The meeting of bishops and national directors for Family and Life of the European Bishops’ Conferences was held in Bucharest from 8 to 10 May, discussing the theme: “Lord, how can we know the way?” (Jn,14:5). The family in Europe today”.
In two days of work, 40 participants from 22 countries examined the situation in their nations, discussing how to spread the themes of the family and life in a context of galloping secularization and declining religious practice, with rare exceptions. The theme of evangelization in a world where personal relationships are increasingly abandoned in favor of virtual and artificial intelligence assuming a predominant role has also been discussed.
The meeting began with greetings from the archbishop of Bucharest, Aurel Percă, and the charge of affairs of the apostolic nunciature in Romania, Monsignor Germano Penemote.
Archbishop Leo Cushley of St. Andrew and Edinburgh, president of the CCEE Family and Life Commission, underlined how “this conference is a response to Pope Francis’ request to defend the family, committing ourselves to safeguard it from the pressures of ideological colonization.”
Archbishop Gintaras Grušas, archbishop of Vilnius and president of the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe, hoped, for his part, that the meeting “will allow for a greater connection between the Churches and to help heal the Church through families.” The president of the CCEE also recalled the situation in Ukraine, emphasizing that in a war situation, one can note the experience of families helping families.
The First Session of the works was dedicated to an extensive presentation of “The Catechumenate Itinerary for Married Life,” published in 2022 by the Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life. Professor Gabriella Gambino, the undersecretary of the Dicastery, detailed how the document can be implemented in the various particular Churches, which will then have the task of enculturating it, and outlined the steps that each particular Church can take to implement the indications of the document.
The aim, she said, is to “gradually change the setting up of pastoral care for vocations,” also considering that of married life as a true and proper vocation because “marriage is not a game, but a pas de deux.” It is also necessary to “review the approach of the catechism of Christian initiation.”
The Second Session began with a report by Cardinal Willem Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht. The Cardinal spoke of “Catholic teaching on the values and norms concerning marriage and sexuality: conservatism or vision?”.
Retracing the great themes of John Paul II’s theology of the body, he also gave a historical look at the issues of sexuality and procreation and how these are perceived in the world. “When people are secularized – Cardinal Eijk said – they no longer see marriage as something instituted by God but as a human institution.”
The separation between sex and procreation, which took place in the 1960s with the spread of chemical contraception, took away the generative function of generation, opening up “even to homosexual relationships, which do not have procreation as a purpose.”
Another difficulty, the Cardinal explained, arose earlier with the Industrial Revolution because the rhythms of work separated men and women, who “no longer shared a large part of their life, but only a small part of their life,” which makes it challenging to keep the marriage up.
The Cardinal recalled that “the Church bases her teaching on sexual ethics on the essence of marriage, which is not a human institution.” He highlighted that “marriage is a complete self-giving of man and woman.”
The Third Session was dedicated to the work of Catholic Family Associations in Europe. The session was opened with greetings from Cornel Bărbut, Vice President of the Federation of Family Associations in Europe (FAFCE). Then, the report was entrusted to Nicola Speranza, secretary general of the FAFCE, who spoke of “The greatest challenges for families today: from a legislative point of view, at European and national level.”
In particular, Speranza highlighted six specific themes that represent real challenges, also at the legislative level: the question of the demographic winter, wholly neglected in Europe and yet “a strategic theme that allows us to overcome the ideological barriers that come from LGBT”; the so-called pandemic of loneliness; the definition of marriage and civil unions; the educational challenge; the theme of freedom of thought; and the question of the defense of human dignity and reproduction and life in all its phases.
The Fourth Session of the proceedings was instead opened by a lecture by the Rev. Juan José Pérez-Soba, professor of Pastoral Theology at the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute, who addressed the theme of “Christian formation in the context of family life.”
Professor Pérez-Soba indicated three principles from which to start again: the theology of the body of St. John Paul II, the theology of love as proposed by Benedict XVI in its three stages (being a child, becoming a husband, and being a parent) and finally pastoral conversion, according to the innovations proposed by Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia on the affective formation and accompaniment.
He also suggested that episcopal conferences establish institutes on the family or promote studies, think of family counseling centers conceived as evangelizing centers, and care with other pastoral areas because every area concerns the family.
The work sessions were interspersed with two moments of group work and with national reports. In the European context, it has generally emerged that the first challenge to face is the new evangelization, considering that the number of people who regularly participate in Sunday Mass is decreasing. At the same time, in some countries, Catholics are a minority.
There was also talk of the crisis of sacramental marriage and the difficulties that various families in Europe are experiencing today, divided by the waves of migration, now accentuated by the war.
The need to outline the themes of the family and life positively, seeking new languages has also emerged. The reports also presented various initiatives the Churches in Europe introduced for this purpose.
Concluding the meeting, Archbishop Cushley said that in recent days the scenario has emerged of a Church that seems to be in retreat, but which he does not believe is the case, and that indeed “it is still desirable to be Christian.”
“The Church – he said – may appear marginalized, but the message continues to be relevant because the message is Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”