“Demography and Family in Europe”: this is the theme that the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe are discussing in Zagreb. They are participating in the plenary assembly of the Council of Bishops’ Conference of Europe (CCEE), which opened in the Croatian capital on 29 September in memory of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac and will end on 3 October. In memory of Cardinal Stepinac. “On the twelfth anniversary of his beatification and the fiftieth of his death – said Cardinal Josip Bozanic, Archbishop of Zagreb and Vice-President of the CCEE, at the press conference to present the meeting – Cardinal Stepinac represents a luminous reference for the Croatian Church and not just for her. We feel his presence as the protector and guide of our work”. At the same press conference, asked about the vexed question of Roma, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, Archbishop of Bordeaux and Vice-President of the CCEE, underlined that it’s “a problem that must find a shared European response” to which the Church too “has offered and is offering her specific contribution”. The assembly, at which Cardinal Marc Quellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, was also present, opened with the reading of a message from Benedict XVI, which “encourages [the bishops] to pursue the important work performed with the aim of arousing in ecclesial communities the necessary commitment to the freedom of the faithful from intolerance and discrimination, to the promotion of the family and to the defence of human life”. The Pope hopes that “the meeting may help strengthen the bonds of unity and communion between European bishops, and instil the new evangelization of the continent with further courageous impulse”.An Observatory on Discrimination in Europe. Introducing the assembly, Cardinal Peter Erdo, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and President of the CCEE, announced the creation of an Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe to “promote greater awareness of the forms of intolerance and discrimination to which some Christians in Europe are subjected”. The Observatory, he explained, “is not intended to be a polemical tool, but an aid to create a society more respectful of religious freedom, and also better able to understand and accept both its own roots and the pluralist reality of our time through a healthy laicity. In short, it is intended on the one hand as an aid to modern evangelization, and on the other as an aid to the development of a genuine democracy based on equality in our continent. True religious freedom – as John Paul II said – is a central right; it is a condition for the sharing of all the other rights. Wherever campaigns of collective hatred are possible against one religious community or one ethnic group, they will sooner or later be possible against other groups”. Europe’s crisis of identity. According to the Hungarian Cardinal, Europe “is going through a crisis of identity today”. And he added: “When the aim is to deny at any cost the existence of God, as some groups seek to do, the end result is invariably that of denying the possibility of founding life and social structures on something firm and durable”. Emphasizing the difficulties of “many Christians who seek through their life to testify to their faith and the hope that is in them, also through a model of life that often becomes a challenge for others”, Cardinal Erdo explained that the Observatory has been set up “to raise people’s awareness about the existence of these cases of discrimination against Christians in Europe”. The initiative was announced some time ago in the latest number of “Litterae Communionis”, also reporting the CCEE’s decision to support the work of the Observatory on intolerance and discrimination against Christians in Europe, established in Vienna by the Kairós Consulting Agency. To coordinate the project the CCEE’s executive council has appointed Mgr. Andràs Veres, Bishop of Szombathely (Hungary). A dedicated website has also been created: www.intoleranceagainstchristians.eu.A difficult assent to life. Introducing the main theme of the assembly in Zagreb, Cardinal Erdo appealed for the adoption and implementation in Europe of “policies geared to the real needs of the family”. Many reasons prevent people from giving their complete “assent to life”. “The organization of modern urban life makes it difficult to maintain a large family. Women are not sufficiently esteemed in their role as mothers. The economic crisis and unemployment have entered the homes of so many families”. “Nor can we fail to acknowledge – continued the cardinal – that in our time the very concept of the family is placed in question and we are seriously worried” by the threats to “human life” especially “in moments of its greatest vulnerability”, before birth and as we approach its end”. According to the CCEE President, “the crisis of the family is especially an aspect of the cultural crisis”. “What are most lacking in our society and in our families are not just solutions” to immediate problems, he concluded, but “especially enthusiasm”.
Plenary assembly of European bishops opened in Zagreb