Belgrade (Fides Service) - The presidents of 7 Bishops' Conferences (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Serbia & Montenegro and Turkey) met from 20th to 22nd February in Belgrade - a city sometimes thought of as the meeting point between East and West - on the eve of the enlargement of the European Union. Here is the text of a statement issued by the CCEE in St Gallen.
<The meeting opened with a round table on “Europe and Christianity”, involving the Nuncio to the European Union, Archbishop Faustino Sainz Muñoz and the general secretary of ComECE, Mgr. Noël Treanor, with Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and Bishop Irinej of Novi Sad representing the Serbian Orthodox Church. It was generally agreed that the Churches need to reinforce the way they witness to Christ in present-day Europe by proclaiming the Gospel and promoting basic values like respect for life and the family. If they are to be able to have a public role, Churches and religious confessions need their juridical and institutional status to be recognised in each country. The unification of Europe could well be a framework in which the Churches can pool their experiences and get to know each other better, and thus contribute to this transitional phase in the life of the Balkan region, to reconciliation between ethnic groups and to the solution of the serious economic problems that weigh heavily on these countries.
A united Europe also requires unity and co-operation between the Churches in every country in South-Eastern Europe, where an Orthodox majority and a Catholic minority co-exist alongside a strong Muslim presence. This makes it necessary to meet more often, to co-operate more effectively and to get to grips with the most difficult issues. In this spirit, and in a very brotherly way, on the morning of Saturday 21st February Patriarch Pavle welcomed the bishops who took part in the meeting to the patriarchal residence in Belgrade. In his words of welcome, and in the conversation he had with the bishops, the 90-year old patriarch spoke of the need to be light and salt for Europe, and of the Gospel's radical injunction to pray for and love not only friends but also enemies. This underlines the fact that Christians must strive ceaselessly for peace and justice.
Ecumenical co-operation is a key element in dealing with the region's problems. Delegates from Caritas and the Catholic Relief Service presented the results of a survey of the Balkan region and Serbia in particular, where the number of poor people has risen from 2% in 1988 to 21% in 1998. The Catholic Church has focused its current efforts in these countries on education for human and civil rights and combating violations, as well as material support. On the evening of Saturday 21st February, the bishops joined in a young people's prayer-vigil for Christian unity and Christian witness in Europe, and concelebrated a solemn Mass, led by Bishop Amédée Grab, the president of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE), in the presence of Cardinals Puljic of Sarajevo and McCarrick of Washington, Bishop Irinej and other representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as the Serbian government's Minister of Religion. A catholic-orthodox choir sang at the Mass. Archbishop Sbarbaro, the Nuncio, hosted a reception where the bishops met political leaders and local civic dignitaries.
At the end of the meeting, there were some practical proposals for future work and study, and it was decided that the 5th meeting in this series will be in Sarajevo in 2005, as a gesture of solidarity with Catholics in Bosnia-Herzegovina, who live in a difficult situation and are often not supported in problems linked to repatriation. Once again, it was clear that it is important for bishops to be able to pool their experiences and pastoral problems in an atmosphere of collegiality and brotherhood. Bishop Grab thanked Archbishop Stanislao Hocevar sincerely for organising the meeting and for giving such an enthusiastic welcome to the CCEE's project.> The fifth Meeting will be in 2005 in Sarajevo. (Fides Service 24/2/2004 EM lines 52 Words: 679)