Bishops to hold meeting on Church’s social teaching to show ‘Catholics are alive in Europe’

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, S.J., pictured at the Vatican on Oct. 10, 2018, before he received the red hat. | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The bishops of Europe will hold a meeting devoted to promoting the social teaching of the Catholic Church as the continent attempts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 3rd European Catholic Social Days will take place in Bratislava, Slovakia, on March 17-20, 2022, with the title “Europe beyond the pandemic: a new beginning.”

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the archbishop of Luxembourg and president of one of the organizing groups, said that the social meetings “are important because they show that Christians and Catholics are alive in Europe, and that we can work for the solidarity and for the well-being of every citizen of Europe.”

The gathering, which last took place in Spain in 2014, is organized by the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE), and the Slovak Bishops’ Conference.

Around 300 delegates will participate in the event, which is intended to offer a Christian perspective on Europe’s recovery in the political, economic, and social systems, especially after the coronavirus pandemic.

At a press conference at the Vatican on Dec. 10, Hollerich said the meeting would focus on exploring three transitions Europe is experiencing: a demographic transition and family life; a technological and digital transition; and an ecological transition.

“One of Pope Francis’ dreams for Europe is ‘a Europe that is a family and a community,’” Hollerich said. “The first session of the Social Days will give the opportunity to reflect on the sense of community and to highlight the family as the first community. Family is the future of Europe and must be supported by adequate social policies to cope with the real ‘demographic winter.’”

“We will also approach the issue of the population decline, the growing rural-urban divide in Europe, and the importance of family as the nucleus cell of society. Acting as a community includes developing a spirit of fraternity and solidarity against individualism and conflicts, in order to face together Europe’s challenges,” added the president of COMECE.

CCEE president Archbishop Gintaras Grušas of Vilnius, Lithuania, said at the live-streamed press conference that the three thematic areas of the meeting “point to the fact that the first step for a just recovery is to invest in the family and in the defense of human life.”

“Starting from the current social issues that affect European societies, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and aware that the Gospel offers the criterion of true secularism that does not exclude loyal and respectful collaboration for the integral good of society, we want to analyze those issues that we believe are fundamental for a just social, economic and ecclesial recovery, working together with European peoples and governments, to a recovery that leaves no one behind,” he said.

At the press conference, Hollerich was asked about a withdrawn document discouraging European Commission staff from using the word “Christmas.”

The cardinal, who will serve as relator general of the upcoming Synod on Synodality, said he thought the 32-page internal document, called “#UnionOfEquality. European Commission Guidelines for Inclusive Communication,” was not meant to cause any harm, but “Pope Francis called it anachronistic and he’s right.”

Europe is now a multicultural and multi-religious entity, he said, noting that if the European Commission wants to be inclusive of many different religions, the solution is not to relegate religions to the private sphere but to give them all access to the public space.

The suggestion to not use the word “Christmas,” he said, “means in fact a practical discrimination against Christians, which we cannot accept.”

Cardinal Peter Turkson, who leads the Vatican’s department for promoting integral human development, also chimed in on the subject, saying that perhaps the European politicians wanted to create space for dialogue and to make all religions feel welcome.

“But as a point, to enter into dialogue does not mean to lose your identity,” he said, noting that real dialogue should include an effort to understand and know the dialogue partner.

“So it should not be a situation of, as it were, tabula rasa — ‘clean everything off because that does not exist,’” he said. “It’s a question of affirming one’s own [identity] and being able to, at the same time, listen to the other. That, I think, should be the attitude.”

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