Spring will come

European Churches and the demographic winter

The family, its difficulties, its hopes and its role in societies have been and still are at the centre of Church thought and action. Moreover, it’s important to acknowledge ongoing developments along with the scenarios supported by up-to-date researches and findings so as to adapt the Church’s time-honoured commitment to contemporary challenges.From September 30 to October 3 the presidents of European Bishops’ Conferences convened in Zagreb to discuss themes related to the family and natality, and propose a path of hope and trust whilst undertaking a rigorous analysis of the situation.The so-called ‘demographic winter’ is especially harsh in Europe. Its declining birth rates correspond to declining hope. The Church acknowledges this fact with concern. In her capacities of “mother and teacher” she takes the negative data as the point of departure of the path leading towards the spring, and not only in terms of birth rates. The Church highlights three primary routes all marked by responsibility and truth. The first route is Christian proclamation. The second regards cultural elaboration, while the third course involves political choices for the family. Progress entails lack of confusion and division. To this regard, the message conveyed by the plenary of the CCEE (Council of European Bishops’ Conferences) in Zagreb is related to COMECE’s (Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community). Indeed, in the same days, in the European Parliament building COMECE – along with other Christian Churches – addressed the theme of poverty, which inevitably involves the family. Also in this “detail” lies the inseparable bond linking the anthropological and the social questions.The first message of the CCEE assembly in Zagreb is that the family is affected by a weakness in faith, and that as it is subjected to strong external pressures, it demands renewed commitment and intelligence on the part of those who wish to bring Gospel proclamation to families.It is necessary to revive the yearning for God, the yearning of the One who joins us in our daily life and to whom we may talk of what is crucial, what is beautiful, to delve into joy and into life’s meaning; in the meaning of suffering and of dying.This yearning ought to come to new life, precisely when the dominating culture tends towards the removal of God from conscience and action by adopting the subtle weapon of relativism. There should be no fear to reach “the highness of God”, not even in Europe. Starting from here the Church’s pledge is to grant a cultural contribution on the family, so that it may not be stripped of its meaning, that it may not be sacrificed on the altar of relativism that often adopts the language of rights to conceal the language of egoism. This requires the presence of skilled and formed lay Catholics, capable of transforming the family founded on marriage into a communication link with the diverse cultures and religions.Finally, in the name of the dignity of the human person in all the seasons of life and in the name of the truth on the family, the Church calls upon the political realm to value the most precious treasures in society and undertake effective and far-sighted choices. The appeal is addressed to European Countries, so that the family may truly be placed at the centre of courageous policies also at a time of crisis. The Churches call upon the European Union to promote initiatives – such as those planned in the Year for Combating Poverty – that will help EU Countries address social and economic problems for the good of the family. Faith in European institutions should be accompanied by monitoring that non-negotiable principles are present in their decisions. This is the sign of true democracy, which is capable of great vision.The meetings in Zagreb and Brussels confirm the will and the capacity of the Church to dwell within the history of Europe with love. This love enables the identification of the first signs of spring within a harsh winter, which is not only demographic.

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