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Cardinal Erdo, a New Helmsman

Interview With Episcopal Council's President

ROME, OCT. 17, 2006 (Zenit) - The recent plenary assembly of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences that took place in Russia bodes well for the Church's impact on Europe, says the council's new president.

Cardinal Peter Erdo, primate of Hungary, was elected president of the CCEE during the plenary assembly Oct. 5-8 in St. Petersburg.

In this interview with us, correspondent Viktoria Somogyi, the 54-year-old archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest spoke of his outlook for the CCEE and the Church in Europe.

Q: At the recent plenary assembly, special attention was given to the topics of the family, vocations and priestly formation. In your opinion, what was the meeting's greatest achievement?

Cardinal Erdo: One of the most important results, first of all, was to be able to hold this plenary assembly in Russia and in the framework of the seminary of St. Petersburg.

Speaking of priestly vocations, we were in an environment in which one could see the true weight and importance of the work and of being a priest. I am convinced that from this point of view, the former Communist world still has much to say to the other part of the Continent.

Also, of course, mutual help, the presence of movements and small communities of religious from all parts of the Continent was a fact which also impressed us as a lived experience, but also as a theoretical and practical possibility.

Made very clear was the importance of the content of theological teaching and, therefore, also of the development of faculties, and the work of seminaries.

In regard to marriage and the family, one of the delicate points was the crisis of the most natural and fundamental concepts of marriage and family life in our European culture. It is important that these human values not only be defended but also presented in an attractive and convincing way by all Christians.

And in this area of work for fundamental values we have many common tasks with the Orthodox Churches. This was a joyful discovery shared by all those present.

Q: In Benedict XVI's message for the St. Petersburg meeting, the Holy Father expressed the hope that "this plenary meeting will encourage witness and the contribution that the Catholic Church, in fraternal collaboration with the other Christian confessions, offers to the identity and common good of Europe." In the light of his hope, what can be the CCEE's contribution to the moral growth and integration of Europe?

Cardinal Erdo: First, collaboration in the area of transmission of our faith. We have also talked about catechesis, the teaching of religion and Christian education in general, collaboration among the different Christian communities in this area, naturally with respect for the identity of others participating in this type of education.

Underlined was the challenge to seek relations with politically important elements and those in charge of our society to assert these fundamental and human values on which the existence of our peoples depends. We know that reality must be respected, otherwise the community destroys itself. That is why we must seek both ecumenical relations as well as relations with different societies of our continent.

Q: Do you think that the values of which the Church is bearer will be able to obtain a just affirmation in the process of political integration which the countries of Europe are slowly resuming?

Cardinal Erdo: The question is of very great importance. I would not be able to say what the relationship will be between integration and these values. Of course there was also worrying information of certain recommendations, especially of the Council of Europe.

But precisely in the Council of Europe -- which must not be confused with the European Union, before which the Catholic Church is represented by an apostolic nuncio, but which also has the COMECE as interlocutor in conversations -- recommendations are written which at times seem to try to introduce so-called new fundamental rights which have nothing to do with the classic list of fundamental rights or human rights.

For example, [there is] the forced sense of the category of equality which perhaps also tries to marginalize the identity of religious communities and the autonomy of Churches, or other tendencies that seem to make the development of legislation of each nation difficult.

Therefore, the autonomy must be underlined of each country in the legislative area, also in regard to fundamental human values.

Moreover, it is important, for example, that Russia and Turkey also be represented on the Council of Europe, as precisely their deputies have recently contributed several times to the defense of these most central human values of our common heritage.

Q: The St. Petersburg's meeting was a moment of rapprochement and sharing with the "little flock" of Russian Catholics. The importance of this event was underlined by Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz in his homily at the closing Mass. What is the CCEE's position vis-ŕ-vis the problem of supporting the Catholic Churches of the former Soviet bloc?

Cardinal Erdo: As regards economic support, we already have a long history, above all the generosity of the Churches of the Western part of the Continent.

But there is also the support of a cultural kind, of sharing pastoral experiences and the very fact of physical presence; for example, of so many bishops in one place. It was the first time in the history of Russia that so many presidents of Catholic episcopal conferences were present.

Also, public opinion in that country was aware of this phenomenon, of this meeting. I believe that this visible event already constitutes a certain consolation for the Catholic community in Russia.

Moreover, that flock does not seem so small. For example, in the city of St. Petersburg before the October Revolution, 7% of the population was Catholic. And today a similar percentage of the population again seems to be connected in some way with the Catholic Church.

Today we celebrated a very beautiful Mass in the renovated parish church which was the mother church, the oldest Catholic parish church of St. Petersburg: St. Catherine of Alexandria, built still in the times of the Empress Catherine.

The church was packed, the people were of all generations so that there were also many young people. There was singing; they knew the liturgical texts well.

We have found a very dynamic, lively community. In this sense, we can also receive inspirations from the Catholic Church in Russia.

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