.- Ecumenism, the 40th anniversary of Vatican II and the future of the European union were three themes that emerged at the four-day plenary assembly of European bishops last week, Sept. 29-Oct. 2, and that were quoted in an outcome document released yesterday. In the light of the Second Vatican Council, the presidents of Europe's 34 Episcopal conferences (CCEE) reflected on how to interpret the historical-cultural changes of recent decades and the paths to follow in the immediate future, in the areas of evangelization, the role of the Church in today's European society, ecumenical dialogue, and the meeting between religions and culture and European unification.
At the Second Vatican Council, "tradition and renewal embraced," said Msgr. Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants. It is wrong to think of the Council as a traumatic change or in terms of breaking continuity, he said.
Citing Pope Paul VI, Cardinal Camillo Ruini maintained that the Council's aim was to "to ensure that the Church of the 20th century may emerge ever better equipped to proclaim the gospel to the people of this century." The way to realize this lies in the correlation between the "affirmation of the centrality of man" (anthropological turning point) and his christological root: Christ is the true man, said the cardinal. Contemporary history indicates that Christianity has a public role “in guaranteeing, in present-day free and democratic society, the fundamental values of living side-by-side,” he said.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, examined the theme of the Council and ecumenical dialogue. Dialogue is not just an exchange of ideas, but a true sharing which involves the very being of a person, he said. At the ecumenical level it is not just a matter of agreeing diplomatically about the minimum or giving way to relativist positions, but realizing a true enrichment, sharing mutually the gifts that each one has. In this spiritual ecumenism seems today to be the guiding path to go down in the journey to Christian unity, he said.
The bishops discussed the plan of the Third European Ecumenical Assembly, which the CCEE is organizing together with the Conference of European Churches. It will begin with a first meeting of 110 delegates from the Churches and Bishops' Conferences of Europe in Rome, Jan. 24-27, 2006, and will end with an assembly at Sibiu, Romania, in September 2007.
With regard to evangelization, the bishops noted the importance of schools and universities in faith formation and reaffirmed their openness to contributing to the process of reform of the European university system, sanctioned by the Bologna agreement. The CCEE is called to intensify the European network between universities, professors and students.
Europe has experienced widespread secularization, and the Church must urgently re-proclaim the Good News and promote a new enculturation of Christianity in Europe, the bishops said.
The Church also has a role to play in the future of a united Europe. “The reflective period imposed on the process of European unification by the negative votes of France and the Netherlands to the Constitutional Treaty and the failure to reach agreement on the 2007/2013 community budget must be seen as a fruitful opportunity to think again about the European Constitution looking at its original inspiration and communicating to young people the meaning and idea behind this project,” the bishops said.
As well, in the current media culture, European churches must draw up pastoral plans for social communications, promote critical observations about the media, train competent media professionals and try to be a presence in the media.
The bishops noted that a wide-ranging pastoral initiative for vocations is needed. They noted that a number of priestly vocations are inspired by a great ecclesial event or through participation in a movement or from the relationship with a credible priest. The CCEE will hold a special session on vocations at a future plenary assembly.
The bishops spoke of the success of World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, and proposed youth meetings in Europe at a continental, regional or national level in 2007/2008 in preparation for the next World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008.
At the end of the meeting, Pope Benedict XVI exhorted them "not to be afraid of facing up to the present-day pastoral challenges, being in position to listen to the concrete conditions of man's personal and social life, ready to proclaim the Gospel of hope to all.
The next meeting of European bishops will be in St Petersburg, Oct. 5-8, 2006, on the invitation of Moscow Archbishop Tadeusz Kondustriewicz