European Bishops Eye Ways to Re-evangelize Continent

Pope Stresses Need for Christian Witness in New Evangelization

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LEEDS, England, OCT. 4, 2004 ( Catholic leaders from 34 European countries have met for the first time in England to discuss the role of Christianity in Europe.

The event — a four-day assembly of the Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE) at Hinsley Hall, Leeds — has been the largest gathering of senior Catholic bishops in Britain since the Synod of Whitby in 664, more than 1,300 years ago.

In a message to the meeting, John Paul II said he would pray that «you will guide your respective peoples to rediscover their common spiritual roots and the enduring wisdom of their Christian heritage.»

The Holy Father also said he knows that «your commitment to a new evangelization is an act of faith in the perennial value of the Gospel, which in the history of the peoples of Europe has produced abundant fruits of holiness, education, culture and civilization.»

The main issues discussed by the meeting included Christianity’s significance in Europe today; ecumenism; the Churches and the European Constitution; a third Ecumenical Assembly; cooperation between bishops’ conferences; and CCEE projects, particularly in the areas of evangelization and pastoral strategy.

Looking at the reality of today’s Europe and the role played by the United Kingdom, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, president of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales and CCEE vice president, said in his opening remarks: «We come from countries, some of which have lived comfortably alongside the state; others, for years, oppressed by it. We each witness to the same faith but with different backgrounds, experience and testimony.»

Liverpool Archbishop Patrick Kelly, vice president of the British-Welsh bishops’ conference, said: «In 1794 we were assured freedom of worship, of cult; in 1825 we were guaranteed by law complete emancipation, freedom of religion. I am convinced one of the most searching issues across this country, the whole of Europe, the Middle East is: What does freedom, not only of cult but of religion, mean for people of all faiths?»

Bishop Amédée Grab, CCEE president, set the tone for the discussions with two questions: How do others see us? And how do we see ourselves?

He argued that if the answers were very different, it posed a serious communications challenge for the Church. The Church is often perceived as being in competition with secular culture, he said. It has a vision of life opposite to the ethical values embodied today by medical research and the tendency of faith to be confined to the private sphere rather than public belief, the prelate said.

Bishop Grab, 74, added: «We are fully, but not exclusively, citizens of this world. This world’s values are not enough for us — yet we do not despise them or look down on our culture. Our culture is the context for our mission, and the more we understand and respect it, the less of a problem there will be with our work for this culture and for those who live it. Our challenge: to belong to two societies at one and the same time.»

Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux, introduced the main theme: the significance and role of Christianity in Europe today.

He pointed out that there are moral toxins which Europe has to fight and reject for the sake of its harmonious development: the slide into secularization, with the phenomena of individualization and mass production; the tendency to consider religion as a hindrance; and the rise of fundamentalism and terrorism.

Archbishop Ricard, 60, also spelled out the ways in which the presence of the Church can enrich European society: in defending the dignity of each and every person and family, and especially those most in need such as the poor; creating a distinct and proper relationship between politics and religion; forming a truly ecumenical and interreligious dialogue; and bringing about a culture of solidarity in a Europe truly open to the world.

Three practical engagements were formulated: to strengthen the dialogue with contemporary culture; to look for a closer dialogue with the Islamic communities in Europe, especially in universities; and to campaign for the defense of Sunday as a day dedicated to God.

One of the highlights of the four-day meeting was the visit of the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. In his introductory remarks to that discussion, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor spoke about the positive ecumenical experiences in England and Wales, particularly in the field of theological dialogue on themes such as the Eucharist, ministries and authority. He said there was «no going back» on the ecumenical path. «It is a road without an exit.»

Dr. Williams placed the onus on the importance of «spiritual ecumenism» which comes from recognizing that we all belong to the Body of Christ and seeing one another as «a gift.»

He spoke of the drive within the Church of England for a «mission-shaped church,» dedicated to evangelizing and giving a new shape to society. The Anglican said churches have a responsibility to contribute to the development of society. He said the Anglican and Catholic churches need to develop together a theology and a culture of service.

On the future of the ecumenical movement, the archbishop of Canterbury affirmed that there are uncertainties about the institutional form of unity the churches will reach, but still the journey has to go on.

Meanwhile, the presidents of the bishops’ conferences living in countries where the Orthodox Church is the majority faith pointed out a mixture of «light and dark.»

On one side, divisions still exist between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, including persisting mutual ignorance, proselytism and incomprehension.

But on the other side, there is growing trust that unity is a gift of God; a new ecumenical commission is being built in Russia; and consciousness is increasing about sharing common challenges, such as violence and terrorism.

The assembly ended Saturday with a Mass in Leeds’ cathedral, followed by a reception.

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