Vatican City (Fides Service) – In preparation for the Great Jubilee 2000, Pope John Paul II convoked a series of continental synods of Bishops (see TMA 38) the last of which devoted to Europe (1-23 October 1999) on the theme “Jesus Christ, alive in his Church, source of hope for Europe”. An earlier Synod for Europe had been held in 1991 shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989).
Taking into account the resolutions and guidelines issued by the 1999 Synod, on 28 June, the eve of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the Pope promulgated the post synodal exhortation Ecclesia in Europa. The word found all through the document, which has an introduction, six chapters and a conclusion, is hope: “the Gospel of hope is Jesus Christ, Good News which the Church can carry to the men and women of Europe so they may be happy, and to the new Europe that we want to build, so it may have solid foundations” said relator general at the Synod ,Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, Archbishop of Madrid, when he presented the document at the Holy See press office.
The exhortation follows as its underlying theme the Book of Revelation, like a biblical icon which illustrates our reality: in the early Church, as today, the insertion of Christians in history is illuminated by the triumph of the Risen Lord. If the earthly city is built without God or against God, it can have no future worthy of man. Starting from this conviction we see the reality of Europe in the prospective of hope. Among the concerning signs mentioned the loss of Christian memory and heritage; fear of the future manifested in interior void, low birth rate, fear of assuming lasting commitments; widespread fragmentation of life which leads to weakening of interpersonal solidarity; some offers of hope such as science, consumerism and esoteric experiences which are unable to satisfy the authentic thirst that lies in the human heart.
Among the positive signs two aspects are emphasised: from the point of view of civil society, the building of the European Union as a community of peoples, according to democratic methods, in a peace and with respect for human rights. From the religious point of view, signs of hope include the newly found freedom of the Church in Eastern Europe; the Church’s focus on her spiritual mission and the priority of evangelisation; increasing awareness of the mission of every baptised person; increased presence of women in the Christian community.
Starting from this situation the Church knows she has a treasure to offer to Europe: Jesus Christ, hope of Europe. In the past the Christian faith made a fundamental contribution to the shaping of the continent of Europe and the Church is convinced that still today it can contribute considerably to the moulding of a Europe of values and peoples.
Live, proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of hope: these are the four roles which form the nucleus of the apostolic exhortation. The Pope stressed the need for authentic mission ad gentes among the non baptised and vast social and cultural sectors which await the first announcement of the faith. In Christian liturgy it is necessary to experience the mystery in all its spiritual profundity. The Pope warns of two dangers: “on the one hand, certain sectors of the Church seem to have lost sight of the genuine meaning of the sacraments and might trivialize the mysteries being celebrated; while on the other hand, many of the baptized, following customs and traditional practices, continue to have recourse to the Sacraments at significant moments of their life, yet do not live in accordance with the Church's teaching.” Lastly a Church that lives the experience of God who is Love, cannot fail to show preferential love for the poor.
“Europe needs to make a qualitative leap in becoming conscious of its spiritual heritage. The impetus for this can only come from hearing anew the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the responsibility of all Christians to commit themselves to satisfying this hunger and thirst for life” the Pope affirms. . SL (Fides Service 30/6/2003 EM lines 45 Words: 704)