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What Europe Needs - Bishops Discuss the Future of Christianity in the Continent

LEEDS, England, OCT. 11, 2004 (Zenit) - The future of the Catholic Church in Europe was debated at a meeting held last week in England. From Thursday to Sunday the presidents of the bishops' conferences in Europe gathered in Leeds.

"The cultural and religious changes in Europe prompt us to formulate a pastoral response. As never before the future of Europe seems charged with opportunities," stated Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops, in his address. He stressed the key was "fidelity to Christ and to his Gospel."

In his opening address Bishop Amédée Grab, president of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE), spoke about the Catholic identity in Europe. He observed that for many people today the Catholic Church is "just one of many spiritual choices or 'possibilities,' in a world where the 'right to choose' is seen as vitally important." Moreover, many Europeans have only a superficial knowledge of the Church, and even where Catholic traditions are still observed, their roots have been forgotten.

Regarding relations between the Church and society, Bishop Grab observed that democracy is now prevalent throughout Europe. In theory this should guarantee everyone the same rights. "But we often hear influential people say how they would like to prevent the Catholic Church playing a part in political and democratic life."

"Tolerance is what is preached, but some find it hard to tolerate the Church speaking publicly," the 74-year-old Swiss prelate added. "The tendency to confine religion to the private sphere is as much part of life in the West of Europe as it is in the East. It is a product as much of the communist vision as of a certain kind of liberalism."

Citing John Paul II, Bishop Grab recommended that the Church develop pastoral initiatives that both take contemporary culture into consideration, and are centered in Christ. "If we look to Christ crucified, we have a different key for interpreting reality, where success has hardly anything to do with the concepts of success normally used in Europe today," he said.

The meeting's host was Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. The 72-year-old archbishop of Westminster agreed that support for the Church in society is weak. "But the search for faith is strong," he added. He noted that the Church's action in helping the poor and disadvantaged continues to be very strong.

Sound teaching

"We come together at a crucial time in the pilgrim journey of the Catholic Church," stated Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor in his homily during a Mass celebrated last Sunday at St. Anne's Cathedral, Leeds.

At the start of the third millennium, "we bishops have the task of preaching and teaching the Good News of Jesus Christ to the people of our time," he said. This, he explained, involves two main challenges.

"The first is this. St. Paul says in today's reading, 'Keep as your pattern the sound teaching you have heard from me in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. You have been entrusted to look after something precious. Guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.'"

Many in Europe, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor explained, are looking for values "that will give meaning to their lives and purpose to their activities." Filling this void with God is a responsibility for bishops and all those who work with them, both priests and lay people. This is not a burden, but a privilege, he added.

The cardinal recommended avoiding two extremes: a rigidity that prevents others from hearing the message to be preached; and an excessive conformity to the ways and values of the world that distorts the truth of the Gospel.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor once more cited St. Paul in outlining the second challenge. "St. Paul says in his letter to Timothy, 'I am reminding you to fan into a flame the gift that God gave you when I laid my hands on you. God's gift was not a spirit of timidity but the spirit of power, and love, and self-control.'"

"Do not think, my dear people, that it is easy to be a Christian, a Catholic, in today's society, in the latter-day culture of Europe, to which we all belong," the cardinal said. An example of how to strengthen the faith in Europe can be found in St. Francis of Assisi, he added.

The following day was the feast of the patron of Europe, and Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor observed: "I think St. Francis teaches us that there is no way we will be missionaries in Europe without striving to be holy, without striving to imitate Christ."

Anglican input

The meeting also addressed a variety of other themes, among them ecumenism. The Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was present and emphasized the importance of "spiritual ...

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