Pope John Paul II on the state of the Church in Europe

Source: COMECE

On Saturday, Pope John Paul II issued the Apostolic Exhortation "Ecclesia in Europa". The basis for this document, which deals with the situation of the Church in Europe at the beginning of the 21st Century, is the discussions between bishops that took place during the second Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Europe on 1-23 October 1999. COMEC has sent us the following report. The Apostolic Exhortation is addressed to all Christians in Europe bishops, priests and lay people. It calls on all believers always to bear witness to the source of Hope that lives in them Jesus Christ. The document begins with an analysis of the current situation in Europe, which, with the enlargement of the European Union, finds itself at decisive point in its history. It notes contradictions in society: alongside inspiring witnesses to Christian faith, the document notes religious indifference and a forgetfulness of God; while there is hard-won individual freedom and prosperity, there is also anxiety about the future, an "existential fragmentation" (No 8,2) and diminishing solidarity. According to the Exhortation, Europe is not so much a geographical area as a cultural and historical concept, which, "Christianity in fact has shaped, impressing upon it certain basic values" (No108,2). The document cites as an example of this, "the affirmation of the transcendent dignity of the human person, the value of reason, freedom, democracy, the constitutional state and the distinction between political life and religion" (No 109,2), as well as the values of modern Europe itself, "which has given the democratic ideal and human rights to the world" (No 108,2). An essential characteristic of Europe, which is also expressed in the enlargement of the European Union, is its original openness: the achievement of reconciliation and the peaceful integration of Europe, realised to a large degree in the European Union, requires Europe to be more strongly aware of its responsibility for the world and to commit itself to peace, freedom and justice in solidarity with poorest. The document is concrete regarding the challenges of globalisation: the struggle for a just global economic order, the contribution to social, economic and political development in disadvantaged areas of the world, the readiness to accept refugees and the willingness to integrate migrants. In the section on the European Institutions, the document pays tributes to the efforts of the process of European integration. It emphasises that, "the presence of Christians, properly trained and competent, is needed in the various European agencies and institutions, in order to contribute with respect for the correct dynamics of democracy and through an exchange of proposals to the shaping of a European social order which is increasingly respectful of every man and woman, and thus in accordance with the common good" (No 117,2). Particular mention is made to the European ecclesiastical organisations: the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE) and the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), "which, in following the process of consolidation and enlargement of the European Union, favours the sharing of information and co-ordinates the pastoral initiatives of the European Churches involved" (No 118,2). In a final appeal in the Exhortation, the Holy Father calls on Europe to, "Be yourself. Rediscover your origins. Relive your roots!" (No 120,3). He challenges Christians to help realise this process of integration and reconciliation through a "theological, spiritual, ethical and social dialogue" (No 119,1). In the same sense, COMECE a few weeks ago published the document "Let us open our hearts", an invitation to examine European integration from a Christian perspective.

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