It was H.E. Msgr Stanislav Zvolenský, Archbishop of Bratislava and President of the Slovak Bishops’ Conference, who kicked off the European Social Days with a Mass in St. Martin’s Cathedral on 17 March.
These days, organised by the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences and the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, represent a unique opportunity to reflect on the situation of the continent. For the third time, after Gdansk 2009 and Madrid 2014, delegates from the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe will discuss the continent’s social challenges.
This year’s designated theme was “Europe beyond the pandemic – a new beginning”. However, the war in Ukraine also focused attention on the conflict in the heart of Europe. Slovakia, which is hosting the days, is on the front line in receiving refugees.
The President of the Slovak Republic, Zuzana Čaputová, was also present at the opening session, while Pope Francis sent a message in which he explicitly addressed the Ukrainian crisis, and in particular the migrant crisis, calling for ” The walls still present in Europe should be transformed into gateways “, and reminded us that “we cannot stand idly by”.
The Pope himself made this commitment concrete by sending Cardinal Czerny to the Slovakian border to visit the structures that receive refugees. From there, the Cardinal arrived in Bratislava for the opening of the European Social Days.
In his speech, Cardinal Czerny explained that he had seen the war “in displaced and desperate eyes, in personal and family stories abruptly ended. People who are physically alive but whose life until now has violently ended”.
The acting prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development also highlighted the problem of new technology weapons, which are used remotely to the extent that hitting a target feels “like a video game”.
“For this reason – added the Cardinal – our hearts must be moved by the tragedies endured by the civilians involved, and must connect with the pain of the victims, refugees, orphans, and those who suffer mutilation in body and spirit, even if these are often considered an inevitable or collateral side effect of these events”.
In his welcome address, Archbishop Gintaras Grušas, CCEE President, stressed that the path of the Social Days must be walked “with the hope of helping one another find a path on which we can assist in the renewal of the Church in Europe and of our European society. A hope that has been challenged even more in the last few weeks with the outbreak of war on the European continent. The challenges before us are great, but our coming together to pray, to analyze the current situation and to look for solutions is at an appropriate moment“.
At the same time, Archbishop Grušas underlined that it is necessary “begin the work of rebuilding our society, we must begin the work of re-evangelizing the baptized”, and he invited all to structure a response “centred on Christ”.
Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, COMECE President, on the other hand, emphasised that it is necessary to “bring together the voice of the Catholic Social Teaching and Gospel into practice to answer to some of the greatest social challenges of our time”.
Welcoming people to Bratislava, the city’s Archbishop, Stanislav Zvolenský, underlined that the logo chosen for the event “expresses the connection of the local ecclesial community with the cathedral of St Martin: the patron saint of the Archdiocese of Bratislava”, known in iconography as “a soldier sharing his cloak with a poor, smitten man. He is not indifferent to poverty, he perceives it and does not hesitate to show love in a concrete way”.
The Archbishop also noted that “this meeting of ours is unintentionally marked by the events we are following in Ukraine”, but that at the same time “The theme of the war confrontation and its consequences, especially from a social point of view, from the point of view of welcoming and helping those who are suffering, from the point of view of concrete Christian solidarity, has become particularly topical in this regard”.
The President Zuzana Čaputová, in her address, he also dealt with the situation of the war in Ukraine, explaining that her generation, “lived in the belief that it would only know war from the stories told by parents and grandparents” and has taken “peace, security and tranquillity for granted as part of our daily lives”, while today we are “confronted with the knowledge that the lives of millions of people can change in a matter of hours” and that “the world can become a worse place to live in an instant”.
It is a new awareness, she added, that “applies to us politicians, and to you, the religious communities”. The President was proud that “in Slovakia, too, a huge wave of solidarity has risen for the Ukrainians who are seeking safety among us”.
During the days, there will be three areas of reflection: demographic transition and family life; technological and digital transition; ecological transition.
Sr. Cécile Renourad, RA, and professor Milos Lichner, SJ, explored the social challenges of today’s Europe and the path to recovery. Demographic transition and family life were discussed in a panel that featured a video talk by Dubravka Šuica, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Democracy and Demography.
The discussion was attended by the Slovakian Minister for Labour, Social Affairs and Family Milan Krajniak; professor Gian Carlo Blangiardo, President of Istat; Meisa Dano, member of Caritas Finland; Balázs Molnár, Vice President of the Kopp Maria Institute for Demography and Families.
After the afternoon workshops, the day ended with an ecumenical prayer.
On the website of the Social Days you will find more details and the texts of the speeches: