Bishops See Cause for Hope in New Document

Prelates From East and West Help Present Apostolic Exhortation

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 29, 2003 ( John Paul II’s new postsynodal apostolic exhortation, «Ecclesia in Europa,» makes a strong appeal for overcoming the divisions that have fragmented the Old World and even Christianity.

This was the conclusion reached at the press conference where the document was presented on Saturday. In the document, in which the Pope summarizes the conclusions of the 2nd Synod of Europe, held in Rome from Oct. 1-23, 1999.

At the press conference, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham, England, highlighted the role of Christianity in Europe — past, present and future.

«The key to this document is the theme of hope,» the archbishop said, noting the text’s reference to the last book of the Bible. «In this, the choice of the Book of Revelation is crucial.»

«Revelation is a text of genuine, eschatological hope, presenting to us our destiny,» the British prelate said. «But it is also a hope which is to guide our way now. Revelation is also a text of realistic assessment, even dishearteningly so, when it says, ‘Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death.'»

«The Church in Western Europe must be realistic about its own life, if it is to play its part in the revitalization of the soul of Europe,» he said.

As an example of this Christian contribution, Archbishop Nichols mentioned the commitment to welcome immigrants and refugees, as well as to promote interreligious relations, especially with Islam. «Reciprocal respect is rightly called for, as a condition and a fruit of this dialogue,» he said.

Archbishop Nichols said he was convinced that «the project to construct a multicultural and multinational Europe cannot be achieved if religion is marginalized.»

For his part, Archbishop Jozef Miroslaw Zycinski of Lublin, Poland, said that the apostolic exhortation is particularly a «reason for hope» for Catholics in Eastern Europe, who just over a decade ago were still until Communism.

«We are grateful for the paragraphs which make reference to the European cultural heritage, in which, among other things, mention is made expressly of the contribution of ‘the spirit of ancient Greece and Rome, the contributions of the Celtic, Germanic, Slav and Finno-Ugric peoples and the influence of Jewish and Islamic culture,'» he said.

This reference is in contrast with the current draft preamble to the Constitutional Treaty of the European Union, which omits references to the concrete sources of inspiration of European values.

The Polish archbishop emphasized the importance of the new evangelization in Eastern Europe, «which our Orthodox brethren must not understand as proselytism.» He also referred to Christians who assisted Jews during periods of persecution.

Cardinal Jan Schotte, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, explained that John Paul II decided to publish the apostolic exhortation now, almost four years after the assembly, as the European Convention’s debates are coming to an end and 10 new countries are joining the European Union.

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