ISKENDERUN, Turkey, MARCH 11, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A meeting of bishops of Southeast Europe focused on strengthening Christian identity in a multicultural and multi-religious world, especially in countries where Catholics are a minority.
The ninth meeting of the presidents of the Southeast Europe’s episcopal conferences concluded Sunday in Turkey. The Council of European Episcopal Conferences reported that this meeting took the form of a pilgrimage, in which participants followed the footsteps of St. Paul to mark 2,000 years since the apostle’s birth.
The bishops visited the places associated with St. Paul and met the local Christian communities, “which are suffering so much today,” the council reported.
The meeting noted the importance of Turkey for the foundational events of Christianity that took place here, and the concern of the bishops for upholding the strength of this Christian identity.
Bishop Luigi Padovese, vicar apostolic of Anatolia, Tukey, said, “It is difficult to imagine how Christianity might have developed if it had not found its first great expansion in modern-day Turkey.”
He continued: “This land in fact was the launching pad, the test bed from which the Christian faith measured its capacity to inculturate itself in different worlds.
“Here, Christianity truly became ‘catholic,’ or universal, overcoming the temptation to remain a sectarian group, a community of Judaic extraction and therefore a national religion. On close examination, European culture’s debt to the children of this land is incalculable, even if it is unknown or under-valued.”
Archbishop Antonio Lucibello, apostolic nuncio to Turkey, affirmed, “Today the Catholic Church in Turkey is called to move from an attitude of a Church with presence to a Church of witness: a Church which reflects on the meaning of its presence in Turkey.”
Bishop Padovese opened the meeting with a reflection on St. Paul, and his identification with Christianity in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious world. He affirmed, “The apostle to the Gentiles found himself having to provide concrete solutions through his numerous letters to rising communities which were not well-structured and were part of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious context.
The prelate continued: “He tried to translate into the practices of daily life the consequences of faith in Christ but without perverting the Gospel message.
“For Paul, the foundation of Christian identity is to be found in the triad ‘faith, hope and charity’ and is defined through the Christian’s capacity to live and practice these three ‘theological virtues.'”
Bishop Padovese acknowledged that today “many Christians are searching for their identity.” He added: “Through Paul, the modern Christian understands that Christian identity is not a possession but rather a process. In this process religious pluralism constitutes an opportunity for a better understanding of Christian identity.”
This identity, stated the bishop, is “above all, faith in the person of Jesus, the crucified and risen Christ,” as “the specific and differentiating element of Christianity.”
The meeting participants noted that Christian identity must be upheld in the face of passive atheism, current laicism and the consumer culture. They underlined the challenges experienced in their various countries, from religious indifference in families, mixed marriages that weaken transmission of the Christian faith, and migration that fragments families and obstructs the transmission of values.
Meeting participants visited Antioch, Tarsus and Mopsuestia. On Saturday they were received by the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and took part in the celebration of Orthodox vespers.