It was a time of turmoil in Europe. The Second Vatican Council helped with new ideas.
In 1965, Polish bishops sent a letter of reconciliation to German bishops. The letter was conceived by Cardinal Boleslaw Kominek, himself a Silesian and archbishop of Wroclaw.
Across the continent, many new initiatives were springing up:
There was the “worker-priest” movement, mainly in France and Belgium.
There was the development of the ecumenical movement, seeking the unity that Jesus Christ desired.
There was the experience of the so-called “Churches of Silence” beyond the Iron Curtain.
In this climate, the French cleric and later cardinal Etchegaray took the initiative.
Etchegaray was the organizer of the first prayer meeting among religions in Assisi in 1985. He opened the way for a papal trip to Cuba at the end of the 1980s, and Pope John Paul II sent the experienced diplomat to Iraq in an effort to avoid the Second Gulf War.
How a ‘simple note’ inspired the CCEE
Etchegaray’s note is dated Nov. 4, 1965. In those two pages, the cleric highlighted the diversity of exchanges that were taking place in Europe.
He underlined the need, arising from various conversations, to seek pastoral collaboration between the episcopal conferences of Europe.
Etchegaray wrote that the note did “not pretend to be exhaustive” or seek “to be exclusive.” He hoped “a genuine effort” could be made to interest as many bishops’ conferences across the continent as possible.
Europe was here considered a geographical — not a political — entity, from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
At the same time, the inspiration to launch such an initiative was made possible by a decree of the Second Vatican Council.
Vatican II’s document about the pastoral office of bishops in the Church, Christus dominus, states: “Wherever special circumstances require and with the approbation of the Apostolic See, bishops of many nations can establish a single conference.”
In what he calls “a pastoral note,” Etchegaray thinks of “two practical measures”: First, the establishment of a composite commission with delegated bishops, and second, a regular exchange of information between bishops’ conferences.
Etchegaray also made an overview of the situation in Europe at the time.
He noted the rise of European institutions after World War II and the creation of European officials. He wrote that the free movement of workers would allow for “the multiplication of European trade,” but that 45 million “Europeans always on the go” would also create a “Europe of holidays” that should not be underestimated.
In that “suggestive” note — as Etchegaray writes in another passage — there is also the intuition that European broadcasting contributed to European culture, together with the so-called European schools, which sprung up in various places, including Luxembourg, Italy, and Belgium.