Plenary Assembly /2

The Future of the Christian Faith in Europe. Praedicate Evangelium and the Bishops’ Conferences

The speeches by Card. Prevost and Prof. Sayer

Cardinal Robert Francis Prevost, Prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, was entrusted with the main report of the Plenary Assembly entitled: the evangelizing and missionary dimension of the Church in Europe”.

A reflection on the “future of the Christian faith in Europe”, that of the Bishops’ Prefect made in the light of the person of Jesus Christ, true God and true man: “the mystery of the Incarnation triggered a revolution. Pope Francis called it “the revolution of tenderness” (Evangelii Gaudium, 88). The Incarnation is thus an inexhaustible source of grace and truth”.

And he continued: The future of faith lies in the presence of people who believe in their hearts in Jesus Christ incarnate. A wonderful and great sign of this truth is realised in Eucharistic worship. “The light of faith shines when Eucharistic worship is worthily celebrated with faith and devotion. As long as there is the Eucharist, as long as the Lord’s Banquet is celebrated with love, there will be a future for faith because we find Jesus incarnate in the Eucharist”.

Speaking of the role of the Church, a community of believers who, through Baptism, are made sharers in the Paschal Mystery of Christ, he emphasised that “The future of the faith is not a matter of numbers, but of love. There will not be more Christians in the future or at any time because we have managed to find the most effective advertising or marketing resource, but because we have truly learnt to love and have not been afraid to put it into practice. For this reason, our actions cannot be inspired by the criteria of a proselytising campaign.  Rather, we must always allow ourselves to be moved and driven by charity”.

Our concern for the future of the faith in Europe is therefore to be ever closer to the people, especially those who represent the suffering flesh of Christ. The mystery of the Incarnation that makes the Eucharist and the Church possible, also makes possible the identification of Christ in the poor. Jesus Christ became incarnate, and this mystery reaches the flesh of all those who suffer: the poor, the hungry, the migrants, the sick, the unemployed, and those who suffer from war.

In fact, “the problem of the future of faith in Europe also concerns how we are dealing with the scourge of war that afflicts brotherly peoples from the perspective of faith. Peace is not only the result of a victor in conflict; much more, peace is the result of having welcomed into one’s heart the one who knows how truly to bring it (Jn 20: 21). Evangelising, when there is a world at war, means working for peace. Let us remember the words of the Lord: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Mt 5: 9)”.
“The future of faith in Europe is ultimately a matter of dedication to others, based on faith in the incarnate Jesus Christ and the way Christ himself taught us”.

Prof. Josef Sayer, a pastoral theologian, dwelt on the dimension of synodality in the light of the Praedicate Evangelium, in particular on the “Consequences and Implications for Bishops’ Conferences and Continental Organisations”. The aim is to present the central perspectives of Praedicate Evangelium; perspectives that are important for the Bishops’ Conferences and the universal Church.

Pope Francis emphasises from the outset that his Constitution is not just an arbitrary compilation of canonical rules for the Curia. With this Constitution he is concerned with realising the fundamental mission of the Church towards mankind. The reform of the Curia must be oriented towards the horizon of proclaiming the Gospel, bearing witness to God’s mercy, putting oneself in the lives of others, choosing the option for the poor and suffering. In the preamble of the Constitution there is an orientation towards a synodal Church – of mutual listening and learning by all: the faithful people, the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Rome. All listen to each other, all seek solutions and approaches together in a process of common discernment.

In the document, the subject of Bishops’ Conferences is dealt with before the Roman Curia. The Conferences are understood as a communion of Bishops serving the communion of the faithful. Therefore, Prof. Sayer emphasises, we are witnessing “a paradigm shift: if the Pope and the Bishops, as successors of the Apostles, lead the Church together, then the Curia cannot occupy an intermediate position between the two, the Curia does not stand between the Pope and the Bishops, but places itself at the service of both in a way that corresponds to the nature of both”.

The document goes on to establish “three principles for the service of the Roman Curia: sound decentralisation (leaving to the competence of the pastors those matters that they know well because of their proximity and that do not affect the unity of doctrine and communion); the service of the Curia to the mission of the Bishops (this is a matter of supporting the initiatives of the bishops – initiatives for evangelisation, the option for the poor and the contribution to the good of humanity and peace); receiving the initiatives of the dioceses and Bishops’ Conferences (this is a task of collecting the creative and excellent initiatives of the particular Churches and making them available to the universal Church as a stimulus and inspiration)”.

The new spirit and perspectives result from changes at the level of the Dicasteries. “The first change concerns the order of the Dicasteries. In line with the importance of evangelisation, the first place is given to the Dicastery for Evangelisation. which is divided into two sections – the first, newly created, deals with the issues and challenges of evangelisation on a worldwide level, also collecting the most significant experiences in this field and making them available to the whole Church. The Dicastery is chaired directly by the Pope. It is followed in second place by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. In third place is a new Dicastery, that of Charity. By placing this Dicastery in third place, the theological concern to bear witness to God’s Mercy and the option for the poor finds a visible and significant expression. The new perception of the Bishops’ Conferences is noted in the document, the Dicastery for Bishops follows the line of dialogue, collaboration with the particular Churches and the Bishops’ Conferences”.

“Finally, the Constitution attaches particular importance to the Bishops’ Conferences and their regional and continental associations and thus traces the guidelines for a new, changed cooperation between the Roman Curia, the bishops and the Bishops’ Conferences”.