PLENARY of the COUNCIL of EUROPEAN EPISCOPAL CONFERENCES
Poznan 13-16 September 2018
Card. Angelo Bagnasco – President of CCEE
1. Our grateful thoughts go to the Holy Father Francis, for his encouraging message who recently presided over the World Meeting of Families in Dublin: together with him we thank the multitude of married couples and families who testify to the world the beauty of the Gospel of marriage and the family, and who – in the faithfulness of daily love – sanctify their lives, and encourage young people not to fear noble, fruitful and definitive commitments. And with him we repeat: “the family that prays together, stays together!” (Address to Families, Dublin, 25.8.2018). We assure Pope Francis of our constant prayer for him and for his universal ministry on the chair of Peter, we confirm our esteem and affection for him, our profound solidarity, our collegial affinity. Alongside him at every moment, especially at those times which unjustly strain one’s steps but do not crush the heart. As the Council of European Episcopal Conferences, on our behalf and of our brothers, of the Churches in Europe, we will express these sentiments in a message which we will send to him.
2. In this Assembly, in the light of the Plenary in Minsk, we put as the focus for these days the theme of solidarity in the continent. Since our last meeting new factors have emerged, changes which impact on individuals, peoples, Nations and States. It is there for all to see that Europe is experiencing a time of difficulty in its common journey: and this concerns not just the European union but, more widely, the whole Continent. Circumstances of a political and cultural nature, new phenonema, contradictory driving forces seem to bring about different sentiments and sensitivities which find it difficult to dialogue and to understand each other free from prejudice; sometimes one notices a closing of hearts and minds, perhaps a re-surfacing of past memories not completely reconciled; certain practices too arduous or poorly motivated, that the burdens poorly spread, that the different identities are seen as obstacles rather than a wealth to be recognised and harmonised for a more committed, supportive and necessary path.
3. The strong cultural individualism, which is widely sown everywhere, is not accidental: it is disseminated on purpose to release culture from bonds at every level, family, civil society, the religious community…. Individuals feel more isolated as if they were forced to be faceless, outside a history which identifies them, rather than heirs of a patrimony of cultural content and spiritual values which unite without shutting in, which enables people to open themselves to everyone without losing themselves. This state of affairs creates confusion and fear out of which can arise opposing feelings and behaviours. Writing about Nietzsche who announced the death of God and said humanity was the killer, Michel Foucault wrote: “Rather than the death of God – or, rather, in the wake of that death and in the profound correlation with it – what Nietzsche’s thought heralds is the end of his murderer” (Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, Tavistock, London 1974, pg. 385). In this perspective, the spirit of human and Christian solidarity seems to be put to the test, too: we will be helped to focus on the situation by starting out from the data gathered from the Bishops’ Conferences from the majority of Europe, thus creating a good starting point for our reflections in working groups and in the plenary discussions. We are conscious that if Europe were to lose the meaning of solidarity among individuals, peoples and States, it would be betraying the Christian message and be an impoverishment of civilisation, a loss of the European civis.
The Church in Europe has a great responsibility: committed and united, it must must look in the eye the Earth where Providence has placed it and which has been entrusted to its care as a mother. This is our Earth: we know that to take pastoral care for it is a premise and condition for taking care of the world. The Holy Father Francis wrote with clarity of mind that “modernity has been marked by an excessive anthropocentrism” (Pope Francis, Laudato sì, n 116). This excess is giving rise to what experts call “transhumanism”, according to which human dignity would not consist in its being image and similitude of God, but in its most absolute autonomy, to the point of transforming not just nature, but even the human body itself: the more artificial human behaviour becomes – we might say anti-natural – the more men and women would affirm their self-determination and therefore their dignity! This delusion leads to an anti-personalist vision, which opposes the very essence of humanity as a structural relationship with others, in other words the capacity of men and women for participation, solidarity, communion in order to achieve the common good.
An increasing intolerance of that anthropological vision which Christianity inspired in the European womb is widespread and promoted. The consequences, however, of this metamorphosis take shape in loneliness, in an invisible culture of suspicion towards people and institutions, but also in attitudes of conceit, of presumed superiority, of arrogance. The atmosphere becomes corrupt, relationships weaken and special interests take the upper hand over the gratuitousness of mutual service, forgetting that everyone needs all the others. We must be vigilant in our communties, too.
4. The Church believes in Europe, in its Christian culture, in its humanist motivation despite shadows and delays; it believes in its future and in its mission, which is not of an economic kind, but spiritual and ethical. It believes – and its history testifies to it – that culture is born from worship, that is, from the religion which reveals to men and women their origin and recalls them to their destiny generating civilisation, beauty, diligent fraternity. For Europe faith is our gift, faith in Jesus Christ is our treasure; He is our strength; He is our hope. We believe the greatest act of love towards our peoples and our Continent, the best way to be in the world without being of the world, is to proclaim Christ again. Our weakness, our limitations, not even the sins which the human condition brings with it and which are the source of pain, do not frighten us. The Church is conscious that its authority is above all mystical and liturgical, and the source is Christ Himself, the Saviour of the world. The Lord has placed into the hands of the Church a universal treasure without which everything becomes possible, even forms of secular totalitarianism which, in the name of humanity, in fact denies it. Our history is there to remind us and everyone that to distance oneself from Christ means producing monsters; it reminds us that to speak of the consequences of the Gospel without speaking about Christ can attract some initial attention, but this quickly disappears.
The young generations must enter into this memory to learn to live in truth and goodness; to look to their own future, but also to that of Europe which must be a home for everyone. We are conscious that without the great Hope, the daily hopes have no substance, just as without the great Good our good deeds drain away because they are fleeting; without the One who made Himself a Samaritan of humanity every form of solidarity is fragile, exposed to calculations which do not respond to the gratuitousness which shines out on the cross of Jesus.
In our meeting, it is important to appeal also to priests, our first collaborators. To them we renew our esteem and the affection of Fathers and Pastors, and we encourage them to never lack trust, to renew generosity in daily affinity with the people, to walk together – like the old evangelisers – along the roads of the Continent to share with all – especially with young people – the treasure of the Christian faith and of the Church. The next Synod will certainly be a grace for them and for the entire People of God, and we will follow it with great affection and with prayer, sure that the Spirit of the Risen One never ceases to guide souls and enchant hearts, begining from the generations of young people.
Let us now begin our work under the gaze of the Holy Virgin of Czestochowa, of Saint Stanislaus and of Saint John Paul II and the saint Patrons of Europe, entrusting to them this Church, Poland, our Communities and the European Continent. Thank you.