Despite the ordeals

Chisinau: Minority Churches in South-East Europe

The meeting of the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences of South-east Europe on “The Rights of Catholics in societies where they are a minority. The contribution of Catholics in the accomplishment of the common good across society: difficulties and new challenges”, took place in Chisinau (Republic of Moldova) from 25-28 February 2010. Representatives from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Moldavia, Romania, International Bishops’ Conference of SS Cyril and Methodius and Turkey attended the meeting promoted by the CCEE. In a message to the Pope the bishops wrote: “We feel the Lenten Period that has just begun as a sign of our daily lives as minority Churches surrounded by many ordeals. But, supported by faith and hope and strengthened by the charity shown by so many of our brothers from other countries and by Your Holiness, we are confident that that this period is being offered to us as an opportunity for renewal in the Holy Spirit”. Much still needs to be done. Approximately twenty years after the end of the totalitarian regimes which characterized most Countries of South-East Europe, and despite the establishment of democracy “there is still a lot of work to be done especially in the area of recognition of the rights of religious minorities”, states the document drawn up at the end of the meeting. “While in most cases Church-State relations have been sanctioned by concordats or the desire to grant juridical recognition to the Catholic presence in these countries (with the exception of Turkey), often agreements and/or concordats have remained carte blanche and strive to be implemented”, states CCEE. “Therefore the legal tool does not automatically entail justice and the protection of the rights of Catholic minorities. Indeed, in some cases the communities are not protected in the violation of their human rights, especially those rights linked to freedom of religion and the institutional rights of the Churches”. Moreover, the statement continues, “In the majority of countries, a major problem which remains, not just for Catholics, but also for other religious communities, is the restitution of or compensation for properties nationalized during the Communist era.” The communiqué acknowledges that even in those countries where it is a minority, the Catholic Church operates for the common good of the societies in which it is present. Such is the case of Moldova’s small Catholic community where Catholics represent 1% of the overall population. “A lot of work still lies ahead, and even in those Countries where the Catholic Church is a minority religion she does not feel any the less the duty to contribute to these societies’ common good and progress. In some countries, the Church’s participation and intervention in issues of public debate is often sought so that themes of an ethical nature may be discussed”. “The Church’s commitment to the service of the local peoples is the yardstick of the Church’s awareness of being a living part of those areas where every day priests, religious and lay people expend their own material and spiritual resources”.The conclusions. “It is our belief – is stated in the conclusions – that under many angles our minority situation constitutes a challenge and a commitment”. “It’s a challenge – they explain – since within a world marked by a variety of faiths and traditions we are called to live our faith with greater responsibility. We are called to solve the problem of religious identity and of pluralism without renouncing the truth of our faith, seeking to perceive the positive elements of other religious traditions. A pluralist approach doesn’t relativize our beliefs. Rather, it strips them of the poison of absolutism and intolerance”. The commitment of a minority – state the prelates in their conclusions of the Chisinau meeting, “can act as the yeast. It can ferment and bring growth and progress, but from within, serving as witness and martyr”.Expert in humanity. According to Msgr. Francisco-Javier Lozano, Apostolic Nuncio to Romania and to the Republic of Moldova “religious freedom is guaranteed not only by providing for individual and community worship, but also by upholding its public dimension with equal solicitude”. The nuncio explained: “the Church is close to all the problems afflicting the human person”. “This Church, with humbleness and conviction, is an expert in humanity”, and “with this spirit” demands the recognition of a “public dimension”, “in the belief” that dialogue, however difficult it may be, “is always possible, and therefore necessary”. Msgr. Aldo Giordano, Permanent Observer of the Holy See at the Council of Europe, underlined: “The Church is aware that her competence does not regard technical, political, economic, or social areas. Indeed, the Church acknowledges herself as the “social conscience”, expert in the human person. And for the fulfillment of this task the Church ought to be granted a place in the public sphere”.

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