Preparations in full swing” “

The Austrian Church prepares for the Katholikentag of Central Europe, due to end in Mariazell in 2004" "

The preparation of the Katholikentag (Catholic assembly) of Central Europe, the city mission, the role of Catholics in political life, social doctrine, and the training of teachers: these were the main questions on the agenda of the Austrian bishops at their spring plenary assembly, held at St. Georgen am Längsee in recent days. The Katholikentag of Central Europe: under the motto “Christ, hope of Europe”, the assembly is being organized jointly by the Episcopal Conferences of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Austria. It is scheduled to begin simultaneously in all countries on 1st June, with the exception of Austria where the initial ceremony will be celebrated in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna on Tuesday 10th June. The Katholikentag will close with a “Pilgrimage of the peoples” to the Austrian Marian sanctuary of Mariazell on 22 and 23 May 2004. Devised as a contribution “to the growing unity of Europe”, the Katholikentag has a threefold objective, according to the Austrian bishops. The first is “reconciliation among peoples as a way of overcoming the legacy of nationalism that left its mark on the nineteenth and twentieth century”, in the spirit of the joint declaration of the Czech and Austrian bishops. The second aim is “the consciousness of the roots of Europe”, whose soul will become “particularly visible in the great centres of pilgrimage and along the pilgrim’s roads of the continent”, thanks also to the “impulse given by the international pilgrimages” due to be held in the course of the year. The third aim is the need for “Christians to collaborate in the construction of Europe”, a “community of values” to which they can make an important contribution. The city mission: “open the doors to Christ” is the motto of this event, in which high hopes are placed. The mission will run in Vienna from 23 May to 1 June and represent, for the Church, an occasion for “dialogue with the men and women of our time, and a chance to offer them the Gospel in response to their questions about the meaning of life”. The mission will also take place in the cities of Paris (2004), Lisbon (2005) and Brussels (2006). The entry of Catholics into political life: in the light of the recent pronouncements of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Austrian bishops, according to the principle of a free Church in a free society, declare that it is the duty of the laity to render visible fundamental values in public life and affirm that “their application is the task of those politically engaged”. The Austrian bishops therefore urge the involvement of Catholics “in political life” to “represent Christian values in the interests of the common good”. “The relation between the Church and the parties”, they add, “is not one of equidistance”; rather, “it is the parties, through their programmes, choice of representatives and political practice, that draw near to or dissociate themselves from the Church”. Social commitment: The social commitment of the 14 churches in the country, whose intentions will probably be published on the first Sunday of Advent this year, must, say the Austrian bishops, represent a “charter” that may link social challenges and problems, stimulate the churches and society to change and encourage men and women to interact with society. Teacher training: in the light of the law that reformed higher education in 1999, a re-organization of teacher training in Austria is essential. This is a great responsibility for the Catholic Church which, with 44% of all teachers employed in Catholic schools, is responsible for the training of over 40,000 teaching staff. To this end, teacher training departments have been established in the ecclesiastical universities; their theoretical premises will be clarified by dialogue between the ecclesiastical authorities and the state.

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