Vatican City (Fides Service) – “The harsh legacy of atheistic totalitarian regimes, which have left emptiness and deep scars on consciences, requires that the countries of Eastern Europe take up today the hard work of proceeding with religious, moral and civil reconstruction; of strengthening rediscovered sovereignty, freedom and democracy; of mending the economy. On the difficult road that your Nations will have to set out upon in order to take renewed possession of their history and cultural dignity, you, the Christian lay faithful, have an irreplaceable role of fundamental importance” Pope John Paul said in a special message to participants at the first Congress of Catholic Laity of Eastern Europe in Kyiv, Ukraine 8-12 October 2003 organised by the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
In his message written in Ukrainian the Holy Father said: “The Lord asks you who have been stalwart witnesses of faith in times of trial and persecution, and in the time that has now seen you regain religious freedom, to prepare the soil for a vigorous rebirth of the Church in your Countries. After long decades of painful separation, which has caused a kind of asphyxia among the Christian communities of the East, Europe can breathe once more with both its lungs, revealing great possibilities for the spread of the Gospel.”
He also recalled that “old Europe, from West to East, is looking for a new identity. In this process, it must not forget its roots. Europe must remember that Christianity has been the lifeblood from which it has drawn the noblest inspirations of its spirit for two thousand years”. People today seem to have forgotten to a great extent the presence of God in their lives however not lacking are encouraging signs of a new springtime of Christian Churches whose full re-flourishing will “depend on the indispensable contribution of the lay faithful, who are called to make Christ’s Church present in the world by proclaiming and serving the Gospel of hope”. The laity have “the responsibility of passing on to future generations the heritage of Christian faith.”
“For the laity, this is a time of hope and courage! The Church needs you and knows that she can entrust great responsibilities to you” the Pope writes to the lay faithful with encouragement: “do not be discouraged as you face the challenges of our day! Draw strength from the example and intercession of the martyrs”… Make your families true domestic Churches and your parishes true schools of prayer and Christian life. You have regained freedom at the price of great suffering; do not let it ever devolve into the pursuit of false ideals suggested by the utilitarianism, individualistic hedonism or unrestrained consumerism that characterise so much of modern culture. Preserve your rich Christian traditions, resisting the insidious temptation to exclude God from your lives or to reduce faith to gestures and sporadic, superficial occurrences.”
The Holy Father concludes his message asking the laity to find new paths for ecumenical dialogue and interreligious relations: “You too are called to bear witness to Christ together with all our Christian brothers and sisters, wherever you may live and in whatever projects you may undertake in cooperation with them. The love of Christ heals wounds, overcomes prejudices, prepares the paths of unity.” Finally he entrusts the Christians in Easter Europe to “Mary, Mother of the Church and Help of Christians. We turn to her with special devotion in this year dedicated to the Rosary. May the Virgin intercede with her Son so that his grace will nourish and sustain the rebirth of your Churches and your Countries.” SL (Fides Service 14/10/2003 EM lines 42 Words: 566)