Plenary Assembly/2

New Steps for a Synodal Church in Europe

The President's speech: the challenges for the Church in Europe

The challenges for the Church in Europe are broad and range from the need to implement the synodal path desired by Pope Francis to the issues of defending life in the face of a society increasingly at the mercy of the “culture of death”, as well as various facts of recent news, including the response to abuse, artificial intelligence, and questions of justice and peace. Archbishop Gintaras GRUŠAS, President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, outlined these challenges in a broad speech that kicked off the work of the CCEE Plenary.

The Plenary is being held in Malta from 27 to November 30 and brings together the 39 members of the Council. Thirty-three of them are Presidents of National Bishops’ Conferences. They are joined by the Archbishops of Luxembourg, the Principality of Monaco, the Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus, as well as the Bishops of Chişinău (Moldova) of the Eparchy of Mukachevo and of the Apostolic Administration of Estonia, who represent the Catholic Church on the European continent across 45 countries.

After the institutional greetings, with a particular mention to Cardinal Robert Francis PREVOST OSA, the new Prefect of the Dicastery of Bishops, who is participating in the Plenary for the first time, the CCEE President outlined the significant challenges for Europe, in a “dramatic period for the continent,” because “for the second year we are celebrating a Plenary Assembly with a war in the heart of our continent.” However, looking at the example of Saint Josaphat, whose 400th anniversary of death is being marked, Archbishop GRUŠAS recalled that Europe has “stories of holiness that unite us and that can alleviate the wounds of history.”

In his speech, the President also recalled the origins of the CCEE, its unitary vocation which, he said, must not be lost, despite a possible adaptation of the Council Statutes in the new historical reality, and with a look at the method of “spiritual conversations” which followed the Synod.

Regarding the commitment in the Synod on “Communion, Participation, Mission,” the CCEE President underlined that “our task, as pastors, was to listen to the people of God, to listen to their requests, to bring them to the attention of our brother bishops. We have not worked in a political sense, and we have no resistance to overcome.”

As regards the challenges in Europe, the first is that of peace. The President recalled that the last Synod was celebrated at the same time as, “the terrorist attacks by Hamas, which we firmly condemn”, and which “provoked a military escalation by Israel in the Gaza Strip, which is also to be condemned because violence cannot be a way to defend a cause”. He also applauded the current truce.

For the second year, added the Archbishop President, “the war in Ukraine continues to try us,” also because “the flow of refugees into European countries has required a surplus of effort from our particular Churches, which have committed themselves to give not only humanitarian assistance, but also pastoral assistance, to those who have been welcomed. We hope that an agreement on a just peace will be reached soon, in compliance with international law, which is one of the great victims of this situation.”

Archbishop GRUŠAS then underlined the response of the Churches to the drama of abuse, recalling the various reports of some national Churches and once again asking for forgiveness from the victims, guaranteeing the commitment to ensure that abuse does not happen again. “The Church – he added – is engaging in a tiring and painful process of purification and reconciliation.” And he recalled that “the true face of the Church is not that of abuse. We look with pride at our many priests and consecrated people, committed every day to welcoming, accompanying, and consoling many of our brothers and sisters, helping the least in society, and spreading the Gospel even at the cost of their lives. We thank them for their generous service and their evangelical testimony.”

Another challenge is that of persecuted Christians: reports say that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world, but it is a fact that persecution also occurs in Europe. The Archbishop cited the latest annual report of the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination of Christians in Europe, published on November 16 which documented that, in 2022, there were 748 cases of anti-Christian discrimination in 30 different nations across Europe, an exponential growth compared to the 519 cases reported in 2021.

The Church in Europe must also question itself on the issues of life. Archbishop GRUŠAS listed some of the latest cases: from the death, decreed by English judges, of the little girl Indi Gregory to the proposal to include the right to abortion in the Constitution in France, as well as the law that allows euthanasia of children in the Netherlands.

“The European trend – denounced the Archbishop – now seems defined, on an inclined plane that increasingly leads from a culture of life to a culture of death.” The CCEE President outlined the commitment of the bishops to work for “a new culture of life, which includes the care of the unborn, the conceived, the terminally ill, but also the poor, the forced migrant, and all the victims that we are faced with. We will only be a ‘Samaritan Europe’ if we can speak with one voice on these great issues that question us.”

In the speech, the President also treated the challenges generated by the development of artificial intelligence, which must be looked at with wonder without putting aside the ethical vision so that it is a science for man and not against humanity.

In conclusion, Archbishop GRUŠAS encouraged all to face all the challenges “with a European and Christian spirit which for too long seems to have become prey to national interests” and recalled that “the ecumenical path and the work with the sister Churches will be crucial in this journey. Today, more than ever, we are convinced that the Christian vision can truly contribute to a true civilization of love.”

Attached is the full text of the Introduction by President Grušas.

Photo: Archidiocese of Malta – Ian Noel Pace