Near those who suffer

The plenary of the presidents of European Bishops' Conferences in Bratislava

Hands extended to all men and women in the European continent because the core of Church mission is to be near those who suffer, who experience hardships, who are the victims of a “culture of discard”. Moreover, being close to humanity doesn’t only consist in offering works and service. We want to show “that our true treasure is Christ, and we intend to share Him will the rest of mankind”. This is the golden thread marking the European bishops’ meeting in Bratislava for the plenary assembly of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences. “God and the State. Europe between laicality and laicism” is the theme addressed by the presidents of all European bishops’ conferences until October 6. We find them seated around a large table in a hotel in the heart of the capital of Slovakia. They arrived in the heart of the European continent, in a land crossed by the Danube, evangelised 1500 years ago by Saints Cyril and Methodius. The country went through times of difficulties, sometimes tragic, throughout its historical development. But as apostolic nuncio Mario Giordana said, “faith has given strength” to the victims of persecutions and imprisonments. “You have come here – said the prime minister of Slovakia Robert Fico – to bring new perspectives and new experiences. My wish is that you with Pope Francis may never cease communicating those very Christian values that hold great importance not only for the Church but also for society as a whole”. Pope Francis’ presence is strongly felt in this Assembly. Through their Hungarian president Péter Erdõ, European bishops conveyed their full support to the work of “renewal” inside the Church which – they said – “will impact also the institutional life of the Church”. Catering to the existential world peripheries. There’s a single heartbeat that unites the hearts of European bishops with those of the many people that in Europe “are without a job and without means of supporting their own families”. “As pastors and as Christians – said cardinal Erdõ – we are deeply close to all those who suffer and experience hardships”. Thoughts go to “abandoned children, old people seen as burdens and cast aside, who are loosing all hopes”. “Our mission  – Erdõ explained – is to be near the last, which is what we do through our Church missions in which volunteers and families devote their services to the needy. But as a Church we don’t only offer what we have or our activities. Just like John and Paul outside the Temple we intend to share our true treasure that is Jesus with everyone”. The mission of the Church today is to evangelize modernity and post-modernity. “The new ongoing evangelization – said the archbishop of Budapest – will be the best way to continue celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Council! The Pope teaches us to go out and meet men and women in the existential peripheries of the world with whom God wants to start a friendship!” His words were echoed by Msgr. Jozef Michalik, archbishop of Przemysl, CCEE vice-President, who during the press conference told journalists that the style of Church mission, in line with Pope Francis, “is to have faith in people, and take them by the hand”. The task of the Church – mindful of the years of “Communist atheist propaganda” – is to reawaken an “anthropology, a concept of man that is not content with material goods but who nourishes through his inner self the thirst for God, for beauty and for spiritual values, which are present within all men and women”. The tragedy of Lampedusa. The opening of the CCEE plenary Assembly unfortunately coincided with the tragedy of an immigrants boat that capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa, leaving dozens dead and hundreds missing. The bishops gathered in Bratislava received the news with deep emotion and prayer, and sent a message to the European continent. “Europe’s unity must go hand in hand with common responsibility”, said the archbishop of Budapest. The president of Maltese bishops Monsignor Mario Grech, added: “We are all co-responsible of the death of these people”. “Enough with our blindness, with our lack of responsibility. I remember the words of the Holy Father when he said that unfortunately contemporary humanity is no longer able to shed tears over such tragedies. I feel a deep sadness for what has happened and I hope that this tragedy will help contemporary men and women acknowledge their responsibility of others”.

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