(SIR Europe – Saint Gallen) – "The Holy Father has said on several occasions the ongoing economic and financial crisis is fundamentally an ethical, anthropological crisis. It is strictly bound to the human person’s self-understanding and to how he/she acts in society". The president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE), cardinal Péter Erdõ, opened the annual plenary of the ecclesial body, gathered to reflect on the theme: "The social and spiritual aspects of the challenges of our times" September 27-30.The Pope’s message. The CCEE headquarters are located in St. Gallen (Switzerland), which is also the venue of the assembly of the presidents of the European Bishops’ Conferences, marking the 1400th anniversary since the arrival of Saint Gall, disciple of St. Colomban whom he followed from Ireland to the Swiss Canton, which today bears the same name. The theme of the meeting is the origin and the consequences of the economic crisis that seriously impacted also the spiritual, anthropological and ecclesial realms. The session opened with a message sent by pope Benedict XVI: "The memory of Saint Gall and his work, on the eve of the Synodal Assembly on the New Evangelisation, will be a stimulus" for us to look "with faith and confidence" at that "abundant ‘harvest’, which is the people of Europe, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and the teachings of the Supreme Pontiffs who implemented it". The Holy Father encouraged everyone to "refocus on the solemn teaching of the Servant of God Paul VI in his ‘Evangelii nuntiandi’ and on the task entrusted to us by Blessed John Paul II in his ‘Novo millennio ineunte’" in the light of the Magisterium and "in view of the forthcoming Year of Faith". In the message sent to the CCEE president, the Pope calls upon the Church in Europe to "reflect on the unceasing mission of evangelization and its renewed, topical relevance". Various perspectives. In his prolusion, cardinal Erdõ provided a snapshot of CCEE annual activity, the issues addressed, the occasions for encounter with European churches and with churches from world countries. He then added, "The so-called economic and financial crisis raises a set of fundamental questions on the mechanisms regulating economy, society and democracy in Europe". For the prelate, "it is clear that different peoples, States, and economies in Europe see the same problem from very different angles". An emblematic example of this is the fact that many Countries need financial aid, while others, in a perspective of responsibility and solidarity, feel called to support those in trouble. Card. Erdõ guarded against the risk that the recipient of such generous support might become the banking system, considered a cause of the problem. "And the poor people..?" the speaker asked. "What should be said to those who are always asked to save money", to those "whose retirement pensions – earned after a lifetime of hard work – have been lowered?", to those "whose social benefits and health service have been cut?".The "signs of the times". The CCEE president thus said that "the crisis brought to the fore a wide range of issues, which include a widespread feeling in Europe, whereby man is lost in the maze of unfathomable processes and circumstances". "People want to be in control, on the one hand – many refuse to acknowledge a Divine force, nor do they respect human authority -, but on the other, they experience a feeling of impotence when they strive to solve their problems by themselves". In this way, "resignation becomes one of the most widespread feelings" although "there are signs of hope". There are many "signs of a profound need for religion, a need deep in the heart to find God". In this case, "there are the grounds for a new mission" paving the way to "new, undiscovered areas" for the "new evangelization". Starting anew from the Gospel. At the end of the Plenary, Cardinal Erdõ said: "At this time of crisis the theme of the assembly may seem non-specific. In reality, the bishops who traveled here from all over Europe are well aware of the difficulties and sacrifices made by millions of citizens. We are near them and our Bishops’ Conferences are committed in many different way to relieve their suffering seeking fair, fraternal solutions to economic and social problems". "We must try to address the cause of the problem. We should ask ourselves: what’s the reason for this? Why this crisis now? The third millennium had begun with a prospect of peace, serenity, wellbeing", leaving behind "centuries of wars, dictatorships… why all of this?". With the help of several experts, the bishops wish to delve into the economic, social, political, ecclesial and pastoral aspects of this phase, so as to revive the commitment of the faithful for the evangelization of contemporary society.
European bishops in St. Gall reflect on the ''challenges of our times''