Europe: a plural and passionate reality
45th Meeting of the general secretaries of Europe’s Bishops Conferences
Bucharest, Romania, June 30 - July 3, 2017
Europe is today more than ever a complex reality. "Plural" Europe also includes the need to tackle challenges together. A pluralist culture strongly marked by secularism and individualism is gaining ground. Nevertheless, the will to share common values, founded in Truth, along with desire for God is growing more and more, especially among younger generations.
The Catholic Church recognizes in the present time an opportunity to live and witness with renewed commitment the joy of the Gospel of Jesus: a God who has assumed the human condition out of love, providing humankind with his support even at the most difficult times of history. By accompanying European pluralism in the light of the Christian message, the Church wants to witness this love of God to humankind.
This year the annual Meeting of the General Secretaries of the Bishops' Conferences of Europe took place in Bucharest, Romania, at the invitation of the Romanian Catholic Bishops' Conference. Ten years after the entry of Romania into the European Union and ten years after the European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu, which gathered in September 2007 more than three thousand representatives of all Christian Churches in the continent, the General Secretaries met in the Romanian capital city to discuss The role of the Church, in particular of the Catholic Bishops' Conferences, in a pluralistic Europe.
Plurality in Europe
1) Cultural plurality. The issue of migration, a certain cultural breakup among generations, the crisis of the educational system, which has hardly been able to promote the transmission of the values that sustain social relations, and the crisis of the institutions, are some of the aspects that testify to the fact that Europe is no longer a homogeneous reality. To face the challenges posed by these issues seriously, it is necessary to restore a decisive role to reason. If the latter is supplanted by emotion, as is often the case in our Post-truth times, violence in language and acts becomes an everyday practice.
2) Economic pluralism. Despite some signs of recovery in Europe, the gap between the rich and the poor is growing steadily. There are also big differences among the European countries, between cities and rural areas, and between generations. There is a special concern for the growing number of unemployed young people (a very high figure in some countries) as well as for the growing number of elderly people living in a state of extreme poverty. If past ideologies, aimed at undermining the diversity of people, have led to totalitarian and violent regimes, the rise in economic inequality among people and between countries leads to new disturbing tensions. Solidarity and charity, together with justice, are not empty words, but urgencies that the Church never ceases to call to mind.
3) Political plurality. The current healthy political plurality fails today to clearly express anthropological visions and models of society. For many years, in many European countries, the social fracture between citizens and political leaders has been marked by increasing abstention on the occasion of elections. The renewal of political action goes through politicians and parties who propose policies aimed at protecting human dignity and promoting the common good.
4) Social and religious pluralism. Different opportunities in access to services, the aging of the population, and hardship in living the ethnic or religious differences, all these issues emphasize the need to promote a "culture of coexistence" that does not turn diversity into adversity, or identity into isolation. The challenge of respecting identities and forms of belonging, even within the Church, has been a topic debated by the general secretaries.
5) Ecclesial 'pluralism'. Even within the Church, pluralism is a big challenge. As Pope Francis reminds us, unity is multifaceted, and even in the Church there are many ways of living the faith. If improving our management of internal community debates and our witnessing Church communion is needed, it is wrong to consider diversity of opinions as a sign of division. True Christian dialogue, in fact, means to freely and responsibly listening to even conflicting opinions.
In all these challenges, Incarnation is the reading key and at the same time the style through which the Church intends to live in this European pluralist context and accompany humans in their fragility and their fair aspirations. God is always present! Only by remaining faithful to Jesus Christ today and by promoting the principles and values expressed in her social teaching, the Church can respond to her mission of serving humankind. Only if she is free from preconceptions, forms of exploitation, and sometimes even from laws that do not totally respect the right to religious freedom, the Church can provide this service and bring her own specific contribution. This perspective seems particularly problematic today because of the tendency to separate faith from reason and increasingly confine religion to the private sphere of human life. That is why it seems necessary to expand the spectrum of public debate, and to remind Christians first of all the exercise of the value of prudentia christiana and the need to defend the life and dignity of every person at all costs.
Passion for Europe
In Bucharest, the General Secretaries also discussed topical issues such as: family ministry, pastoral care for migrants, the preparation of Catholic Bishops' Conferences in view of the forthcoming Synod on Youth, the protection of children in the Church, dialogue with Muslims, and ecumenical dialogue. The program also included the presentation of the annual reports of CCEE and Comece, and some updates on the activities of European Institutions. In this regard, they have repeatedly recalled the passion of the Church for Europe and her commitment to be a prophetic and critical voice when ideologies and private interests come on top of the common good and the respect for healthy differences.
Among the speakers of the meeting, we would like to mention the Metropolitan Latin Archbishop of Bucharest, H. Ex. Msgr. Ioan Robu, the Greek-Catholic Bishop of the capital city, H. Ex. Msgr. Mihai Fraţilă, the Apostolic Nuncio for Romania and the Republic of Moldova, H. Ex. Msgr. Miguel Maury Buendía, and the representative of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Reverend Father Constantin Preda, who brought the greetings of Patriarch Daniel of Romania.
Prof. Daniel Barbu, a professor at the Faculty of Political Science of the University of Bucharest, offered the participants a reflection on European culture and the reality of the Church.
On Saturday, July 1st, the General Secretaries attended a prayer vigil with young people in the parish community of Santa Maria Regina in Cioplea-Bucharest.
On Sunday, July 2, after the celebration of the Holy Mass in the Latin cathedral church of Bucharest, presided over by H. Ex. Msgr. Ioan Robu, the General Secretaries had the desire to get to know some important places in the past and recent history of the local Catholic community, so they paid a visit to the Greek Catholic cathedral church of the city, to the Jilava Prison - place of martyrdom of blessed Vladimir Ghika and other witnesses of the faith under the communist regime – and two works of charity, specifically two children's homes, one in Singureni and the other one in Voluntari, as well as a church under construction for the Catholic community South of Bucharest.
When they visited the Latin cathedral church of Bucharest, the general secretaries found out with great regret that the ruling of the Ploiesti Court of Appeal of January 23, 2013, which required the Mayor of Bucharest to initiate, follow, and carry out the demolition works of the Cathedral Plaza real estate and to restore the space according to its previous destination (public park) had not been executed.
The "Cathedral Plaza" painful affair involved many actors. Its construction, which has affected the stability of the Catholic cathedral church, had been opposed from the outset by the Catholic Church. Failure to comply with the abovementioned ruling testifies to the climate of suspicion vis-à-vis the rule of law that Romania claims to be.
The general secretaries of the Catholic Bishops' Conferences have lived their annual meeting in a climate of intense brotherhood, and thanked for this Fr. Francisc Ungureanu, Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Romania, who, along with a group of young volunteers, succeeded in creating a climate characterized by an intense spirit of fraternity, prayer, and deep insight in the debates.
The 2018 Meeting will take place in Cyprus from June, 29 to July, 2 at the invitation of H.Ex. Msgr. Youssef Soueif, Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus.