The Church loves Europe and believes in its future
Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops' Conferences of Europe
Minsk, Belarus, September 27 - October 1, 2017
"The Church loves Europe and believes in its future: Europe is not just a land, but a spiritual task [...] The task of our Council is [...] to find the paths for the voice of the Lord Jesus to return to the ears of ‘European men and women’ in culture and society. Despite the thrust toward isolation, we believe in that unity of spiritual and ethical ideals which have always been the soul and destiny of Europe. [...] The Church strongly believes in youth and holds it in high esteem."
It is with this heartfelt "confirmation of love" for the Europe of peoples and nations, and for the youth of the Continent, contained in the Final Message of the Plenary Assembly, that the Presidents of the Catholic Bishops' Conferences of Europe have closed the works of their annual meeting, which took place this year in Minsk from September 27 to October 1st, at the invitation of H. Ex. Msgr. Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, Archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev and President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Belarus.
(Please find the complete text of the final message at the end of this press release).
In the capital city of Belarus, the bishops have placed the theme of young people at the center of their reflection, in particular the challenge of renewing the pastoral care for youth. Through working groups and a plenary debate, the presidents have shared their pastoral experiences and the right attitudes to be adopted to better respond to the needs, fears, and expectations of young Europeans. To the youth of the Continent, the bishops want to express their great sympathy, made concrete in terms of prayer, closeness, and a patient and loving action based on listening to and accompanying them.
After the European Symposium on Youth Accompanying celebrated in Barcelona last March (for more information, please visit the site), the Plenary Assembly of Minsk is therefore a further time of preparation for the next Synod of Bishops on young people scheduled in Rome for the autumn of 2018. As a result of their reflection, the bishops have adopted a document entitled "Youth, Faith, and Vocation Discernment," which is the answer of the European Bishops to the Synod’s Lineamenta. The document, which will not be published, will be sent to the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.
The second theme at the center of the presidents’ work was Europe, which was also developed in working groups and in plenary. Europe, before being a geographic place - said the bishops -, is a spiritual and ethical task. So also the European Union - a reality that was not at the center of the reflection of the bishops, who looked at Europe as a continent - must recognize itself as a spiritual and ethical task, and not just (or primarily) as a political, financial, economic, defensive …. unit. This is a total reversal, a conversion that, if accomplished, will help the European dream to come true as it should be. For her part, the Church in Europe is aware of her task and she wants to be present with her specific contribution: the proclamation of Jesus.
During the meeting, a reconfiguration of the CCEE Commissions - at the end of their five-year mandate - was presented and approved. In order to better respond to the pastoral needs in Europe and thus fulfill the mission of the CCEE, the following commissions were established: Youth, Evangelization and Culture, Family and Life, and Social Pastoral Care. The Assembly expressed gratitude and appreciation to the Presidents of the previous commissions for the work done.
The bishops then listened to the reports of the Church representatives who closely follow the activities of the European Institutions, showing their appreciation for the service provided by the COMECE for the European Union and by the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the Council of Europe.
In Minsk, the European bishops have experienced the thoughtful and delicate welcome of a Christian community in full rebirth, a strong sign of hope for that part of Europe which suffered martyrdom because of its faith. The testimony that this land - in the center of geographical Europe - offers to the rest of the Continent is at the same time a call and an invitation to all Christians so that they can be corageous and credible witnesses. This dynamism of the local Catholic Church is also accompanied and witnessed by the good relations with other Christian Churches and other religions, primarily with the Orthodox Church in Belarus, whose Patriarchal Exarch, the Metropolitan Pavel of Minsk and Zaslavl, honored several times the participants with his presence at various times of the meeting and by inviting them for a lunch in the metropolitan see.
At the beginning of the meeting, the President of the Republic of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko, met the presidents of the bishops' conferences, as a sign of the good relationship between the State and the Church. Despite some issues still awaiting a fair solution, such as the residence permit for foreign clergy and the restitution of some Church property confiscated during the period of totalitarian communism, the bishops could see the constructive relations with the civil authorities and the common desire to work for the good of the Belarusian society and the integral development of the person.
The meeting was enriched by numerous visits: the Memorial Church of All Saints, the Orthodox Cathedral church, and the National Library, that preserves the oldest printed book in Belarusian, the Bible, thus witnessing the deep rooting of Christianity in Belarus.
Every day of the meeting, the Mass was celebrated in churches full of faithful whose testimony of faith deeply touched the European bishops. Along with the Catholic community in Minsk, the bishops of the Continent prayed for the complex and delicate situations in Spain and Bosnia-Herzegovina, but also for the Ukrainian people to be released from military action so that it can find peace.
On Sunday, October 1, at the end of the plenary assembly, the bishops, divided into groups, went to visit sixteen parishes of the Archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev where they celebrated the Eucharist and met the local community.
The next Plenary Assembly will be held from 13 to 16 September 2018 in Poznań (Poland) at the invitation of the local Archbishop, Msgr. Stanisław Gądecki, President of the Polish Catholic Bishops' Conference and Vice-President of the CCEE, on the occasions of the 1050th anniversary of the arrival of the first bishop in Poland (968) and the centenary of its national independence.
The Church loves Europe and believes in its future: Europe is not just a land, but a spiritual task.
At the plenary meeting taking place in Minsk, Belarus, we have renewed our commitment to participate with enthusiasm to the progress of this Continent, which has great things to offer all of us in the logic of reciprocity.
The task of our Council is to promote communion between the Pastors of various Nations and to find the paths for the voice of the Lord Jesus to return to the ears of European men and women in culture and society. Where can we anchor human dignity if not in Jesus the Son of God who was made man? This is the specific contribution of Christianity to the European identity and two millennia of charity, art and culture are our living witness.
With affection we wish our Holy Father Francis "New and brave momentum for this beloved Continent ".
We cannot fall short of this effort as messengers of good news. The message which we owe to the world is loud and clear, but endowed with poor means: the Gospel of Jesus is the perennial source of European history, of its humanist civilisation, democracy, human rights and responsibilities. And therefore the most secure guarantee!
Despite the thrust toward isolation, we believe in that unity of spiritual and ethical ideals which have always been the soul and destiny of Europe.
In the same way we believe in a continued path of reconciliation which is part not only of history but also of life and which respects the value of the various traditions and religions beyond all extremism.
The openness of religion to transcendence, to relationships of solidarity and to communion have taken on a face in the Gospel and have revealed the unique dignity of every person.
They have inspired the path of Europe, which has not always been easy and has seen hindrances and mistakes. The very phenomenon of migration is enlightened by this soul under the auspices of welcome, integration and legality despite difficulties and fears. We are aware of the effort needed and the shared responsibility.
We express our encouragement to Peoples and Nations so as to react to the strong lure of secularism which tempts us to live without God and to confine Him to the private sphere, feeding the seed of individualism and generating loneliness. It is furthermore evident that openness to life in any stage of progress is an index of hope, and the birth rate is the best index of the state of health of society.
It is exactly youth, the dominating theme of the upcoming Synod of the Church, which represented at the theme of our collegial attention.
Great sympathy emerged on the part of the European Episcopacies. This sympathy translates into prayer and greater closeness as well as a desire to listen and to accompany youth with patience and love.
The Church strongly believes in youth and holds it in high esteem, as a mother with her children.
Other concerns emerged during the proceedings such as the liquid culture we all breathe and the widespread individualist exasperation generating uncertainty and loneliness as well as some conflicts and injustices which wound the great gift of peace.
All this confirms our commitment to walk alongside young people and to encourage them to feel that the Gospel is the proclamation of the great "Yes" to love, to freedom and joy. It is saying yes to Christ.
Our communities are on this path with us and with our priests to be a sign of hope, of communion and of active benevolence. The deep and living root is Christ who speaks to the hearts and minds of everyone on this continent so they may be able to find their calling, beyond politics and economics.
We would like the word of Jesus to reach the heart of Europe. "Do not fear, I am with you". Do not be afraid, ancient Europe, of being yourself. Undertake the path of your fm Fathers again, as they have dreamed you a home for Peoples and Nations, fruitful mother of children and civilisations, the land of open and integral humanism.
Do not fear, be trustful! The Church, an expert in humanity, is your friend. With your gaze towards Christ and the Gospel in your hand, walk towards the future of conciliation, justice and peace.
Photos of the meeting are available here.