ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, OCT. 8, 2006 (Zenit.org).- With its first plenary assembly in Russia, the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences showed its closeness to the Orthodox Church for its long witness to the Gospel in this land.
The five-day meeting which ended today in St. Petersburg drew the presidents of the 34 Catholic bishops’ conferences — members of the CCEE.
Monsignor Aldo Giordano, secretary-general of the CCEE, told Vatican Radio: “The first objective of the presence of all the presidents of the conferences of Europe on Russian soil is to show closeness, communion and friendship with the Catholic Church that lives here, but also to express gratitude to those who in these lands have borne witness to the Gospel for centuries, above all the Orthodox Church.”
One of the assembly’s topics was the situation of religion and the Church in Russia.
“There is in Russia a great tradition of spirituality, a great tradition, also cultural, linked to religion,” commented Monsignor Giordano. “On the other hand, however, in recent times Russia is also characterized by what we in the West call the presence of secularization.”
“Likewise here, in Russia, also the fruit of long years of Communism, one notes a certain remoteness of the Church, a certain ‘ignorance’ of the Christian event,” the CCEE official continued. So it is “important to understand that here it is also necessary to help us in the area of evangelization. This impels us to ask ourselves how we can collaborate together in this great task.”
Monsignor Giordano also described on Vatican Radio the “climate of collaboration” and “mutual esteem” in relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
“Of course,” he added, “one notes in Russia the problems we have inherited from history.”
One such problem, he said, “relates to proselytism and therefore the consequent criticism of the Orthodox Church of other Churches, including the Catholic, accused of an action of a proselytizing nature almost as if we wanted to put in our flock the sheep that belong to another Church.”
“This certainly requires clarifications. It is necessary to clarify what evangelization really is, what it means to serve the Catholics of this country and, instead, what proselytism means in a negative sense,” Monsignor Giordano stressed.
The dynamic that prevailed in the meeting between the Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and the Catholic archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, was the common vision on the importance of collaborating for the consolidation of Christian values in Europe.
The cardinal, who is president of the episcopal conference of England and Wales, met with the Russian Orthodox patriarch shortly before going to the CCEE assembly in St. Petersburg.
In his visit to the patriarch, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor expressed the desire for “the creation of better relations between the Catholic Church in England” and the Orthodox Church in Russia, according to the Italian bishops’ SIR news service.
He also expressed his support of Alexy II’s idea about a necessary collaboration between Orthodox and Catholics for the consolidation of Christian values, especially “in secularized Europe.”
The Orthodox patriarch stressed the importance of collaboration in Europe, especially at present, given the frequent marginalization of religion from social life.
Moreover, he noted that the Russian Orthodox Church receives “quite positively” Benedict XVI’s statements in regard to the development of the dialogue desired by the Pope since the start of his pontificate.
Orthodox Patriarch Alexy also expressed his best wishes for the CCEE’s works.