Here below are words of welcome to the Holy Father given Oct. 3rd by Cardinal Péter Erdő, president of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE), on the occasion of the Council’s plenary assembly. The CCEE was meeting Pope Francis for the first time.
Most Holy Father,
It is with great joy that we have come here to meet Your Holiness. We are from the whole of the European continent: from the North Sea to the Mediterranean, from the Atlantic to the Urals and beyond.
Once a year the Plenary Assembly of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE) brings together the Presidents of all the 33 Bishops’ Conferences existing on our continent along with six bishops from those countries with one ecclesiastical region and who do not belong to any Bishops’ Conference. We testify to the presence of the Church in a good 45 countries! We are here, Holy Father, to listen carefully to the words Your Holiness will wish to address to us.
Europe is a very original continent. Its vast geographic area, even though limited when compared to other continents, nevertheless reveals a colourful reality of peoples, cultures and languages, marked by that marvellous and amazing encounter begun two thousand years ago with the person of Jesus Christ. The Christian faith has inspired the development of the culture of all of the continent’s nations, helping each people to express their own identity with a new light, that of the Gospel. Christianity has not extinguished diversity, but offered a solid basis to those who seek to serve the common good and promote supportive and just relationships.
Holy Father, Europe needs Christ! Today when a lot is said about the economic crisis, we know that even before Europe was suffering a crisis of humanity and the lack of hope and a perspective on life, which only God can give.
Our very aged society, which focuses more on individualism than on the family, which looks to the world just with the eyes of the economy, reducing everything to profit and usefulness, which has difficulty in welcoming nascent life, the elderly or the disabled, this our European society studded with so many existential margins and disorientated in the search for what is good, true and beautiful, needs Jesus. Our compatriots, even when they are not aware of this, need to find the living and vibrant Jesus Christ in the life of the Church, His Body and His Family.
How many times is the Church really the only reality which remains present and close to the poor, to the elderly, to the pregnant and abandoned mothers, to the young people who are perhaps seeking, but without great hope, meaning for their lives? And we want to be more present! But if faith is lacking, on what will our presence be based? (Cfr. Matt 5:13-14)
For this reason, we are all committed to the new evangelisation, and we constantly beseech the Lord for the gift of faith for all Europeans and never to leave us without the strength to get on with our mission, so that through our witness, too, the passion to raise one’s eyes and realise God’s love which is knocking at the door of their lives may be re-awakened in the hearts of our fellow citizens. We want to bring to everyone the good news of Christ and to create welcoming communities open to everyone.
For this, our meetings and our Council wish to be at the service of ecclesial communion and the evangelisation of Europe, not in a perspective of being closed within a fortress continent, but like a welcoming house, as it has always been throughout our history, open to all the other continents.
Holy Father, our presence here wishes to be a confirmation of our communion with Your Holiness, but also a sign of our commitment to the proclamation of the Joy of the Gospel which, together with and guided by You, with all our strength, and above all with God’s grace, we wish to bring to every person.
On the eve of the feast of Saint Francis to whom you prophetically wished to entrust Your Pontificate, once again we wish to assure You, Holy Father, of our continued prayers, asking blessings from the Lord for you and your Petrine Ministry. Holy Father, we ask You to pray for us, too, for our peoples and for the whole of Europe.