Ecclesia in Europa
Dec 31, 2007

Ecclesia in Europa

Ecclesia in Europa

Home | Join/Donate

Adoremus, Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy




June 28, 2003

CHAPTER ONE — Jesus Christ is Our Hope
CHAPTER TWO — The Gospel of Hope Entrusted to the Church of the New Millennium
CHAPTER THREE — Proclaiming the Gospel of Hope
CHAPTER FOUR — Celebrating the Gospel of Hope
CHAPTER FIVE — Serving the Gospel of Hope
CHAPTER SIX — The Gospel of Hope for a New Europe
CONCLUSION — Entrustment to Mary


A proclamation of joy for Europe

1. The Church in Europe was closely united to her Bishops as they gathered in Synod a second time and contemplated Jesus Christ, alive in his Church, the source of hope for Europe.

This is a theme which I too wish to proclaim to all the Christians of Europe at the beginning of this third millennium, as I join my Brother Bishops in repeating the words of the First Letter of Saint Peter: "Have no fear, nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you" (3:14-15).1

This proclamation resounded throughout the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. The Synod was celebrated on the eve of the Jubilee and was closely connected with that event, serving as a kind of door opening upon the Jubilee.2 The Jubilee itself was "one unceasing hymn of praise to the Trinity", an authentic "journey of reconciliation" and a "sign of true hope for all who look to Christ and to his Church".3 Bequeathing to us the joy of a living encounter with Christ, "the same yesterday, today and for ever" (Heb 13:8), it once again set before us the Lord Jesus as the one unshaken foundation of authentic hope.

A second Synod for Europe

2. From the outset, a deeper appreciation of the theme of hope was the principal goal of the Second Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops. As the last of a series of continental Synods celebrated in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000,4 its purpose was to analyze the situation of the Church in Europe and to offer guidance in promoting a new proclamation of the Gospel, as I emphasized when I announced its convocation on June 23, 1996, at the conclusion of the Eucharist celebrated at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin.5

The synodal Assembly had to take up, re-examine and study the issues which surfaced in the preceding Synod for Europe, which was held in 1991, following the collapse of the walls, on the theme: "That we may be witnesses of Christ who has set us free". That first Special Assembly emphasized the urgent need for a "new evangelization", in the awareness that "Europe today must not simply appeal to its former Christian heritage: it needs to be able to decide about its future in conformity with the person and message of Jesus Christ".6

Nine years later, the conviction that "the Church has the urgent task of bringing the liberating message of the Gospel to the men and women of Europe" 7 once more emerged with compelling force. The theme chosen for the new synodal Assembly set forth that same challenge, this time from the standpoint of hope. There was a need, in other words, to proclaim this message of hope to a Europe which seems to have lost sight of it.8

The experience of the Synod

3. The synodal Assembly, which met from October 1-23, 1999, was a precious opportunity for encounter, listening and dialogue: it enabled Bishops from different parts of Europe to have a better knowledge of one another and of the Successor of Peter. As a group we were able to support and inspire one another, thanks above all to the witness of those who under the former totalitarian regimes endured harsh and prolonged persecutions on account of their faith.9 Once again we experienced moments of communion in faith and charity, led by a desire to bring about a fraternal "exchange of gifts" and mutually enriched by the diversity of each other’s experiences.10

This led in turn to a readiness to hear the call which the Spirit makes to the Particular Churches in Europe to face new challenges with decision.11 With a loving gaze the participants in the Synod did not hesitate to look at the present reality of the Continent, noting both its light and its shadows. There was a clear recognition that the current situation is marked by grave uncertainties at the levels of culture, anthropology, ethics and spirituality. There was also a clear and growing desire to understand more deeply and to interpret this situation in order to see the tasks which await the Church: what resulted were "useful orientations to make the face of Christ increasingly more visible through a more incisive proclamation confirmed by a consistent witness".12

4. The Synod experience, lived with evangelical discernment, also led to a growing awareness of the unity that, without denying the differences derived from historical situations and events, links the various parts of Europe. It is a unity which, rooted in a common Christian inspiration, is capable of reconciling diverse cultural traditions and which demands, at the level of both society and Church, a constant growth in mutual knowledge open to an increased sharing of individual values.

Throughout the Synod, a powerful impulse towards hope gradually became evident. While taking seriously the analyses of the complexity characterizing the Continent, the Synod Fathers saw that possibly the most urgent matter Europe faces, in both East and West, is a growing need for hope, a hope which will enable us to give meaning to life and history and to continue on our way together. All the reflections of the Synod were geared towards responding to this need, taking as their starting-point the mystery of Christ and the Trinity. The Synod wished to set forth once more the figure of Jesus, alive in his Church, who reveals God as Love, a communion of the three divine Persons.

The icon of the Book of Revelation

5. In this Post-Synodal Exhortation I am pleased to be able to share with the Church in Europe the fruits of this Second Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops. In this way I intend to respond to the desire expressed at the end of the synodal Assembly, when the Fathers gave me the texts of their reflections and asked me to offer to the pilgrim Church in Europe a document on the theme of the Synod.13

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches" (Rev 2:7). In proclaiming to Europe the Gospel of hope, I will take as a guide the Book of Revelation, a "prophetic revelation" which discloses to the community of believers the deep and hidden meaning of what is taking place (cf. Rev 1:1). The Book of Revelation sets before us a word addressed to Christian communities, enabling them to interpret and experience their place in history, with all its questions and its tribulations, in the light of the definitive victory of the Lamb who was slain and who rose from the dead. At the same time, it sets before us a word which calls on us to live in a way which rejects the recurring temptation to construct the city of man apart from God or even in opposition to him. For should this ever happen, human society itself would sooner or later meet with irreversible failure.

The Book of Revelation contains a word of encouragement addressed to believers: beyond all appearances, and even if its effects are not yet seen, the victory of Christ has already taken place and is final. This in turn causes us to approach human situations and events with an attitude of fundamental trust, born of faith in the Risen One, present and at work in history.

CHAPTER ONE — Jesus Christ is Our Hope

"Fear not, I am the first and the last and the living one" (Rev 1:17-18)

The Risen One is always with us

6. At a time of persecution, tribulation and bewilderment for the Church (cf. Rev 1:9), the message resounding throughout the vision of the writer of the Book of Revelation is a message of hope: "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one, I died and behold I am alive for ever more, and I have the keys of Death and Hades" (Rev 1:17-18). We thus find ourselves before the Gospel, the "good news", that is Jesus Christ Himself. He is the First and the Last: in Him all history finds its beginning, its meaning, its direction and its fulfilment. In Him and with Him, in His death and resurrection, everything has already been said. He is the Living One: once He was dead yet now He lives for ever. He is the Lamb standing before the throne of God (cf. Rev 5:6): sacrificed, because He shed His blood for us on the wood of the Cross. He is standing, because He has come back to unending life and has shown us the infinite power of the Father’s love. He holds in His hands the seven stars (cf Rev 1:16), the persecuted Church of God, which struggles against evil and sin, yet nonetheless has every right to be joyful and victorious since she is in the hands of the One who has already triumphed over evil. He walks among the seven golden lampstands (cf. Rev 2:1), for He is present and active in His Church at prayer. He is also "the one who comes" (Rev 1:4), thanks to the Church’s mission and the activity throughout human history; He will come as the eschatological reaper, at the end of time, in order to bring all things to completion (cf. Rev 14:15- 16; 22:20).

I. Challenges and signs of hope for the Church in Europe

The dimming of hope

7. This message is also addressed today to the Churches in Europe, often tempted by a dimming of hope. The age we are living in, with its own particular challenges, can seem to be a time of bewilderment. Many men and women seem disoriented, uncertain, without hope, and not a few Christians share these feelings. There are many troubling signs which at the beginning of the third millennium are clouding the horizon of the European continent, which "despite great signs of faith and witness and an atmosphere undoubtedly more free and unified, feels all the weariness which historical events — recent and past — have brought about deep within the hearts of its peoples, often causing disappointment".14

Among the aspects of this situation, so many of which were frequently mentioned during the Synod,15 I would like to mention in a particular way the loss of Europe’s Christian memory and heritage, accompanied by a kind of practical agnosticism and religious indifference whereby many Europeans give the impression of living without spiritual roots and somewhat like heirs who have squandered a patrimony entrusted to them by history. It is no real surprise, then, that there are efforts to create a vision of Europe which ignore its religious heritage, and in particular, its profound Christian soul, asserting the rights of the peoples who make up Europe without grafting those rights on to the trunk which is enlivened by the sap of Christianity.

Certainly Europe is not lacking in prestigious symbols of the Christian presence, yet with the slow and steady advance of secularism, these symbols risk becoming a mere vestige of the past. Many people are no longer able to integrate the Gospel message into their daily experience; living one’s faith in Jesus becomes increasingly difficult in a social and cultural setting in which that faith is constantly challenged and threatened. In many social settings it is easier to be identified as an agnostic than a believer. The impression is given that unbelief is self-explanatory, whereas belief needs a sort of social legitimization which is neither obvious nor taken for granted.

8. This loss of Christian memory is accompanied by a kind of fear of the future. Tomorrow is often presented as something bleak and uncertain. The future is viewed more with dread than with desire. Among the troubling indications of this are the inner emptiness that grips many people and the loss of meaning in life. The signs and fruits of this existential anguish include, in particular, the diminishing number of births, the decline in the number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and the difficulty, if not the outright refusal, to make lifelong commitments, including marriage.

We find ourselves before a widespread existential fragmentation. A feeling of loneliness is prevalent; divisions and conflicts are on the rise. Among other symptoms of this state of affairs, Europe is presently witnessing the grave phenomenon of family crises and the weakening of the very concept of the family, the continuation or resurfacing of ethnic conflicts, the re-emergence of racism, interreligious tensions, a selfishness that closes individuals and groups in upon themselves, a growing overall lack of concern for ethics and an obsessive concern for personal interests and privileges. To many observers the current process of globalization, rather than leading towards the greater unity of the human race, risks being dominated by an approach that would marginalize the less powerful and increase the number of poor in the world.

In connection with the spread of individualism, we see an increased weakening of interpersonal solidarity: while charitable institutions continue to carry out praiseworthy work, one notes a decline in the sense of solidarity, with the result that many people, while not lacking material necessities, feel increasingly alone, left to themselves without structures of affection and support.

9. At the root of this loss of hope is an attempt to promote a vision of man apart from God and apart from Christ. This sort of thinking has led to man being considered as "the absolute center of reality, a view which makes him occupy — falsely — the place of God and which forgets that it is not man who creates God, but rather God who creates man. Forgetfulness of God led to the abandonment of man". It is therefore "no wonder that in this context a vast field has opened for the unrestrained development of nihilism in philosophy, of relativism in values and morality, and of pragmatism — and even a cynical hedonism — in daily life".16 European culture gives the impression of "silent apostasy" on the part of people who have all that they need and who live as if God does not exist.

This is the context for those attempts, including the most recent ones, to present European culture with no reference to the contribution of the Christian religion which marked its historical development and its universal diffusion. We are witnessing the emergence of a new culture, largely influenced by the mass media, whose content and character are often in conflict with the Gospel and the dignity of the human person. This culture is also marked by an widespread and growing religious agnosticism, connected to a more profound moral and legal relativism rooted in confusion regarding the truth about man as the basis of the inalienable rights of all human beings. At times the signs of a weakening of hope are evident in disturbing forms of what might be called a "culture of death".17

An irrepressible yearning for hope

10. Yet, as the Synod Fathers made clear, "man cannot live without hope: life would become meaningless and unbearable".18 Often those in need of hope believe that they can find peace in fleeting and insubstantial things. In this way, hope, restricted to this world and closed to transcendence, is identified, for example, with the paradise promised by science or technology, with various forms of messianism, with a hedonistic natural felicity brought about by consumerism, or with the imaginary and artificial euphoria produced by drugs, with certain forms of millenarianism, with the attraction of oriental philosophies, with the quest for forms of esoteric spirituality and with the different currents of the New Age movement.19

All these, however, show themselves profoundly illusory and incapable of satisfying that yearning for happiness which the human heart continues to harbor. The disturbing signs of growing hopelessness thus continue and intensify, occasionally manifesting themselves also in forms of aggression and violence.20

Signs of hope

11. No human being can live without looking towards the future. How much more so the Church, which lives in expectation of the Kingdom yet to come and already present in this world. It would be unjust not to acknowledge the signs of the influence of Christ’s Gospel in the life of societies. The Synod Fathers sought them out and emphasized them.

These signs must include the recovery of freedom of the Church in Eastern Europe, with its new possibilities for pastoral activity; the concentration of the Church on her spiritual mission and her primary commitment to evangelization, also with regard for social and political realities; the growing missionary awareness on the part of all the baptized in the variety and complementarity of their gifts and their tasks, and the increased presence of women in the life and structures of the Christian community.

A community of peoples

12. If we look at Europe as a civil community, signs of hope are not lacking: when we consider these signs with the eyes of faith, we can perceive, even amid the contradictions of history, the presence of the Spirit of God, who renews the face of the earth. At the conclusion of their labors, the Synod Fathers described these signs in the following way: "We joyfully recognize the growing openness of peoples to one another, the reconciliation between countries which have been hostile and at enmity with each other for a long time, the progressive opening up to the countries of Eastern Europe in the process of seeking deeper unity. Mutual recognition, forms of cooperation and exchanges of all sorts are being developed in such a way that little by little, a culture, indeed a European consciousness, is being created. This we hope will encourage, especially among the young, a sense of fraternity and the will to share. We note as a very positive factor that the whole of this process is developing according to democratic procedures, in a peaceful way and in the spirit of freedom which respects and fosters legitimate diversity, encouraging and sustaining the process leading to the growing unity of Europe. We welcome with satisfaction all that has been done to safeguard the conditions and ways to respect human rights. Finally, in the context of the legitimate economic and political unity in Europe, while acknowledging the signs of hope seen by the attention given to the rights and to the quality of life, we sincerely hope that, in creative fidelity to the humanist and Christian traditions of our continent, there will be a guarantee of the primacy of ethical and spiritual values".21

Martyrs and witnesses to the faith

13. I intend, however, to draw particular attention to some of the signs which have emerged in the life of the Church herself. In the first place, together with the Synod Fathers, I want to point out to everyone, so that it will never be forgotten, that great sign of hope represented by the many witnesses to the Christian faith who lived in the last century, in both East and West. They found suitable ways to proclaim the Gospel amid situations of hostility and persecution, often even making the supreme sacrifice by shedding their blood.

These witnesses, and particularly those who suffered martyrdom, are an eloquent and magnificent sign which we are called to contemplate and to imitate. They show us the vitality of the Church; they stand before us as a light for the Church and for humanity because they caused the light of Christ to shine in the darkness; to the extent that they came from different religious traditions, they also shine forth as a sign of hope for the journey of ecumenism, in the certainty that their blood "is also a vital source of unity for the Church".22

Even more radically, they tell us that martyrdom is the supreme incarnation of the Gospel of hope: "In this way, martyrs proclaim ‘the Gospel of hope’ and bear witnesses to it with their lives to the point of shedding their blood, because they are certain that they cannot live without Christ and are ready to die for him in the conviction that Jesus is the Lord and the Savior of humanity and that, therefore, only in him does mankind find true fullness of life. According to the exhortation of the Apostle Peter, their example shown them ready to give reason for the hope that is in them (cf. 1 Pt 3:15). Furthermore, martyrs celebrate the ‘Gospel of hope’, because the offering of their lives is the greatest manifestation of the living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which constitutes true spiritual worship (cf. Rom 12:1), and the source, soul and summit of every Christian celebration. Finally, martyrs serve the ‘Gospel of hope’, because they express in their martyrdom a love and service of humanity to a high degree insofar as they demonstrate that obedience to the law of the Gospel begets a moral and societal life which honors and promotes the dignity and freedom of every person".23

The holiness of many

14. One fruit of the conversion brought about by the Gospel is the holiness of so many men and women in our time: not only those whom the Church has officially proclaimed saints, but all those who with simplicity and amid the circumstances of their daily lives testified to their fidelity to Christ. How can one not think of the countless sons and daughters of the Church who throughout Europe’s history have lived lives of generous and authentic holiness in the hiddenness of their family and their professional and social lives? "All of them like ‘living stones’ adhering to Christ ‘the cornerstone’, have built Europe as a spiritual and moral edifice, leaving a most precious inheritance to the future generations. The Lord Jesus promised: ‘He who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father" (Jn 14:12). The saints are living proof of the fulfilment of this promise, and they encourage the belief that this is possible in the most difficult hours of history".24

The parish and ecclesial movements

15. The Gospel continues to bear fruit in parish communities, among consecrated persons, in lay associations, in groups devoted to prayer and the apostolate and in various youth communities, as well as through the presence and growth of new movements and ecclesial realities. In each of them the one Spirit finds ways of awakening renewed dedication to the Gospel, generous openness to the service of others, and a Christian life marked by Gospel radicalism and missionary zeal.

In today’s Europe too, both in the post-Communist countries and in the West, the parish, while in need of constant renewal,25 continues to maintain and to carry out its particular mission, which is indispensable and of great relevance for pastoral care and the life of the Church. The parish is still a setting where the faithful are offered opportunities for genuine Christian living and a place for authentic human interaction and socialization, whether in the situations of dispersion and anonymity typical of large modern cities or in areas which are rural and sparsely populated.26

16. At the same time, together with the Synod Fathers, I express my great esteem for the presence and activity of the different apostolic associations and organizations, and for Catholic Action in particular. I also wish to note the significant contribution that, in fellowship with other ecclesial realities and never in isolation from them, they can offer to new movements and to new ecclesial communities. Such groups, in fact, "help Christians to live a more radically evangelical life. They are a cradle for different vocations, and they generate new forms of consecration. Above all, they promote the vocation of the laity, and they help it to find expression in different spheres of life. They favor the holiness of the people. They are able to be both the messenger and the message for people who otherwise would not encounter the Church. Frequently they promote the journey of ecumenism and they open the ways to interreligious dialogue. They are an antidote to the spread of sects and an invaluable aid to the spread of joy and life in the Church".27

The journey of ecumenism

17. We give thanks to the Lord for the great and consoling sign of hope which is the progress made in the journey of ecumenism under the standard of truth, charity and reconciliation. This is of the great gifts of the Holy Spirit for a continent like Europe which gave rise to tragic divisions between Christians during the second millennium and which still suffers from their consequences.

I am moved as I remember certain moments of great intensity experienced during the synodal labors and the unanimous conviction, also expressed by the Fraternal Delegates, that this journey — despite the problems which remain and the new ones which are emerging — cannot be halted, but rather must continue with renewed enthusiasm, with deeper determination and with a humble openness to mutual forgiveness on the part of all. I readily agree with some of the observations made by the Synod Fathers, since "the progress in ecumenical dialogue, which has its deepest source in the same Word of God, represents a sign of great hope for the Church of today: the growth of unity among Christians is, in fact mutually enriching for all".28 We need to "look with joy at the progress that has so far been made in the dialogue both with our brethren of the Orthodox Churches and with those of the Ecclesial Communities born of the Reformation, recognizing in them a sign of the working of the Spirit, for which we must praise and thank the Lord".29

II. Returning to Christ, the source of all hope

Confessing our faith

18. From the synodal Assembly there emerged the clear and passionate certainty that the Church has to offer Europe the most precious of all gifts, a gift which no one else can give: faith in Jesus Christ, the source of the hope that does not disappoint;30 a gift which is at the origin of the spiritual and cultural unity of the European peoples and which both today and tomorrow can make an essential contribution to their development and integration. After twenty centuries, the Church stands at the beginning of the third millennium with a message which is ever the same, a message which constitutes her sole treasure: Jesus Christ is Lord; in Him, and in no one else, do we find salvation (cf. Acts 4:12). Christ is the source of hope for Europe and for the whole world, "and the Church is the channel in which the grace pouring from the pierced Heart of the Savior flows and spreads".31

This confession of faith causes our hearts and lips to raise "a joyful confession of hope: ‘Risen and living Lord, you are the new hope of the Church and of humanity. You are the one true hope for the human family and for history. Already in this life, and in the life to come you are "among us the hope of glory" (Col 1:27). In you and with you, we find truth: our life has meaning, communion is possible, diversity can become richness, and the power of the kingdom is at work in history and helps to build the city of mankind. Love gives an eternal value to human efforts. Suffering becomes salvific, life will conquer death, creation will share in the glory of the children of God’ ".32

Jesus Christ our hope

19. Jesus Christ is our hope because He, the Eternal Word of God, who is always with the Father (cf. Jn 1:18), loved us so much that he assumed our human nature in all things but sin and shared in our life, for the sake of our salvation. The profession of this truth stands at the very heart of our faith. The loss of the truth about Jesus Christ, or a failure to comprehend that truth, prevent us from appreciating and entering into the mystery of God’s love and the Trinitarian communion.33

Jesus Christ is our hope because He reveals the mystery of the Trinity. This is the core of the Christian faith, and it can still make a significant contribution, as it has in the past, to the creation of structures which, inspired by the great values of the Gospel or measuring itself against them, are capable of promoting the life, history and culture of the different peoples of the Continent.

Many are the spiritual roots underlying the recognition of the value of the human person and his inalienable dignity, the sacredness of human life and the centrality of the family, the importance of education and freedom of thought, speech and religion, the legal protection of individuals and groups, the promotion of solidarity and the common good, and the recognition of the dignity of labor. These roots have helped lead to the submission of political power to the rule of law and to respect for the rights of individuals and peoples. Here we should mention the spirit of ancient Greece and Rome, the contributions of the Celtic, Germanic, Slav and Finno-Ugric peoples and the influence of Jewish and Islamic culture. Yet it must be acknowledged that these inspiring principles have historically found in the Judeo-Christian tradition a force capable of harmonizing, consolidating and promoting them. This is a fact which cannot be ignored; on the contrary, in the process of building a united Europe there is a need to acknowledge that this edifice must also be founded on values that are are most fully manifested in the Christian tradition. Such an acknowledgment is to everyone’s advantage.

The Church "is not entitled to express preferences for this or that institutional or constitutional solution" for Europe, and for this reason she consistently desires to respect the legitimate autonomy of the civil order.34 Nevertheless, she has the task of reviving faith in the Trinity among the Christians of Europe, knowing full well that this faith is the herald of authentic hope for the continent. Many of the great paradigms of reference mentioned above, which are at the core of European civilization, have their deepest roots in the Church’s trinitarian faith. This faith contains an extraordinary spiritual, cultural and ethical potential which is also capable of shedding light on some of the more important questions discussed in Europe today, such as social disintegration and the loss of a meaningful point of reference for life and history. Hence the need for a renewed theological, spiritual and pastoral meditation on the mystery of the Trinity.35

20. The Particular Churches in Europe are not simple agencies or private organizations. Rather, they carry out their work with a specific institutional dimension that merits legal recognition, in full respect for just systems of civil legislation. In their self-reflection, Christian communities need to appreciate anew that they are a gift which God has given for the enrichment of the peoples living on the continent. This is the joyful message that they are called to bring to every person. In coming to a deeper appreciation of their own essential missionary dimension, they must constantly testify that Jesus Christ "is the one and only mediator of salvation for all of humanity. Only in Him do humanity, history and the cosmos find their definitively positive meaning and receive their full realization: He has in Himself in His life and in His person the definitive reason of salvation. He is not only the mediator of salvation but salvation’s very source".36

Consequently, in the context of the ethical and religious pluralism which increasingly characterizes Europe, there is a need to profess and proclaim the truth of Christ as the one Mediator between God and men and the one Savior of the world. Therefore, in union with the whole Church, I invite my brothers and my sisters in faith — as I did at the end of the synodal Assembly — constantly to be open in trust to Christ and to allow themselves to be renewed by Him, proclaiming to all people of good will in the power of peace and love that whoever encounters the Lord comes to know the Truth, discovers the Life, and finds the Way leading to it (cf. Jn 14:6; Ps 15:11). From the tenor of life and the witness of Christians, the inhabitants of Europe will come to discover that Christ is the future of man. In the faith of the Church, "there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).37

21. For believers, Jesus Christ is the hope of every person because he grants eternal life. He is "the Word of life" (1 Jn 1:1), who came to the world so that men and women "may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10). He shows us that the true meaning of man’s existence does not remain confined within the horizons of this world, but opens instead upon eternity. The mission of each Particular Church in Europe is to take note of every person’s thirst for truth and the need for authentic values which can enliven the people living on the continent. With renewed energy, each Particular Church must again bear witness to the newness which is its life. This means initiating a well-structured cultural and missionary outreach, demonstrating by action and by convincing arguments how the new Europe needs to rediscover its ultimate roots. In this context, all those who are inspired by the values of the Gospel have an essential role to play, which is part of the solid foundation for building a more humane and peaceful coexistence respectful of one and all.

The Particular Churches in Europe need to restore to hope its primordially eschatological thrust.38 True Christian hope, in fact, is theological and eschatological, founded on the Risen One who will come again as Redeemer and Judge and who calls us to resurrection and our eternal reward.

Jesus Christ alive in His Church

22. By returning to Christ, the peoples of Europe will be able to rediscover the hope which alone can give full meaning to life. Today too they can discover that hope, for Jesus is present, alive and at work in His Church. He is in the Church and the Church is in Him (cf. Jn 15:1ff.; Gal 3:28; Eph 4:15-16; Acts 9:5). In the Church, by virtue of the gift of the Holy Spirit, He unceasingly continues His saving work.39

With the eyes of faith we are enabled to see the mysterious presence of Jesus in the different signs that He has left us. He is present first of all in Sacred Scripture, which everywhere speaks of Him (cf. Lk 24:27, 44-47). Yet in a unique way He is present in the Eucharist. This "presence is called ‘real’ — by which it is not intended to exclude all other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, the God-Man, is wholly and entirely present".40 In the Eucharist, in fact, "is contained truly, really and substantially the Body and the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, together with His soul and divinity, and therefore the whole Christ".41 "Truly the Eucharist is a mysterium fidei, a mystery which surpasses our understanding and can only be received in faith".42 Also real is the presence of Jesus in the other liturgical actions of the Church, which she celebrates in His name. Among these are the Sacraments, actions of Christ which He carries out at the hands of men.43

Jesus is also present in the world in other very real ways, and especially through his disciples who, in fidelity to the twin commandment of love, worship God in Spirit and truth (cf. Jn 4:24) and testify by their lives to the fraternal love that sets them apart as followers of the Lord (cf. Mt 25:31-46; Jn 13:35; 15:1-17).44

CHAPTER TWOThe Gospel of Hope Entrusted to the Church of the New Millennium

"Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death" (Rev 3:2)

I. The Lord calls to conversion

Jesus speaks today to our Churches

23. "The words of Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks among the golden lampstands…, the first and the last, who died and came to life…, the Son of God" (Rev 2:1,8,18). It is Jesus Himself who speaks to His Church. His message is addressed to all the individual Particular Churches and concerns their inner life, which is at times marked by the presence of ideas and ways of thinking incompatible with the Gospel tradition, frequently subjected to different forms of persecution and, what is yet more dangerous, beset by troubling symptoms of worldliness, the loss of an earlier faith, and compromise with the "logic" of the world. Not infrequently communities have lost their first love (cf. Rev 2:4).

One sees how our ecclesial communities are struggling with weaknesses, weariness and divisions. They too need to hear anew the voice of the Bridegroom, who invites them to conversion, spurs them on to bold new undertakings and calls forth their commitment to the great task of the "new evangelization". The Church must constantly submit to the judgment of Christ’s word and live her human reality in a state of purification, so as to be ever more perfectly the Bride without spot or wrinkle, adorned with fine linen, bright and pure (cf. Eph 5:27; Rev 19:7-8).

In this way Jesus Christ is calling our Churches in Europe to conversion, and they, with their Lord and by the power of His presence, are becoming bearers of hope for humanity.

The work of the Gospel throughout history

24. Europe has been widely and profoundly permeated by Christianity. "There can be no doubt that, in Europe’s complex history, Christianity has been a central and defining element, established on the firm foundation of the classical heritage and the multiple contributions of the various ethnic and cultural steams which have succeeded one another down the centuries. The Christian faith has shaped the culture of the Continent and is inextricably bound up with its history, to the extent that Europe’s history would be incomprehensible without reference to the events which marked first the great period of evangelization and then the long centuries when Christianity, despite the painful division between East and West, came to be the religion of the European peoples. Even in modern and contemporary times, when religious unity progressively disintegrated as a result both of further divisions between Christians and the gradual detachment of cultures from the horizon of faith, the role played by faith has continued to be significant".45

25. The Church’s concern for Europe is born of her very nature and mission. Down the centuries the Church has been closely linked to our continent, so that Europe’s spiritual face gradually took shape thanks to the efforts of great missionaries, the witness of saints and martyrs, and the tireless efforts of monks and nuns, men and women religious and pastors. From the biblical conception of man Europe drew the best of its humanistic culture, found inspiration for its artistic and intellectual creations, created systems of law and, not least, advanced the dignity of the person as a subject of inalienable rights.46 The Church, as the bearer of the Gospel, thus helped to spread and consolidate those values which have made European culture universal.

With all this in mind, the Church of today, with a renewed sense of responsibility, is conscious of the urgency of not squandering this precious patrimony and of helping Europe to build herself by revitalizing her original Christian roots.47

Showing the true face of Church

26. The entire Church in Europe ought to feel that the Lord’s command and call is addressed to her: examine yourself, be converted, "awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death" (Rev 3:2). The need to do so is also born of a consideration of the present time: "The serious situation of indifference towards religion on the part of so many Europeans, the presence of many people even on our continent who do not yet know Jesus Christ and His Church and who are not baptized, the secularism which poisons a wide spectrum of Christians who habitually think, make decisions and live, ‘as if Christ did not exist’, far from extinguishing our hope, make this hope more humble and more able to trust in God alone. It is from His mercy that we receive the grace and call to conversion".48

27. Although at times, as in the Gospel episode of the calming of the tempest (cf. Mk 4:35-41; Lk 8:22-25), it can appear that Christ is asleep and leaves His barque to be tossed by the tumultuous waves, the Church in Europe is called to grow in the certainty that the Lord, through the gift of His Spirit, is ever present and at work in her midst and in all human history. He prolongs His mission throughout time and makes the Church a stream of new life coursing through the life of humanity as a sign of hope for all.

In a context where a temptation to activism is also attractive at the pastoral level, Christians in Europe must continue to be a transparent image of the Risen Christ, living in close communion with him.

There is a need for communities which, by contemplating and imitating the Virgin Mary, the figure and model of the Church in faith and holiness,49 cultivate the sense of liturgical life and of interior life. Before all and above all, they should praise the Lord, worship Him and hear His Word. Only in this way will they be able to partake of His mystery and live totally in relation to Him as members of His faithful Bride.

28. In the face of recurring impulses to division and opposition, the different Particular Churches in Europe, strengthened also by their bond with the Successor of Peter, must be committed to being a true locus and means of communion for the whole People of God in faith and love.50 They should therefore foster a climate of fraternal charity, lived with Gospel radicalism in the name of Jesus and in his love; they should create cordial relationships, communication, shared responsibility and participation, missionary consciousness, concern and readiness to serve. They should be prompted by attitudes of esteem, acceptance and mutual correction (cf. Rom 12:10; 15:7-14), as well as of service and reciprocal support (cf. Gal 5:13; 6:2), mutual forgiveness (cf. Col 3:13), and mutual edification (cf. 1 Thes 5:11). They need to set in place a pastoral program which by maximizing all legitimate diversity would also foster ready cooperation among individuals and groups. They need to revitalize participatory bodies as valuable instruments of communion aimed at a united missionary activity, and enabling the emergence of adequately trained and qualified pastoral workers. In this way, the Churches themselves, enlivened by the communion which is the manifestation of God’s love, the ground and reason for the hope which does not disappoint (cf. Rom 5:5), will be a more brilliant reflection of the Trinity, as well as a challenging sign which invites belief (cf. Jn 17:21).

29. If communion in the Church is to be experienced more fully, there is a need to make the most of the variety of charisms and vocations which increasingly converge on unity and can enrich it (cf. 1 Cor 12). In this regard, the new movements and the new ecclesial communities must "abandon every temptation to claim rights of primogeniture and every mutual incomprehension", advance along the path of more authentic communion between themselves and with all other ecclesial realities, and "live with love in full obedience to the Bishops". But it is also necessary for the Bishops "to show them that fatherhood and that love which are proper to Pastors" 51 and to acknowledge, maximize and coordinate their charisms and their presence for the building up of the one Church.

Thanks to an increase in cooperation between the different ecclesial bodies under the loving leadership of their pastors, the whole Church will be able to present to all a more beautiful and credible face, a clearer and more evident reflection of the Lord’s own face, and will then be able to give new hope and comfort both to those who seek her and to those who, even though not seeking her, nonetheless need her.

In order to respond to the Gospel’s call to conversion, "we must join in making a humble and courageous examination of conscience, in order to acknowledge our fears and our mistakes, sincerely confess our slowness to believe, our omissions, our infidelities and our faults".52 Far from fostering an attitude of hopelessness and discouragement, the evangelical acknowledgment of one’s sins will surely awaken within the community the experience of each one of the baptized: the joy of profound liberation and the grace of a new beginning which will enable it to set out with greater vigour upon the path of evangelization.

Advancing towards Christian unity

30. Finally, the Gospel of hope is also a forceful summons to conversion in the field of ecumenism. In the conviction that Christian unity corresponds to the Lord’s prayer "that they may all be one" (cf. Jn 17:11), and that it is essential today for greater credibility in evangelization and the growth of European unity, all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities need to "be assisted and encouraged to see the journey of ecumenism as a ‘travelling together’ towards Christ"53 and towards the visible unity which he wills, so that unity in diversity may shine forth within the Church as a gift of the Holy Spirit, the builder of communion.

If this is to happen, there is need for patient and persevering commitment on the part of all, a commitment inspired both by genuine hope and sober realism, aimed at "the enhancing of all that already unites us, sincere reciprocal esteem, the elimination of prejudice, knowledge and mutual love".54 Consequently, the pursuit of unity, in order to have a firm basis, cannot fail to include the passionate search for truth through dialogue and discussion which can acknowledge the progress already made and consider it an incentive for even greater progress in resolving the disagreements which continue to divide Christians.

31. Dialogue must continue with firm resolve, undaunted by difficulties and hardship. It should be carried on "under different aspects (doctrinal, spiritual and practical), following the logic of the exchange of gifts which the Spirit awakens in every Church; it should train the community and the faithful, and young people in particular, to experience moments of encounter and to make ecumenism, rightly understood, an ordinary dimension of ecclesial life and activity".55

Such dialogue represents one of the chief concerns of the Church, especially in this Europe, which in the last millennium witnessed the rise of all too many divisions between Christians and which is today moving towards greater unity. We may not halt on this journey nor may we turn back! We need to continue this journey in a spirit of trust, so that mutual respect, the search for truth, cooperation in charity and above all the ecumenism of holiness, will not fail, with God’s help, to bear fruit.

32. Despite the inevitable difficulties, I ask everyone to acknowledge and appreciate, in love and fraternity, the contribution which the Eastern Catholic Churches can offer for a more genuine building up of unity 56 through their very presence, the richness of their tradition, the witness of their "unity in diversity", the inculturation which they have accomplished in their proclamation of the Gospel, and the diversity of their rites. At the same time I wish to assure once more the pastors and our brothers and sisters of the Orthodox Churches that the new evangelization is in no way to be confused with proselytism, without prejudice to the duty of respect for truth, for freedom and for the dignity of every person.

II. The whole Church is sent on mission

33. Serving the Gospel of hope by means of a charity which evangelizes is the commitment and the responsibility of everyone. Whatever the charism and ministry of each individual, charity is the royal road prescribed for all and which all can travel: it is the road upon which the whole ecclesial community is called to journey in the footsteps of its Master.

The commitment of ordained ministers

34. In a special way priests are called by virtue of their ministry to celebrate, teach and serve the Gospel of hope. Through the Sacrament of Orders which configures them to Christ the Head and Shepherd, Bishops and priests must conform their whole life and all their activity to Jesus. By the preaching of the word, the celebration of the sacraments and their leadership of the Christian community, they make present the mystery of Christ, and in the exercise of their ministry "they are called to prolong the presence of Christ, the One High Priest, embodying His way of life and making Him visible in the midst of the flock entrusted to their care".57

As men who are "in" the world yet not "of" the world (cf. Jn 17:15-16), priests are called in Europe’s present cultural and spiritual situation to be a sign of contradiction and of hope for a society suffering from "horizontalism" and in need of openness to the Transcendent.

35. In this context priestly celibacy also stands out as the sign of hope put totally in the Lord. Celibacy is not merely an ecclesiastical discipline imposed by authority; rather it is first and foremost a grace, a priceless gift of God for His Church, a prophetic value for the contemporary world, a source of intense spiritual life and pastoral fruitfulness, a witness to the eschatological Kingdom, a sign of God’s love for this world, as well as a sign of the priest’s undivided love for God and for His people.58 Lived in response to God’s gift and as a mastery of the temptations of a hedonistic society, it not only leads to the human fulfilment of those who are called to embrace it, but proves to be a source of growth for others as well.

Celibacy is esteemed in the whole Church as fitting for the priesthood,59 obligatory in the Lat- in Church 60 and deeply respected by the Eastern Churches.61 In the present cultural context, it stands out as an eloquent sign which needs to be cherished as a precious good for the Church. A revision of the present discipline in this regard would not help to resolve the crisis of vocations to the priesthood being felt in many parts of Europe.62 A commitment to the service of the Gospel of hope also demands that the Church make every effort to propose celibacy in its full biblical, theological and spiritual richness.

36. We cannot fail to see that the exercise of the sacred ministry today is fraught with many difficulties on account of the prevailing culture and the lessened numbers of priests, together with the increase of pastoral responsibilities and the fatigue which this can involve. Consequently, all the more esteem, gratitude and support is due to those priests who carry out with praiseworthy dedication and fidelity the ministry which they have received.63

To these priests, making my own the words of the Synod Fathers, I also wish to offer, with confidence and gratitude, my own encouragement:

"Do not lose heart and do not allow yourselves to be overcome with weariness! In full communion with us Bishops, persevere in your invaluable and indispensable ministry in joyful fraternity with your brother priests, in generous collaboration with those in consecrated life and with all the lay faithful".64

Together with priests I also wish to mention deacons, who share, albeit to a different degree, in the one Sacrament of Holy Orders. Sent forth in service to ecclesial communion, they exercise, under the leadership of the Bishop and his presbyterate, the "diakonia" of liturgy, word and charity.65 In their own way, they are at the service of the Gospel of hope.

The witness of consecrated persons

37. Particularly eloquent is the witness of consecrated persons. In this regard, acknowledgment must first be made of the fundamental role played by monasticism and consecrated life in the evangelization of Europe and in the shaping of its Christian identity.66 This role must continue to be played today, at a time when a "new evangelization" of the continent is urgently needed and, with the creation of more complex structures and relationships, it stands at a critical turning point. Europe will always need the holiness, prophetic witness, evangelizing activity and service of consecrated persons. Attention also needs to be paid to the specific contribution which Secular Institutes and Societies of Apostolic Life can make thanks to their aspiration to transform the world from within through the power of the Beatitudes.

38. The specific contribution which consecrated persons can make to the Gospel of hope takes as its starting-point several characteristics of the present-day cultural and social face of Europe.67 The demand for new forms of spirituality, now making itself felt throughout society, needs to find a response in the acknowledgment of God’s absolute primacy which consecrated persons experience in their total gift of self and their permanent conversion in a life offered up as true spiritual worship. In an atmosphere poisoned by secularism and dominated by consumerism, consecrated life, as a gift of the Spirit to the Church and for the Church, becomes an ever greater sign of hope to the extent that it testifies to life’s transcendent dimension. In today’s multicultural and multireligious world, there is also a demand for the witness of that evangelical fraternity which characterizes the consecrated life and makes it a stimulus to purifying and integrating different values through the reconciliation of divisions. The presence of new forms of poverty and marginalization ought to call forth that creativity in the care of those most in need which has marked so many founders of Religious Institutes. Finally, the tendency to a certain self-absorption can find an antidote in the readiness of consecrated persons to continue the work of evangelization on other continents, despite the decrease of numbers in various Institutes.

Concern for vocations

39. Since the commitment of ordained ministers and consecrated persons is decisive, some mention must be made of the disturbing shortage of seminarians and aspirants to religious life, especially in Western Europe. This situation calls for everyone to be involved in an effective pastoral program of promoting vocations. "Whenever the person of Jesus Christ is presented clearly to young people, He inspires in them a hope that motivates them to abandon everything in order to follow Him in response to His call, and to bear witness to Him among their peers".68 The pastoral care of vocations is thus a vital issue for the future of the Christian faith in Europe and, in turn, for the spiritual advancement of the very peoples who inhabit the continent. It is a challenge which must be met by a Church which wishes to proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of hope.69

40. To create a much-needed pastoral program of promoting vocations, it is beneficial to explain to the laity the Church’s faith regarding the nature and dignity of the ministerial priesthood; to encourage families to live as true "domestic churc

The Editors