The Plenary Assembly of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences opened this afternoon in Rome with a Eucharistic celebration presided over by Pope Francis in the Vatican Basilica. Sixty participants took part in this jubilee event to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the CCEE’s establishment.
The Holy Father, in his homily, thanked the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences for the “the reconstruction work carried out by God’s grace and for these first 50 years in the service of the Church and Europe”. Also highlighted were the critical issues of a Europe that is “sick with tiredness” before the far-sighted vision of its founding fathers. Francis urged the CCEE not to fall into discouragement and resignation because “we are called by the Lord to a splendid work, to work so that his house may be ever more welcoming, so that everyone may enter and dwell in it, so that the Church may have its doors open to all and no one may be tempted to concentrate only on looking at and changing the locks – the little exquisite things. No, the change goes somewhere else”.
Reflect, rebuild, see. The Pope used these three verbs to challenge us “as Christians and pastors in Europe”. The invitation was to reflect on our behaviour, “today in Europe we Christians are tempted to be comfortable in our structures, in our homes and in our churches,” the Pope stressed, “while all around us the temples are emptying and Jesus is increasingly forgotten”. Rekindle the appetite for faith in all those people who no longer hunger and thirst for God, who think that faith is something already seen and belongs to the past. Only love fills the heart, the Pontiff added. “Lack of charity causes unhappiness”. The appeal was to reflect again on the various positions in the Church, on debates, agendas and strategies, because the risk is to lose sight of the real agenda, that of the Gospel: the impetus of charity. The way out of problems and blockages, indicated by Pope Francis, is always that of free gift. Dreaming of everyone’s future, as dreamed by the founding fathers, must be the basis for reconstruction. Only then can the walls of the European home be strengthened, “From the foundations of the Church, from the origins and of all times, from adoration of God and love of neighbour, not from one’s own particular tastes or from negotiations to defend the Church or Christianity” without forgetting that “all reconstruction takes place in the sign of unity. Rebuilding means becoming craftsmen of communion, weavers of unity at every level: not for strategy, but for the Gospel”. Only after reconstruction will it be possible to see. “We need to show God through life, prayer and poverty”, said the Pope. “People today do not recognise the face of God, they do not feel amazement when they meet Him because of worn-out, intellectualistic and moralistic religious schemes”, he specified. “Let us help today’s Europe to rediscover the ever-youthful face of Jesus and his bride in all her timeless beauty”. At the end of the celebration, it was the turn of Cardinal Vincent Gerard Nichols, vice-president of CCEE, to address the Holy Father with the greetings from the President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, who was absent because of Covid. Fifty years on, CCEE’s mission remains the same as the one Pope Paul VI entrusted to the emerging Council: “The proclamation to our beloved continent of Christ the Saviour in the world”. A task that has grown over the decades with its changing eras and “finds us immersed with our peoples amidst joy and hope, challenges and concerns- To this complex and passionate human reality that forms our planet and is expressed with peculiar stories and traditions, we Shepherds – wrote Card. Bagnasco in his greeting – do not have wisdom of our own to offer, nor do we rely on efficient organisations or means, since the Church – as Your Holiness writes in Evangelii Gaudium – is not a human programme, but a community of believers gathered around He who has Risen and repeats: “Fear not, for I am with you”. It is for this reason that we want the name of Jesus to echo through the heart of Europe, a name that is not imposed but that releases and saves, that has inspired two thousand years of civilisation and beauty; we wish to use His words “sine glossa” and even if at times one must use human language, we want it to never lose the good fragrance of Christ”. At the end of the Holy Mass, the participants in the Plenary Assembly gathered at the tomb of Peter to renew their profession of faith together, and, after a pause and a moment of personal prayer at the tombs of St Paul VI and Pope John Paul I, they concluded their short pilgrimage of gratitude to the Popes who have accompanied CCEE in these 50 years at the tomb of St John Paul II with the recitation of the prayer to Mary, Mother of Europe, written by the holy Polish Pope himself at the conclusion of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Europa.