From 4 to 8 September 2021, the Annual Assembly of the Eastern Catholic Bishops of Europe, promoted within the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, was celebrated in Budapest in conjunction with the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress. This year, after the obligatory postponement of the previous year’s Assembly due to the Covid-19 emergency, the activities were resumed. The theme proposed for reflection was “Eucharist and Synodality”, around which the various conferences in the main hall developed and the reflections and debates among the Eastern Catholic bishops took place. Eastern Catholic Churches from Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Bulgaria and Croatia, as well as Greece, southern Italy, Romania, Belarus and Armenia were present, with representatives of the Melkite Church of Antioch – Melkite Patriarch Youssef Absi was present – and of the Syrian Catholic Church in its European diaspora.
The participating bishops, coming from various and diversified realities, both in the main hall and also in the informal talks and various meetings during these days, were able to share the problems and hopes, the difficulties and perhaps even the contradictions that, as pastors of the Churches in their own countries of origin in the daily living of the faith, try to face and live the proclamation of the Gospel.
In addition to the official theme of the meeting, “Eucharist and Synodality”, which the various conferences in the hall developed, the other theme that was present in the various interventions and in the more informal and immediate moments of sharing was the past, and unfortunately still present, experience of the pandemic crisis and its consequences in the concrete pastoral care of the particular Churches.
The opening of the Assembly took place on Sunday 5 September with a welcome address by the Greek Catholic Metropolitan of Hungary Fülöp Koscis, the Apostolic Nuncio to Hungary Archbishop Michael August Blume, and the Cardinal Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest Peter Erdő. Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Archbishop Emeritus of Genoa and the CCEE President gave the opening lecture presenting the theme “Eucharist and Communion”. In his speech, Cardinal Bagnasco developed his theme in six points that biblically, theologically and ecclesiologically ground the close link between the Eucharist and Communion. His Eminence highlighted the contrast, already present in the biblical context and which can be perpetuated up to our days, between the sin that divides and the love that unites. He also highlighted the centrality of Christ as the unique and fundamental bond in communion between Christians and between men; looking at the world through the eyes of Christ.
The scientific lectures were given by Father Roberto Repole, who dealt with the topic “Eucharistic assembly and synodal assembly: the common action of the Holy Spirit”. The speaker proposed his address starting from two parts: Eucharist as lex orandi, and then the Church as a home, as building, but above all as the body of Christ. He then highlighted the role of the liturgical assembly. Eucharistic ecclesiology, which stems from the gift of the Holy Spirit. A sacramental role of the liturgical assembly. Following this, Professor Stefano Parenti presented the theme: “Communion in the Spirit in the anaphoras of St Basil and St John Chrysostom: texts, theology and practice”. The professor introduced the role of the pneumatological presence especially in the epiclesis of the two anaphoras, highlighting the role of the Holy Spirit in the sanctification of the faithful and the gifts presented. An entire morning was dedicated to the presentation of the different Churches on the Juris, especially in sharing how each of them has lived and still lives through the crisis caused by the pandemic whilst highlighting all the problems, especially pastoral, that the months of closure have raised in the different parish realities of each of the Eastern Catholic Churches. Finally, during the interventions in the main hall, was proposed by His Beatitude Sviatoslav Schevchuk, senior archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, a concluding speech which developed the theme “The practical aspects of synodality”. In this speech the father and head of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine highlighted some practical aspects of synodal activity within the Ukrainian Church throughout the world. After the lex orandi proposed earlier, the lex agendis was highlighted as a practical and concrete expression of synodality.
The days were also punctuated, especially in the afternoons, by visits and participation in religious and cultural events, also linked to the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest taking place during the same days. A beautiful exhibition on the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church, through icons and objects of worship, showed the artistic, iconographic and theological richness of a period between the 16th and 21st centuries. Then came the concert of the Saint Efrem Choir, remarkable for its quality and performance, which performed songs in more than 15 languages linked to the liturgical traditions of different countries of the world. At the end of the concert, the participants greeted the President of the Republic of Hungary, Mr János Áder, and the Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, who were present at the concert.
The feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God, which concluded the meeting, was celebrated with vespers in the Greek Catholic church in Gödöllő on the evening of 7 September and, on the next day, with the celebration of Matins in the parish church on Rose Square followed by the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, presided over by Patriarch Youssef Absi in St Stephen’s Metropolitan Cathedral in Budapest.
The meeting of the Eastern Catholic Bishops of Europe, in this still-troubled 2021, highlighted on the one hand the difficulties, suffering and problems that have arisen from the Covid-19 pandemic. On the other hand, it has highlighted the hope, the desire, and the will to resume a new life on the part of the Eastern Catholic Churches of Europe; a new life that will be, and already is, a gift of the Lord who loves and protects his Church; He who is, for us all, ever the physician of our souls and our bodies, as we pray in the Divine Liturgy.
The location of the next meeting planned for 2022 was also decided. It will be held in Armenia in September 2022, on dates still to be decided. The theme of the meeting will be a reflection on the family in the midst of the current global situation.
The presence of the Holy Spirit, invoked in the epiclesis in the Divine Liturgy, in the context of the International Eucharistic Congress, was experienced during these days as a source of communion with the Lord and among the pastors of the Eastern Catholic Churches, so that we too, bishops and fathers of our Churches, may be a source of communion and proclamation of the Gospel.
Attached is the report by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco.
Photos: Zita Merényi/ Magyar Kurír