In Warsaw, on March 6-7, 2014, the Formation and Training Centre of Caritas Poland hosted a meeting of the presidents and cardinals of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Central and Eastern Europe. At the invitation of Card. Peter Erdö, President of CCEE, and Archbishop Józef Michalik, President of the Polish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, cardinals, archbishops, and bishops from Hungary, Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, and Poland came along. Also the Apostolic Nuncio in Poland took part in the meeting.
The first part of their reflection dealt with the main challenges facing the family in the context of the forthcoming Synod of Bishops. 22 years after the collapse of communist regimes, the situation is particularly complex, and some common challenges are to be faced. The participants introduced the current situation of the family in their respective countries. A general overview has shown a certain similarity in terms both of legal situations and everyday life. In front of the many challenges in today’s society the family has to face, also due to a strong shift toward secularized society, the Churches have made an effort to find an appropriate response. The bishops’ reflections especially emphasized the difficult situation of the family, the demographic collapse, and the growing number of divided families, but also the pastoral efforts aimed at a rediscovery of family life and a new mindset regarding openness to life and religious education. The bishops have emphasized the role of pro-family movements, the big number of families involved in pastoral ministry, and the initiatives aimed at upholding marriage between a man and a woman, as in the case of the popular consultation in Croatia.
Another issue related to the preparation for marriage and family life, not only at the approach of the wedding, but already at a young age : the so-called “remote preparation.” This preparation cannot be reduced to a mere summary information on marriage, but it should answer to the question: what does it mean to be a family? This also relates to methods of pastoral work with the families which should not replace the work done by the families. The testimony of family life has proved to be the most convincing method in preparation for marriage and family life.
The bishops particularly stressed the importance of the extended family, a social and economic resource for the society of today and tomorrow in terms of solidarity and generosity, which should be increasingly valued by all States.
Faced with the increasing number of cohabiting couples without any institutional formality and other difficult situations, the bishops have insisted on the need for parishes to be true welcoming communities. We need to question the ability of our communities to welcome everyone and show God’s love for them; love does not come into conflict with the demands of truth about marriage.
The bishops have also focused on the presence of the Church in society in their respective countries. Such presence, after the change of regime, has become the subject of reflections in the various national contexts. Finding new forms of presence after so much suffering has been – and still is – a big challenge. The memory of many martyrs encourages us to never lose hope and the certainty of God’s presence.
The Church seeks to ensure her presence at the social level according to her own identity. She devotes considerable resources to the formation of young people both in parishes and schools. In some countries there is an opening to the public support to the activity of public interest of the Church. Comparisons have been made of the experiences of individual countries about the return of confiscated Church property.
Also through the laity, the Church carries out an important mission in the field of moral education without which there is no social stability. To carefully prepare and assist with the ongoing formation of teachers of religion in this context is therefore a priority.
Reference was also made to the role of reconciliation played by the Church both on a national level and between nations. In recent years, the Catholic Church has issued many statements that stressed not only the need for peaceful coexistence but for living and addressing common challenges together. This does not prevent, on the contrary it makes room to a sound awakening and a mutual recognition of every country’s national identity and one’s own cultures and traditions.
The bishops also had the opportunity to meet the cinema director Krzysztof Zanussi with whom they set out a conversation on the relationship between the sacred and the profane in contemporary art.
During the meeting, the participants prayed for Ukraine which is living a very delicate moment, in the hope the situation will soon be clarified in peace for the good of all.