“May the light of Thy face shine upon us so that, walking in it, we can see the light of Your inaccessible glory” (Bishops’ liturgy)
June 14 through 17, 2018, the annual meeting of the Eastern Catholic Bishops of Europe was held in the Eparchy of Lungro of the Italian-Albanians of Continental Italy, at the invitation of H. Ex. Msgr. Donato Oliverio, the local eparchial bishop. The meeting, sponsored by the Council of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE), took place in the town of Rende in the framework of the preparation for the celebrations for the first centenary of the institution of the Eparchy of Lungro, which took place on February 13, 1919 with the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Benedict XV, “Catholici Fideles Graeci Ritus.”
The central theme of the meeting, divided into several working sessions, was “The face of an Eastern Church. Theology – Particular Law – Liturgy.” Several Conferences have marked the rhythm of the days and have led the reflection on different aspects of the life of the Eastern Catholic Churches of Europe at the present time, and specifically: The Bishop – Father, Head, and Judge. Some fundamental aspects of the new process of marriage (Motu Proprio Mitis et misericors Iesu); Liturgy and identity between fidelity and renewal; The divine liturgy generates the new man; Peculiar features of the identity of an Eastern Church; Common disciplinary heritage; The inter-eparchial particular law and an open door: the contribution of the Italian-Albanian Church to the ecumenical journey.
The meeting began on the afternoon of June 14 with the celebration of vespers in the Cathedral church of San Nicola di Mira in Lungro, crammed with believers. Participants included, along with the bishop and the clergy of the Eparchy, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches; Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, President of CCEE; the bishops of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Calabria Region, and numerous civil and military authorities. They could also count on the presence of the Apostolic Nuncio in Italy, Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig, who brought the message of Pope Francis in which the Holy Father “emphasised his heartfelt appreciation for this providential initiative aimed at deepening important aspects of the identity and mission of the Eastern Catholic Churches” and expressed the wish that those study days “will foster the bond of unity and communion among the pastors, thus giving a further and courageous impulse to the new evangelization of the European continent.”
The bishops dealt with the theme of the face of a Catholic Eastern Church from various perspectives: historical, liturgical, disciplinary, and ecumenical. They clearly stated that only a greater adhesion and understanding of the identity of an Eastern Catholic Church, in the light of the Second Vatican Council, allows for a better testimony, incisiveness, and pastoral response to the current challenges facing the European continent, and for a true sharing of the treasure of the Christian East in the heart of the Universal Church.
The daily sharing of these days has also allowed to bring into the heart and prayer the problems and the sufferings of so many Eastern Catholic faithful in Europe: the tragedy of the war in Ukraine, the difficulties of the Eastern Churches who wish to live (and do live) the Gospel of Christ and proclaim it to the men and women of good will. Reflecting on the face of an Eastern Catholic Church makes these Churches aware of the pastoral potentialities and spiritual treasures entrenched in their respective communities, which they want to share with the whole Church. The Eastern Catholic Churches in Europe are not closed, but open to the problems, to the sufferings of the many persecuted Christians, their brothers and sisters who especially in the Middle East, live their faith witnessed by the blood of the martyrs of the present days. To this end, the bishops join the prayer of July 7 in Bari, Italy, called by Pope Francis, which will be joined also by numerous Catholic and Orthodox Patriarchs to witness the desire for peace and justice for that land. A land that is loved and visited by God, but for too long tortured, abused, and devastated by men who were forgetful of their own dignity and that of others, and often turned into a bargaining chip for the vile interests of regional or global powers. Our thought of closeness also goes to the many migrants who are forced to leave their homes and their loved ones in search of better living conditions, and our gratitude goes to the communities that welcome them.
The program of the meeting, in addition to study sessions, also included pilgrimages to several important places of faith in Calabria: the shrine of Saint Francis of Paola, patron saint of Calabria and seafarers, and a visit to the Diocesan Museum in Rossano Calabro hosting the “Codex Purpureus”, a famous 6th century manuscript, as well as the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in two temples of the Eparchy of Lungro: the parish church of Santa Maria Assunta in Frascineto and Saint Demetrius Megalomartyr in San Demetrio Corone. The meeting ended on Sunday 17, with the celebration of the Divine Pontifical Liturgy in the Cathedral church of San Nicola di Mira in Lungro. The various liturgical celebrations allowed to pray together with the local community in Greek, in Italian, and in Albanian. These were moments of intense prayer for this Church of Lungro.
At the end of the meeting, the archbishops and bishops expressed their sincere gratitude, first of all to Pope Francis for his encouraging words and to the Congregation for the Oriental Churches through its Prefect, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, its Secretary Archbishop Cyril Vasil’ SJ, and its Under-Secretary, the Most Reverend Fr. Lorenzo Lorusso OP. The Congregation has often helped out with its material and personal support for the Church of Lungro and all the Eastern Catholic Churches. The bishops’ gratitude also goes to the CCEE which intervened in the person of Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco who followed the meeting with interest and timely interventions. They wish to thank also the Italian Catholic Bishops’ Conference for its support for the meeting. Finally, a special thanks to the Eparchy of Lungro in the person of its bishop, Msgr. Donato Oliverio, and all the priests, deacons, and faithful who have worked for the smooth running of the meeting. A beginning of the centenary celebrations and, from all the participants, a wish and a prayer to the Lord to continue to bless this Eastern Catholic Church in the heart of continental Italy, which is always open to the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. In Lungro the face of a Church renewed by the Holy Spirit was experienced, transfigured by the merciful presence of the Heavenly Father and reflecting the goodness and love of Christ the Redeemer in its life and its works. At the conclusion of the meeting, the bishops presented to Mary Mother of God, the Achiropital, the fruits of their work so that they may be presented to God.