A light for Europe

Card. Peter Erdo at the Synod for the Middle East

On behalf of European bishops Cardinal Peter Erdo, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and President of the Council of the European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) delivered his address to the Prelates of the Churches of the Middle East gathered these past days in the Vatican for the special assembly of the Bishops’ Synod. Follows the integral text of the speech read in the Paul VI Hall on October 11. Seen from Europe, the Holy Land and the Middle East are found to the east. It is from there that the light of Christ came, that light that remains forever the true Invincible Sun that will never set. The face of Jesus shines like the sun (Mt 17:2) and illuminates the whole history of humanity. But the chosen disciples saw this splendor on the mount of the Transfiguration as the drama of the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord were already being prepared.Europe is in debt to the Middle East. Not only do a multitude of the fundamental elements of our culture come from that region, but the first missionaries to our continent came from there too. We gratefully conserve the memory of the event described in the Acts of the Apostles: “One night Paul had a vision: a Macedonian appeared and kept urging him in these words, ‘Come across to Macedonia and help us.’ Once he had seen this vision we lost no time in arranging a passage to Macedonia, convinced that God had called us to bring them the good news” (Acts 16:9-10). It was a providential decision by the Holy Father Benedict XVI to dedicate an entire year to Saint Paul, the Apostle to the Nations, whose fervor and wisdom are extremely relevant for the new evangelization.Speaking of this, I have to recall our European episcopal pilgrimage to Tarsus, the city of St Paul, but I have to also repeat the expression of sorrow and solidarity of the Europan bishops that we offered on the occasion of the violent death of His Excellency Mons. Luigi Padovese, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Turkey.When we consider the Middle East, we Europeans have to examine our consciences. Is the Gospel message still alive among us, that good news that we received from the Apostles? Or is that light and enthusiasm that stems from faith in Christ absent now from our lives?In our times, when Christian refugees and emigrants arrive in Europe from various Middle Eastern countries, what is our reaction? Do we pay enough attention to the reasons that force thousands if not millions of Christians to leave the land where their ancestors lived for almost two thousand years? Is it also true that our behavior is responsible for what is happening? We are truly facing a great challenge. We have to examine the nature and effects of the changes in Europe and in the Western world. Do we know how to effectively express our support to the Christians of the Middle East? Are the principle factors in public life in Europe still sensitive to the illuminated human values that come from Christianity? Or are they largely indifferent to and distrustful of that precious inheritance of ours? An inheritance without which Europe would not even exist in a cultural sense.The Christians who come from the Middle East knock on the doors of our hearts and re-awaken our Christian conscience. How do we welcome these brothers and sisters, what can we do to ensure that their ancient inheritance – which is also ecclesiastical- is conserved for the future? The theme of this synod is The Catholic Church in the Middle East: communion and witness. In the Acts of the Apostles we read that the multitude of the believers was “of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32). Such a communion still exists in the Church today; rather, the communion of the saints is an article of our Creed. Such an essential communion has to be – like the Church itself – both visible and invisible at the same time, it has to move in the world of grace but also in society. The Catholics of Europe pray, work, struggle and fight to be present and effective in visible society as well. Despite all the sadness, all the disappointments, all the negative experiences and sometimes the discrimination or pressures that strike Christians who try to follow their conscience, we never give up hoping that our Europe too will be able to find again its identity that is profoundly rooted in the culture of life, hope and love. The more we are aware of our Christian vocation in society, the more we will also be capable of displaying and radiating the force of the Gospel which is powerful and capable of transforming human society in our century as well. Faithful to the teaching of Vatican Council II demonstrated in a special way in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, we have to follow the invitation of the Church: “Those who are suited or can become suited should prepare themselves for the difficult, but at the same time, the very noble art of politics,and should seek to practice this art without regard for their own interests or for material advantages. With integrity and wisdom, they must take action against any form of injustice and tyranny, against arbitrary domination by an individual or a political party and any intolerance. They should dedicate themselves to the service of all with sincerity and fairness, indeed, with the charity and fortitude demanded by political life”. (GS 75f)”Physician, heal thyself” (Lk 4:23) – writes St Luke, the “dear doctor” (Col 4:14). We therefore have to heal ourselves – we, the Christians of Europe – with the help of the Holy Spirit so that we can reflect the light of Christ, received from the East, and pass on the gift obtained through our courageous witness.In this sense I ask for God’s blessing on this Synod and on all the Christians of the Middle East: Stella Orientis, pray for us!

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