Resuming a tradition which has gone on for more than ten years (2002-2012), the presidents of the bishops conferences of Southeast Europe concluded a five-day meeting today in which they considered challenges to family life.
The bishops met in Bucharest, Romania. The meeting, held within the framework of the work of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE), took place in Romania at the invitation of the Metropolitan Archbishop of Bucharest and President of the Romanian Bishops’ Conference, His Grace Mgr Ioan Robu.
The similarity of the pastoral challenges and the situation of the Catholic Church in these countries is the reason behind the meetings. There are two aims: to strengthen relationships of ecclesial communion by sharing the common pastoral challenges and to examine in depth some of the issues surrounding the theme of the family with a view to the next Ordinary Synod of Bishops (October 2015) and in the light of the 2014 Extraordinary Synod.
In the dialogue-comparison about the family, the prelates focussed on the following pastoral challenges:
1. Mixed marriages between Catholics and Orthodox. There are challenges and problems due to the differences in the way in which marriage is perceived and its sacramentality; but couples must be accompanied in a journey of faith, so that the differences do not lead to relativism and religious indifference. Mixed marriages that are well-lived out are an experience of authentic ecumenical dialogue. This issue had already been the object of in-depth reflection at their 2008 meeting in Sofia (Bulgaria).
2. The globalised economy which has neither care nor concern for the poor nor for the young people and often forces the people of this area of Europe to seek work in other regions of the world. Migration is a major challenge for the family which demands special attention from the Church. Many families have been divided due to migration. It is hoped for closer pastoral collaboration between the countries of origin and those to which they emigrate, for example, with regard to marriage preparation: the Catholic communities in the countries which welcome the migrants should guarantee preparation and then accompany the young couples who come to marry in their native countries.
3. In any case marriage preparation must be very serious and carried out in a pastoral atmosphere of welcome, so that each person feels welcomed and ready for a journey of preparation which may also be a time of encounter with Jesus and with faith. One must not forget the challenges laid down by a digital culture which, enabling access to a vast array of information, is not always integrated in a mature personality capable of taking definitive decisions and assuming responsibility for a family.
4. Pastoral care for families, which cannot be pastoral care en masse but rather a pastoral care of closeness and personal contact. In the countries of South-east Europe, the significance of family is very much alive. The family is appreciated and desired by young people. For such pastoral work there is a need for priests, but also married couples who have an important role of support at moments of happiness but also in times of trial.
5. Family groups. The participants noted with some satisfaction and a reason for hope the presence of groups of families and those movements which have a special charism devoted to the family and which are a fundamental resource for the pastoral care of the family.
6. Finally, the participants wanted to recall that the Christian family is based, grows and develops with the “Sunday Eucharist”, when with the whole Church, the family sits at table with the Lord. He gives Himself to us all, pilgrims through history towards the goal of the final encounter when “Christ is all and in all” (Col 3,11).” (Pope Francis, Message of the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops).
At the end the participants, shocked by the dangerous illegal construction of a building next to St Joseph’s Cathedral, declared a Monument of historic national and international interest in 1955, signed a statement, testifying to their solidarity with the efforts of the Catholic Church in Bucharest to resolve the issue. They expressed the hope that the Public Authorities might respect the final decisions of the Appeal Court in Ploiesti and the Supreme Court to put back the park which existed there previously.
During their stay in Bucharest, there was another tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea, claiming the lives of more than 700 people, who had been seeking a more dignified life and had been exploited by people without scruples. The participants at the meeting prayed for them and for all those who have lost their lives in a similar fashion and for their families, uniting their voices to all those who refuse to give in to the violence and exploitation, calling for every person to be respected in their dignity as sons and daughters of God.
Participants at the meeting were His Eminence Cardinal Vinko Puljić, Archbishop of Sarajevo and President of the Bosnia Herzegovina Bishops’ Conference; His Grace Mgr Angelo Massafra O.F.M., Metropolitan Archbishop of Shkodrë-Pult and President of the Bishops’ Conference of Albania and CCEE Vice-president; His Lordship Fragkiskos Papamanólis (O.F.M. Cap.), Bishop Emeritus of Syros-Creta-Santorini and President of the Bishops’ Conference of Greece; and His Lordship Mgr Christo Proykov, Apostolic Exarch of Sofia and President of the Bulgarian Bishops’ Conference.
In the course of the meeting, the participants visited the Latin-rite St Joseph’s Cathedral in Bucharest, where they celebrated Mass on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 with packed congregations; they also visited the Greek-Catholic Cathedral of Bucharest where they met His Lordship Mgr Mihai Fratila, Bishop of the Eparchy of Saint Basil the Great-Bucharest; the Church of Our Lady of the Graces, the first Catholic Church in Bucharest; the Sisters of the Congregatio Jesu (‘English ladies’), a Congregation founded by the Venerable Mary Ward; the Catholic cemetery and the parish of Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus, which also houses two buildings of a Catholic secondary school and the Monastery of the Carmelite Fathers at Ciofliceni. In these various places it was also possible to hear testimonies from the Communist era when persecution, especially of Greek-Catholics, was very severe.
On Sunday afternoon the Bishops went to Constanta, the port on the Black Sea, which is a Vicariate of the Archdiocese of Bucharest and they stayed there until Monday to visit Constanta and Adamclisi and to celebrate Mass in the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua.