Today saw the conclusion of the CCEE Plenary Assembly, two days of online meetings to discuss the current situation in Ukraine and work on the preparation of the Continental Synodal Assembly scheduled to be held in Prague from 5 to 12 February 2023.
Just over 200 participants will attend this Church Assembly in the capital of the Czech Republic: 156 will be delegates from the Bishops’ Conferences: each national delegation will consist of the President of the Bishops’ Conference and three other delegates; 44 guests will be invited directly by the CCEE Presidency, as participants of the most representative ecclesial realities at European level. Each Bishops’ Conference will also be able to choose an additional 10 delegates to participate in the work online.
Opening the proceedings of the Plenary Assembly was the greeting of H. Em. Card. Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, who began his address “sharing with you the “cry for Peace” that rose to the sky from the Colosseum in Rome during the inter-religious prayer meeting organised by the Community of Sant’Egidio and which was concluded by Pope Francis on Tuesday 25 October”. He went on to reiterate the commitment of the pastors of the Catholic Church in Europe “to bear witness to Peace and restore it where it is trampled upon. Our weapons are ancient and ever new: prayer, dialogue, humanitarian aid, as well as solidarity with the victims of aggression and oppression”.
An update on the current situation in Ukraine was given by H. E. Msgr. Visvaldas Kulbokas, Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine.
The closeness of the Church in Europe to the Ukrainian bishops present at the meeting, and through them, to all the Ukrainian people was expressed by H. E. Msgr. Gintaras Grušas, Archbishop of Vilnius and CCEE President, at the beginning of his prologue: “At this difficult time for the whole of Europe, our hearts go out to Ukraine: we call on the leaders of nations to stop the war; we say “enough” to all this suffering and the spiral of violence, destruction and death to which the Ukrainian people are being subjected. Together with Pope Francis we ask for peace”.
In his address, he recalled some of the initiatives carried out by the CCEE during 2022: the Third European Catholic Social Days, organised in cooperation with COMECE and the Slovak Bishops’ Conference, held in Bratislava from 17 to 20 March; meetings of an ecumenical nature with the Conference of European Churches (CEC); cooperation with other continental episcopal bodies.
“In the homily during Mass for the 60th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pope Francis invited us to ‘rediscover the Council in order to restore primacy to God, to what is essential. He reminded us that it led the Church ‘to return to the sources of her first love, to rediscover God’s holiness in her own poverty’. Finally, he asked God to ‘free us from the presumption of self-sufficiency’, to ‘lead us out of the fences of self-referentiality’, and to ‘free us from the diabolical artifice of polarisations, of ‘isms’. I believe – said President Grušas – these are valuable indications for the synod we are currently experiencing and for the continental stage”.
Finally, regarding the Continental Stage of the Synod, he reiterated that “The aim of the Continental Stage is ‘to more accurately formulate open questions, to better substantiate and deepen the insights coming from the local churches, now from a continental perspective. In this, we will be helped by the Document for the Continental Stage (DTC), the result of “careful reflection on the syntheses of all the Bishops’ Conferences, as well as the Eastern Churches, and realities such as religious institutes and lay movements” (FAQ Continental Stage).
“Of the summaries provided by 112 Bishops’ Conferences (out of 114), by all 15 Eastern Catholic Churches, by 17 Roman Dicasteries, by the superiors of religious orders and congregations, and by various lay movements and associations,” spoke H. Em. Card. Jean-Claude Hollerich, CCEE Vice President and Relator General of the Synod, who called them “a true reflection of what the Bishops’ Conferences have sent. A reflection of the outcome of the spiritual conversation of God’s people”. And he added: “This document is therefore not a writing that emerges from theological writings, but is the fruit of a lived synodality, a dimension of the Church’s life. We have been able to see that the Holy Spirit is at work. We have been able to experience our common dignity as Christians rooted in baptism. Baptism…the source of all Christian life, the root of communion, the root of participation, helps us to live the unique mission of the Church”.
The Document for the Continental Stage, immediately after the Press Conference in the Vatican, was presented by H. Em. Card. Mario Grech, General Secretary of the Synod: “I can say that the Document is a faithful restitution of the syntheses. The work of the group of experts has been marked by intellectual honesty: as you will see, there are no theoretical reflections on synodality, but rather the taking up of the voice of the Churches. For all of us it was a surprise to hear how, despite the difference in sensitivities, the Holy People of God converge in calling for a profound renewal of the Church. The introduction to the Document offers criteria for reading the text; the biblical icon indicates the perspective that is opening up for the Church with the synodal path – Enlarge the space of your tent! –; the conclusion explains the next steps for the continental stage. The course is precisely described”.
The presentation was followed by a debate between the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences: the importance of listening and dialogue as a method of Church action was reaffirmed; the profound renewal of the Church demanded by God’s holy people; the centrality of synodality; the modalities of participation at the Prague meeting.
During the work of the Plenary Assembly, the new Presidents of the CCEE Commissions were elected:
– H.E. Msgr. Zbignevs Stankevics, Archbishop of Riga in Latvia, was elected, for a second mandate, President of the Evangelisation and Culture Commission;
– H.E. Msgr. Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, was elected, for a second mandate, President of the Family and Life Commission;
– H.E. Msgr. Claudio Giuliodori, Assistant Ecclesial General at the Sacred Heart Catholic University, Italy, was elected President of the Youth Commission;
– H.E. Msgr. Bohdan Dzyurakh, Apostolic Exarch for the Ukrainian faithful of the Byzantine Rite residing in Germany and Scandanavia, Ukraine, was elected President of the Social Pastoral Care Commission.
The members of the CCEE Finance Commission were also elected:
– H.E. Msgr. Markus Büchel, Bishop of St Gallen, Switzerland – President;
– H.E. Msgr. Giuseppe Baturi, Archbishop of Cagliari, General Secretary of the Italian Bishops’ Conference – Member;
– Dr. Beate Gilles, General Secretary of the German Bishops’ Conference – Member.
Saint Gallen, 28 October 2022
Attached is the greeting of Card. Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops and the introduction of H. E. Msgr. Gintaras Grušas, CCEE President.