance and role in Europe today) to see how many challenges we face at the same time: fewer believers, fewer priests, the speed of social change, the stress on the consumer, and individual choice. How we proclaim our faith, while honouring, and working with, other faiths. At one level, Whitby, fifteen hundred years ago, looks simple: Rome won. At one level, it was the tradition of Saint Columba, the local saint, versus the authority of St Peter. But Rome only "won" when the secular authority, the King, was persuaded and could carry others with him. "The King having spoken," says Bede, "all present, both great and small, gave their assent and, renouncing all the more imperfect institution, resolved to conform to that which they found to be better." Here we rejoice in the collegial responsibilities which we share informed by the unique authority of Peter. We all take comfort from that. Again I welcome you most warmly and now ask Archbishop Kelly to give a short reflection on the Catholic Church in these islands. Archbishop Patrick Kelly I begin with a flower: a red rose. We meet in the county called Yorkshire: its flower is a white rose. I am from Lancashire, the county of the red rose. There was once war between the two counties. Lancaster won and the Duke of Lancaster became King of England. Still, today, at banquets in Lancashire the first toast is: "Her Majesty the Queen, Duke of Lancaster". Notice: Duke, not Duchess. At a recent dinner the Duke of Edinburgh said as a toast was prepared: "And what does that make me". I add a flag: the Union Jack: three crosses: Saint Andrew: Saint George: Saint Patrick. Scotland: England: Ireland. Wales is not in the flag: but Wales is part of the United Kingdom: In these islands we have four countries: one Kingdom: one Republic: three parliaments: one assembly: four hierarchies: three Bishops' Conferences, one of which covers the Republic and part of the Kingdom. Do not be surprised if you find our relationships with the rest of Europe politically, culturally, economically, spiritually complicated. I come to a name: my own: Patrick Kelly: an Irish name: my father came from Donegal in Ireland. But when I was at school in Preston, in Lancashire, my name was unusual. Most of the boys in Preston Catholic College had names like: Turner, Wilkinson: Bamber: Arrowsmith: Southworth: Barlow: all very English: and the last three names of Saints: the same families who during the hundred years between 1540 and 1640 suffered fines, imprisonment, death for the Mass and the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome. The Catholic community here cannot be understood without that thread. 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. I give you an etching: a drawing using only black ink: in the middle of the 19th century, tens of thousands of people emigrated from Ireland: most went to the United States, escaping from the injustice, poverty, famine, disease which devastated Ireland. But tens of thousands came to Liverpool and other English cities. It seemed poverty and disease followed them to Liverpool. Whole families died of cholera: priests died serving them: the drawing is of the ten priests, all English, who died in one parish, Saint Anthony's, Liverpool, in one year. The story of the Irish, and what they became, doctors, nurses, teachers, politicians, is a huge part of our story. But in places like Liverpool some of the religious tensions, inseparable from Ireland's story, found new territory. It is only 30 years ago since Archbishop Heenan was the focus of bitter demonstrations. But on Pentecost Sunday 1982, the day after his visit to Canterbury Cathedral, Pope John Paul II was greeted rapturously in Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral. Relationships between the Christians of these islands have changed and are still changing. I end with Liverpool's other Cathedral: The Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King. About two thirds of the congregation were not born in England. 400 nurses from the Philippines work in the nearby hospital. We are an increasingly multi-cultural, multi-racial Church. But one reason must make us stop and think: 1,000 less children are born in Liverpool every year: the demographic situation across much of Europe cannot be ignored. In parts of this diocese and the neighbouring diocese of Salford, over half of new born babies are born to Muslim families: in one town 80 per cent of those born to a married couples are Muslim. Justice: peace: nation: race: culture: faith: freedom of worship: freedom of religion. Iraq: France: Turkey: the Holy Land: England: Wales. In the prayer of Solomon: "Give me the wisdom that comes from you..." Bishop Amedee Grab, President of CCEE By way of introduction, I should like to offer a reflection on Catholic identity in Europe today. There seem to be two important questions. How do others see us? And how do we see ourselves? The answers to these questions give us two images of the Church that are naturally going to be different, but if the difference between the two is too great, we have to admit that we have a serious communication problem. The great teachers of the Middle Ages were right when they said: Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur. In the language of today, that means simply that, if communication fails, it is we who are trying to get the message across who are to blame. But in our continent there are also some difficult factors over which we have no control, objective obstacles to evangelisation. In the first part of my introduction, I shall try to give a brief description of how the Church can be perceived from outside. Catholic spirituality in the context of so many other religious approaches "on offer" today For many of our contemporaries, the sacramental life of the Church seems to be just one of many spiritual choices or "possibilities", in a world where the "right to choose" is seen as vitally important. We have to admit that the vast majority of our fellow citizens in Europe do not really know us in any meaningful sense, but rather on a superficial level and with many misunderstandings. It is true that, even where the practice of the Catholic faith has faded, many elements of "our" culture remain in local traditions and celebrations, but very often the roots and the reason for these customs are no longer known.... We are often seen as anachronistic or as just another element in the folk history of the culture of the country where we live. Many "practising" Christians know about and appreciate the positive steps along the path of ecumenism. Wherever Christian communities are still separated, people involved in the life of the Church are generally really hopeful that there will be greater unity. But it seems to many people who are far from Christian life that our divisions are insurmountable, especially in those cases where the media and public opinion succeed in painting a negative picture. Every division within the Christian world is a weapon in the hands of anyone who is unsympathetic or even hostile to Christianity and to religion in general. In some situations it is true that we are still a long way off the unity Jesus wants - for example, in our relations with Orthodox Christians in some countries. But, even here, as we heard in the words of Patriarch Alexei of Moscow when he thanked the Pope for returning the icon of the Mother of God - theotokos - of Kazan, there are precious signs of that hope we should never lose. It has long been said that the 21st century will be the century of biotechnology and also, therefore, the century of bioethics. It is curious and, in a way, a great comfort to see how, even when there is anything but total agreement on ethical questions, people always want to know what the Catholic Church has to say on these topics. Even in this area we are often not understood, and so we have to try to communicate more clearly; but it is worth recognising that the Church is one of few institutions with a clear position on morality and the value of life. This situation allows us frequent opportunities to share the teaching of the Gospel and the tradition of the Church with others calmly and serenely. Education has always been a high priority in Christian tradition, even in those times when some accounts of history would have us believe the light of reason almost went out. In fact, not every historian recognises the Church's contribution to the first universities, or what the monasteries and their schools did for learning. In many countries on our continent, there has been a progressive secularisation of the education system; even in countries that were spared communist repression, Catholic schools have had to struggle either to exist, or for the right to decide on the content of the curriculum. Some people see "faith" schools as one of the causes of social division and violence, and so they would like to suppress education organised on religious lines or in accord with religious beliefs. At the same time, many bishops have said that, in recent years, there has been an increase in the number of parents - even those who do not claim to belong to any religion - expressing a preference for schools with a religious ethos. Catholic schools in some countries have a high percentage, sometimes even a majority, of pupils who are not Catholics or Christians. This fact could be positive and encouraging, but one ought always to try to understand the real reasons behind the choice these parents make. Democracy and tolerance - what is the position of the Catholic Church? Life in the Church is amazingly diverse in the different countries and cultural areas of Europe. In some countries, a minority of people with strong, well articulated convictions are convinced that the Church itself should be a democracy.... For others, who live in very different circumstances, the Church is too much a "slave to fashion". Ecclesiological models do not pop up in a cultural desert: everyone who belongs to the universal Church is conditioned by his or her own human and social experiences. Most of us in Europe today live democracy in one way or another. In theory, the development of civil society ought to guarantee everyone the same rights. But we often hear influential people say how they would like to prevent the Catholic Church playing a part in political and democratic life. We live in a culture that prizes tolerance, but some are more tolerated than others! Tolerance is what is preached, but some find it hard to tolerate the Church speaking publicly. The tendency to confine religion to the private sphere is as much part of life in the West of Europe as it is in the East. It is a product as much of the communist vision as of a certain kind of liberalism. Negative reactions to the Church and to other religious communities are based on an image of the Church and of religion that is far from the truth we know. How can we best respond to this? Two major risks we face Avoiding the Cross - Christ should always be at the centre of our vision When we speak of the present state of the Church, of our problems and our plans, we can give the impression that we use certain criteria of "success" and "failure". But where do we get our criteria? From a world where everyone is expected to obey the rules of the market? From a vision of humanity dominated by performance and efficiency? What are the criteria according to which Christians can assess their contribution to the evangelisation of Europe? One thing is certain: if we look to Christ crucified, we have a different key for interpreting reality, where success has hardly anything to do with the concepts of success normally used in Europe today. This was the great challenge in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, where John Paul II reflects on the experience of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. The Holy Father offers us a meditation on the meeting between the apostle Philip and some Greeks who were in Jerusalem for the Passover pilgrimage. "Like those pilgrims of two thousand years ago, the men and women of our own day - often perhaps unconsciously - ask believers not only to speak of Christ, but in a certain sense to show him to them. And is it not the Church's task to reflect the light of Christ in every historical period, to make his face shine also before the generations of the new Millennium?" (No. 16). The Holy Father encourages us to discover "pastoral initiatives adapted to the circumstances of each community" but at the same time he asks us not to lose our way in too many new plans - in reality "the programme already exists": it "has its centre in Christ himself" and "does not change with shifts and times of cultures, even though it takes account of time and culture for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication" . Together with the Pope, we can and must say that, in this new Millennium, "our gaze is more than ever firmly set on the face of the Lord" . Do we feel like members of our culture or are we "in competition" with it? "The synthesis between faith and culture is not only a requirement of culture, but also of faith.... A faith that does not become culture is a faith not fully accepted, not entirely thought out, not faithfully lived" (John Paul II, Letter Founding the Pontifical Council for Culture, 20th May 1982). With these words the Holy Father expressed his conviction that the Church should be closed to nobody and should have no fear of the dominant culture. On the contrary, she has to develop a style of communicating that will allow true dialogue, where the truth is not hidden but shines for all to see. The Catholic Church, above all in Western Europe, has been forced to face up to some basic questions and almost to re-orientate herself in the face of the many challenges that have developed in the heart of culture in the last three or four centuries. For the Churches in Eastern Europe, especially for Orthodoxy, this encounter with secular modernity is becoming a decisive issue. In recent years, representatives of Orthodox Churches, too, have begun to promote a dialogue between faith and culture. The clearest - and currently most problematic - case of the clash between religion and modernity is that of Islam, which is going through a very difficult time from the point of view of the co- existence of faith and culture. This is one field where a serene dialogue between Christians and Muslims could bear much fruit and open the way to resolving some of today's sticking points. But there are very different approaches to this issue within Christianity itself. We have to realise that fundamentalism is not found only outside Christianity or exclusively outside the Catholic Church. What are we to do when faced with this challenge, which comes from a disdain for all that is, so to speak, not converted"? To speak of the inculturation of the Gospel does not mean abandoning the heart of the Gospel; it is, rather, a sign of the desire to share with our contemporaries what the Gospel can valuably contribute to our culture. The evangelisation of culture is not Catholic imperialism or proselytism - it simply corresponds to the straightforward recognition by Catholics that it would be a sin of omission not to go into those public spaces and institutions that are today's equivalent of the Areopagus in Athens. 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 By God's Providence, we are meeting in a country that gave the Church and the world the witness of a unique man, who was a true European and a true Catholic, but at the same time a true citizen of this kingdom. I am thinking of Saint Thomas More, who has been honoured in recent years as the patron saint of men and women involved in political life. When King Henry VIII asked Thomas to declare allegiance to him, he replied with the sense of humour that never deserted him even in the face of death: I am the King's good servant, but God's first. Here is a Catholic Christian who, far from despising the culture of the country in which he lived, respected it fully. But what he saw clearly is that, in certain situations in life, compromise is impossible. In the final analysis, the King's command had to take second place to the commandments of the King of the Universe. I do not think we could find a more suitable model for the way we are to serve the Catholics and all the other citizens of our continent. Saint Thomas More, pray for us.
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