The annual gathering of the presidents of European episcopal conferences began Thursday with a strong appeal to the continent “not to waste itself by forgetting its Christian roots,” and to shepherds of Europe to “talk about Jesus to restore hope.”
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, president of the Council of the European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE), set the tune of the meeting in an inaugural speech delivered Sep. 28 in Minsk, where the gathering is taking place. This is the first time the plenary session of the council has taken place in Belarus. The CCEE includes presidents of the episcopal conferences in forty-five European states, including countries not members of the European Union, such as Albania, Turkey, and Russia.
Bagnasco’s speech was focused on three main issues: secularization, a wake-up call to bishops to “restore hope”, and the invitation to evangelize by “talking about Jesus.” The gathering took place Sep. 28 – Oct. 1. Among the topics of discussion were the future of young people in view of the 2018 Synod, and the Church’s relation with Europe and European institutions.
Bagnasco urged Europe “not to waste itself and its bimillennial history that links itself to Christianity, and which … produced fruits of civilization and culture.” He invited Europe to “love itself more and believe in its potential” and to “find again the enthusiasm of its origins” with the awareness of “offering something nice to humanity.”
Bagnasco noted that even Europe is experiencing the “ideological colonization” Pope Francis has often mentioned, most frequently in reference to developing nations. This “ideological colonization,” he said, is the intention to “live without God, and gives the idea that religion is opposed to happiness and freedom, as opposed to democracy and the secular state.”
Bagnasco noted that the current situation shows these kinds of secular ideas seemed to be inadequate to respond to the current crises Europe is facing. This is the reason why, Bagnasco said, the first goal of bishops of Europe must be to “restore hope,” as Europe “cannot be depressed, uncertain about its soul, weighed by tragic memory.” Bagnasco said that Christianity must take the commitment to “revive European roots”, which can “still blossom today as they did in the past” with so many achievements that “cannot be overcome by some shadows.”
The second commitment of bishops must be to “talk about Jesus”, since secularizing trends are not “unstoppable”, though they have “obscured the conscience of individuals and people.” The antidote to Europe’s secularizing trends, he said, is to announce the Gospel, fighting the “discouragement in front of the difficulties of the mission.”
Bagnasco spoke about a “Christian awakening,” explaining that “the best ally of the Gospel is not represented by our organizations, resources and programs,” but by human beings who maintain the “secret wish to meet someone who will help their conscience to re-awake, thus reawakening the decisive questions linked to the existence, destiny, the future beyond death, the mystery of evil that wounds the human being.”
In the end, he said the commitment of European bishops must be to “reawaken questions”, so that Europe can become a “family of nations,” centered on the dignity of the person. Bagnasco said that Europe could experience a new flowering of culture and development, “but only under the conditions that the dream of Europe’s founding fathers will be recovered.”