(from Poznań) – “We are aware that if Europe lost the spirit of solidarity between individuals, peoples and states, it would be betraying the Christian message”, thereby exposing itself to “a civilization impoverishment, to a decline in European civis” warned Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, President of the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE) from Poznań, Poland, where the plenary meeting of the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe is under way. Cardinal Bagnasco’s words here in Poznań coincide with a critical moment in the life of the European Union, as the European Parliament in Strasbourg voted to trigger Article 7 of the EU Treaty against Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban for violating the EU founding values, and the President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker delivered his annual State of the Union address at the European Parliament.
Europe is also an item on the agenda of the bishops’ meeting, addressed under the banner of fraternity. “Europe: solidarity in the formation of consciences and society” is a central theme of the working sessions. “The fact that Europe is experiencing a difficult period in its common journey is under everyone’s eyes” – Bagnasco said – “and this concerns not the European Union, it encompasses the Continent as whole.”
The picture is gloomy. In his opening address to European bishops, Bagnasco touched on “political and cultural circumstances, new phenomena, conflicting drives.” He referred to “sensitivities that find it hard to dialogue and to mutually understand each other without bias. Every so often – he added – we see closures of minds and souls, perhaps past memories that have not been fully reconciled come to the fore.” Without making specific political references Bagnasco mentioned “unevenly distributed burdens” and “diverse identities” viewed as “obstacles and not as forms of enrichment to be acknowledged and harmonised.”
But the Church loves and believes in this Europe. “In its Christian culture, in its humanitarian thrust, despite shadows and delays; she believes in its future and mission, which is not of an economic nature, it is inherently spiritual and ethical.” Shadows are taking the shape of “growing forms of intolerance” registered throughout Europe. They are taking the shape of “loneliness.” Bagnasco also referred to “an unliveable culture of suspicion towards people and institutions” and expressed the concern over “attitudes of presumption, of supposed superiority, of arrogance”, on behalf of the European episcopate. Addressing European bishops, he said:
“We must remain vigil also inside our communities.”
The Church is in the heart of this Europe. “To re-proclaim Christ is the greatest act of love towards our people and towards our Continent”, Bagnasco said. “The right way to be in the world without being of the world. We are not afraid of our weaknesses, of our limits, not even of sins, engrained in human nature, that are source of pain.” In his welcoming address to European bishops Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki retraced the painful history of Poland conveying gratefulness for everything that the Church did practicing underground faith to keep alive its Christian, human and fraternal roots. “Poland- he said – has been reborn from the ashes of totalitarianism because its traditions, its culture and its Christian roots were protected and defended in churches, in chapels.”
The Pope’s message. Also Pope Francis encouraged European bishops to be leaven of fraternity in the continent. In his message, read by the Apostolic nuncio in Poland, Monsignor Salvatore Pennacchio, the Holy Father called upon the Churches of Europe “always to find new ways to achieve a generous and responsible solidarity, identifying paths of fraternal pastoral collaboration, in the wake of the spiritual values which have shaped the thought, art and culture of Europe.”