An opportunity to reflect on the meaning of life and discern on which values and experiences are truly fundamental and which others are instead secondary. It is the challenge offered to all Christians during the Advent period; thus also to the faithful in Slovakia, Czech Republic and Belarus that SIR Europe met in this pre-Christmas journey. It is a time of great expectations and manifold meanings, to understand and relive the birth of Jesus. Czech Republic: Christian Christmas. Over 100 Catholic parishes and communities from other Christian denominations in the Czech Republic have adhered to this year’s intiative of an internet projec titled “Christian Christmas” created eight years ago in Brno with the intention of spreading the spirit of the Advent and of upcoming Christmas among all people of good will, explaining to them its true meaning, that is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and invite them to take part in hundreds of events and activities organized for the occasion. The website www.krestanskevanoce.cz provides information on the spiritual meaning of Christmas, along with a detailed summary of Masses, prayer gatherings, exhibits of Nativity scenes, concerts and theatre performances, Christmas Choirs, spiritual retreats, Blessing of the Wine, various conferences and debates on topics regarding Christmas. “Visitors of our website can choose, on the basis of this rich program, to experience a tranquil alternative to the business frenzy typical of large cities in particular, to live a truly Christmas atmosphere marked by its spiritual message”, said the coordinators of the project, carried out under the auspices of the Cardinal Dominik Duka, President of the Czech Bishops’ Conference. Slovakia, hope and prayer. High representatives of the Catholic Church in Slovakia use the period of Advent to attract attention on the problems of the social situation of families and the co-responsibility of the State as regards the creation of the common good in society. “Long-term social insecurity aggravates concerns for the future stemming from poverty and marginalization of specific social brackets, not to mention the negative impact of this insecurity on family relationships. Many people don’t have the strength to face so much suffering and let go to various forms of dependence”, states the Pastoral letter. The bishops highlight “love for our neighbours” and “faith in God-love” as possible ways out from hopeless life situations. “This pastoral letter is based on hope. It brings hope because it relies on our willingness to cooperate, to join our efforts to overcome the difficulties in our families. It reminds us that the ultimate example and source of strength is the love of God”, said Msgr. Stanislav Zvolensky, President of the Bishops’ Conference, who added that the purpose of the document isn’t only “a diagnosis of current problems” but encouraging the faithful to keep up their hope and help each other in a spirit of solidarity. “The future is always more beautiful than we can imagine, because everything is in God’s hands”, concluded Zvolensky. Besides the pastoral letter, the Bishops’ Conference has also prepared a special spiritual guide for the next few weeks, titled “Advent with John Paul II.” Over 14 thousand people have registered to receive quotations from this pontiff saint who was so close to the Slovak nation, visiting it three times in the course of his life. In Belarus the Year of Conversion. The Bishops’ Conference of Belarus has recently concluded the Year of Prayer declared for 2014 and opened the Year of Conversion for 2015. For the president of the Bishops’ Conference, Msgr. Alexander Kaskiewicz, the invitation to a conversion of the heart isn’t addressed only to those who are distant from God or who have lost the gift of faith, imprisoned by moral evils. “Conversion is an invitation to everyone. All Christians, aware of their weaknesses and their limits, have the desire to break free from the bondage of sin and open up to the gift of love and mercy of God who is generous, just and faithful, as demonstrated in forgiveness and redemption”, wrote bishop Kaskiewicz. “Let the Lord penetrate the darkest corners of our lives, in spaces known only to us and to him. It is necessary to renew them” and “become true children of God and heal the wounds in our souls “, is the invitation of Msgr. Kondrusiewicz, Metropolitan Archbishop of Minsk-Mogilev. The Year of Conversion, with many activities and events related to this theme, is part of the preparations for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Fatima, that will be remembered in 2017. The bishops believe that the period of Advent provides a good opportunity to initiate a spiritual renewal of hearts.
Initiatives before Christmas in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Belarus. Primacy of the Word, value of solidarity