A Presentation by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of
VATICAN CITY, 29 JUNE 2003 (ZENIT).
Here is the address given on Saturday by Archbishop Vincent Nichols
of Birmingham, England, during a press conference in the Vatican to
present the postsynodal apostolic exhortation "Ecclesia in Europa."
The text has been adapted slightly here.
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1. I am pleased to make this presentation in conjunction with the
promulgation, this evening, of the postsynodal document, " Ecclesia
in Europa." It bears all the hallmarks of its
origins: It is thoroughly faithful to the discussions and findings of
the synod in 1999, and it is marked throughout by the style and clear
convictions of Pope John Paul II, whose document it is.
2. Its significance for the Catholic communities of Western Europe can
be presented under three headings:
A. The clear statement of a vision and expectations for our European
venture, and the part the Christian faith plays in it.
B. The call to conversion and renewal, in communion and mission, for the
C. The relationship it envisages between the shared public and political
life of Europe and the faith or faiths of its people.
I shall return to elaborate on each of these themes in a moment.
3. The key to this document is the theme of hope. In this, the choice of
the book of Revelation is crucial.
Revelation is a text of genuine, eschatological hope, presenting to us
our destiny. But it is also a hope which is to guide our way now.
Revelation is also a text of realistic assessment, even dishearteningly
so, when it says, "awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the
point of death (Revelation 3:2)" (No. 26).
The Church in Western Europe must be realistic about its own life, if it
is to play its part in the revitalization of the soul of Europe.
* * *
A. The clear statement of a vision and expectations for our European
venture, which is at such a critical moment.
The Europe project stands at a critical juncture with new members about
to join and the elaboration of a Constitution now well advanced.
Repeatedly, this document calls for honesty about the reality of Europe
in the way it is described and envisaged in that draft constitution.
No presentation of Europe can be honest if it fails to recognize the
part already played, and still played, by Christianity in the shaping of
Europe. To omit such matters is an act of ideology, and is unworthy of
the framers of such a historic document.
As the [papal] document says, "More than a geographical area,
Europe can be described as 'a primarily cultural and historical concept,
which denotes a reality born as a continent thanks also to the unifying
force of Christianity, which has been capable of integrating peoples and
cultures among themselves, and which is intimately linked to the whole
of European culture'" (No. 108).
In the project of building the European "house," Europe needs
to recognize and accept this religious dimension. In fact, the part to
be played by religious truth and conviction should is strongly presented
in this document:
The model of the Church can help European society to understand and
tackle the issues of unity and diversity (No. 109);
Europe needs to construct what this document calls "a
solidarity that is global" rather than become a block that is
closed and unwelcoming. In this project the motivations and vision of
faith are essential (Nos. 110 and 111);
In today's world, Europe must be a tireless worker for peace. In these
and similar aspects of the European project, experience affirms the
truth of the assertion of this exhortation:
"Not only can Christians join with all people of good will in
working to build this great project, but they are also called to be in
some way its heart, revealing the true meaning of the organization of
the earthly city" (No. 116).
"For her part, in keeping with a healthy cooperation between
the ecclesial community and political society, the Catholic Church is
convinced that she can make a unique contribution to the prospect of
unification by offering the European institutions, in continuity with
her tradition and in fidelity to the principles of her social teaching,
the engagement of believing communities committed to bringing about the
humanization of society on the basis of the Gospel, lived under the sign
of hope" (No. 117).
I am convinced that the project of building a multicultural, multiracial
Europe cannot be achieved in secular terms. What this postsynodal
exhortation calls for is recognition of the fact that religious faith is
crucial for the majority of people in Europe. Faith expresses their
deepest convictions and must be seen to have its part in the building of
a new Europe if the project is to win the cooperation and enthusiasm of
its people. The building of a new Europe will not be achieved by
marginalizing that faith.
Our experience in Western Europe also illustrates some of the
difficulties being encountered in the present venture. One of the
concrete expressions of the contribution made by the Church to the
common good is through the development of Catholic schools and
[See No. 59:] "An important part of any program for the
evangelization of culture is the service rendered by Catholic schools.
There is a need to ensure the recognition of a genuine freedom of
education and equal juridical standing between state schools and other
schools. Catholic schools are sometimes the sole means by which the
Christian tradition can be presented to those who are distant from it. I
encourage the faithful involved in the field of primary and secondary
education to persevere in their mission and to bring the light of Christ
the Savior to bear upon their specific educational, scientific and
"In particular, greater recognition is due to the contribution made
by Christians who conduct research and teach in universities: in their
'service to thought' they hand down to the next generation the values of
an intellectual tradition enriched by 2,000 years of humanistic and
Christian experience. Convinced of the importance of academic
institutions, I also ask the various local Churches to promote an
adequate pastoral care of the university community, favoring whatever
corresponds to present cultural needs."
At a recent COMECE meeting of bishops responsible for Catholic education across Europe,
great emphasis was placed on the obstacles placed in the pathway of
Catholic schools, at times by European court judgments, directives and
Recent EU directives on discrimination in employment, for example, make
it more difficult for Catholic institutions to maintain and develop
their distinctiveness, and thus make their valuable contribution to the
common good. The Catholic Church across Western Europe will welcome the
strength of the call of this document that far more attention is given
to faith, and Christian faith in particular, in the construction of
* * *
B. The call to conversion and renewal, in communion and mission, for
the Catholic Church.
There is no doubt that if the European institutions are to pay more
attention to the role of faith in the life of Europe, then that faith
must become more vigorous, more distinctive, more focused on the
proclamation of the Gospel as the truth about the human person and a
The call for conversion within the Church is, therefore, entirely
appropriate. This call has all the more urgency when one considers the
fact that Europe, and Western Europe in particular, is the only
continent in the world in which secularization has taken place to such a
degree. The challenge to the Church in Western Europe is, to this
extent, quite unique.
The life of faith has, for many, a certain weariness about it. It is a
part of the ancient characteristics of the continent. As the document
says: "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'" (No. 23).
So, a repeated call to a renewed hope is entirely appropriate. At the
heart of this call is the summons to holiness, a holiness which is only
found in being close to Christ. Hence the importance for the renewal
which is called for of the celebration of every aspect of the liturgy of
The document highlights, in the context of Europe, the need to recover
again, at the heart of all liturgy and prayer, a sense of the
transcendent mystery of God.
[No. 69 says:] "In the context of today's society, often closed to
transcendence, oppressed by consumeristic behavior, easily falling prey
to old and new forms of idolatry yet at the same time thirsting for
something which goes beyond the immediate, the task that awaits the
Church in Europe is both demanding and exciting. It consists in
rediscovering the sense of 'mystery'; in renewing liturgical
celebrations so that they can be more eloquent signs of the presence of
Christ the Lord; in ensuring greater silence in prayer and in
contemplation; in returning to the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist
and Penance, as wellsprings of freedom and new hope.
"For this reason, I urgently invite you, the Church living in
Europe: be a Church that prays, praises God, recognizing his absolute
primacy, magnifying him with joyful faith. Rediscover the sense of
mystery: Live it with humble gratitude; testify to it with conviction
and contagious joy. Celebrate the salvation which comes from Christ:
Welcome it as a gift which makes of you its sacrament; make your life a
true spiritual worship pleasing to God."
This represents a particular and challenging task. So often our liturgy
has given first place to the experience of community. This, of course,
is a very valid aim. A sense of belonging is deeply desired by people
today. Indeed, the Church should be experienced in this way.
But what we have often lost sight of is the fact that God alone is the
source and giver of the community for which we belong. Our identity as
Catholics, as a particular parish or community is not based on class,
[or] agreement on a particular perspective or approach to life, [or in]
extended family ties.
Rather, our new identity springs from Christ himself, as a gift of the
Father, given in the power of the Holy Spirit. This, and this only, must
be the first focus of every liturgical celebration. Then that
celebration will give rise to the newness of community which alone will
satisfy our longings and which alone will withstand the inevitable
impulses toward conflict and division.
I welcome the call for prayer in the home "domestic
"Families should be encouraged to make time to pray together, and
thus to interpret the whole of marriage and family life in the light of
the Gospel. In this way, starting in the family and in hearing the word
of God, a domestic liturgy will gradually emerge, which will then mark
every event in the life of the family" (No. 78).
A further challenge offered by this text to the Church in Western Europe
is to find ways of renewing the sacrament of penance (see No. 76).
[No. 76 says:] "Along with the Eucharist, the sacrament of
reconciliation must also exercise a fundamental role in the recovery of
hope: 'a personal experience of the forgiveness of God for each one of
us is, in fact, the essential foundation of every hope for our future.'
One of the roots of the hopelessness that assails many people today is
found in their inability to see themselves as sinners and to allow
themselves to be forgiven, an inability often resulting from the
isolation of those who, by living as if God did not exist, have no one
from whom they can seek forgiveness.
"Those who, on the other hand, acknowledge that they are sinners,
and entrust themselves to the mercy of the Heavenly Father, experience
the joy of an authentic liberation and can continue life without being
trapped in their own misery. In this way they receive the grace of a new
beginning, and again find reasons for hope.
"For this reason the sacrament of reconciliation needs to be
revitalized in the Church in Europe. It must be reaffirmed, however,
that the form of the sacrament is the personal confession of sins
followed by individual absolution. This encounter between the penitent
and the priest should be encouraged in any of the forms provided for in
the rite of the sacrament.
"Faced with the widespread loss of the sense of sin and the growth
of a mentality marked by relativism and subjectivism in morality, every
ecclesial community needs to provide for the serious formation of
consciences. The Synod Fathers have insisted on the recognition of the
reality of personal sin and the necessity of personal forgiveness by God
through the ministry of the priest. Collective absolutions are not an
alternative way of administering the sacrament of reconciliation."
These are inescapable sources of vitality for the Church and, as so many
people recognize, they are in need of renewal. Such renewal will bear
fruit, and be galvanized, by proclamation and service.
How important, then, is the statement in the documents that love and
service "must extend beyond the confines of ecclesial communities
and reach out to every person, so that love for everyone can become a
stimulus to authentic solidarity in every part of society. When the
Church is at the service of love, she also facilitates the growth of a
'culture of solidarity' and thus helps to restore life to the universal
values of human coexistence" (No. 85).
There is always the need to proclaim and support the truth about
marriage and family life (see Nos. 90 and 91).
The truth about marriage and the family
[No. 90 says:] "The Church in Europe at every level must faithfully
proclaim anew the truth about marriage and the family. She sees this as
burning need, for she knows that this task is integral to the mission of
evangelization entrusted to her by her Bridegroom and Lord, and imposes
itself today with unusual force. Many cultural, social and political
factors are in fact conspiring to create an increasingly evident crisis
of the family. In varying ways they jeopardize the truth and dignity of
the human person, and call into question, often misrepresenting it, the
notion of the family itself. The value of marital indissolubility is
increasingly denied; demands are made for the legal recognition of de
facto relationships as if they were comparable to legitimate marriages;
and attempts are made to accept a definition of the couple in which
difference of sex is not considered essential.
"In this context the Church is called to proclaim with renewed
vigor what the Gospel teaches about marriage and the family, in order to
grasp their meaning and value in God's saving plan. In particular it is
necessary to reaffirm that these institutions are realities grounded in
the will of God. There is a need to rediscover the truth about the
family as an intimate communion of life and love open to the procreation
of new persons, as well as its dignity as a 'domestic Church' and its
share in the mission of the Church and in the life of society."
For the people of Western Europe there is call to take a generous and
just approach to the pressing needs of refugees and asylum seekers.
Toward a culture of acceptance
[No. 100 says:] "The challenges presently facing our service of the
Gospel of hope include the growing phenomenon of immigration, which
calls on the Church's ability to welcome each person regardless of the
people or nation to which he or she belongs. This phenomenon is also
prompting European society and its institutions as a whole to seek a
just order and forms of coexistence capable of respecting everyone, as
well as the demands of legality, within a feasible process of
No. 101: "The phenomenon of migration challenges Europe's ability
to provide for forms of intelligent acceptance and hospitality. A
'universal' vision of the common good demands this: We need to broaden
our gaze to embrace the needs of the entire human family. The phenomenon
of globalization itself calls for openness and sharing, if it is not to
be a source of exclusion and marginalization, but rather a basis for
solidarity and the sharing of all in the production and exchange of
"Everyone must work for the growth of a mature culture of
acceptance which, in taking into account the equal dignity of each
person and need for solidarity with the less fortunate, calls for the
recognition of the fundamental rights of each immigrant. Public
authorities have the responsibility of controlling waves of migration
with a view to the requirements of the common good. The acceptance of
immigrants must always respect the norms of law and must therefore be
combined, when necessary, with a firm suppression of abuses."
No. 102: "There is also a need for commitment in identifying
possible forms of genuine integration on the part of immigrants who have
been legitimately received into the social and cultural fabric of the
different European nations."
No. 103: "On her part, the Church is called 'to continue her
activity in creating and continually improving her services of welcome
and her pastoral attention for immigrants and refugees,' in order to
ensure respect for their dignity and freedom and to promote their
"The service of the Gospel also requires the Church, in defending
the cause of the oppressed and excluded, to call on the political
authorities of the different states and the leaders of European
institutions to grant refugee status to those who have left their
country of origin because of threats to their life, to help them return
to their countries, and to create conditions favoring respect for the
dignity of all immigrants and the defense of their fundamental
The Holy Father emphasizes the task of evangelization and proclamation:
"Let the proclamation of Jesus. Which is the Gospel of hope, be
your boast and your whole life" (No. 45). This task, and this
challenge, is most relevant in societies in which tolerance is regarded
as the supreme virtue, without clear recognition that it is, in fact, a
fruit of the virtue of love. Without strong roots it withers quickly, as
we so often see.
The interfaith task is addressed in a way which is most relevant: the
need to understand the specifics of each faith, and where differences
lie. Especially addressed is the important relationship with Islam:
[No. 57 mentions] "growing in knowledge of other religions, in
order to establish a fraternal conversation with their members who live
in today's Europe. A proper relationship with Islam is particularly
important. As has often become evident in recent years to the bishops of
Europe, this 'needs to be conducted prudently, with clear ideas about
possibilities and limits, and with confidence in God's saving plan for
all his children.' It is also necessary to take into account the notable
gap between European culture, with its profound Christian roots, and
"In this regard, Christians living in daily contact with Muslims
should be properly trained in an objective knowledge of Islam and
enabled to draw comparisons with their own faith. Such training should
be provided particularly to seminarians, priests and all pastoral
workers. It is on the other hand understandable that the Church, even as
she asks the European institutions to ensure the promotion of religious
freedom in Europe, should feel the need to insist that reciprocity in
guaranteeing religious freedom also be observed in countries of
different religious traditions, where Christians are a minority."
Reciprocal respect is rightly called for, as a condition and a fruit of
this dialogue. I am sure that a clear response will be found to the
appeal of this document. There are, in countries, dioceses and parishes
across Western Europe, efforts being made to renew and strength faith.
Many realize that, even if it were so in the past, the handing on of
faith is no longer part of the process of socialization. It has to be
tackled with conviction, care and enthusiasm. And many are already doing
so. I welcome warmly the encouragement that is given in this document,
especially for parishes and for the clergy.
Importance of parishes:
[No. 15 says:] "In today's Europe too, both in the post-Communist
countries and in the West, the parish, while in need of constant
renewal, 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."
Role of priests:
[No. 34 says:] "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.
"As men who are 'in' the world yet not 'of' the world, 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."
There are many fine examples of Christian living within parish
communities and by ordained ministers of the Church which are welcomed
by young people, who instinctively have a great sense of hope in their
* * *
C. The relationship it envisages between the shared public and
political life of Europe and the faith or faiths of its people.
From a Western European perspective, I welcome the way in which this
document opens up the crucial discussion on how the public institutions
of life in Europe should relate to the realities of faith.
i) It recognizes "the distinction between political life and
religion" (No. 109).
ii) It rejects a return to the confessional state (No. 117).
iii) It rejects the privatization of religion, which is nothing more
than the ideology of secularism. In the end, this is destructive of
sound and lasting participation (No. 114).
The exhortation calls for a working relationship between the Church and
other faith communities, on the one hand, and the political life of the
Union, on the other. This relationship is, at present, expressed and
explored in quite different ways in the different countries of Western
Europe, and the exhortation calls for a recognition of this diversity,
rather than an imposition of an ideological uniformity.
In Britain, for example, the churches and faith communities enjoy a
pragmatic working relationship with governments, in which their
distinctiveness and contribution is recognized in a variety of ways. In
France and the Low Countries the Church is faced with the thorough
progress of secularism.
In Germany, the situation is shaped, to a large extent by the strength
of the Catholic presence. In Italy and Spain, one thinks of the fact
that, to a considerable extent, their Catholic heritage still forms
public culture. An emerging European Union is still being tested in
I believe that the three demands made in this papal exhortation will be
widely welcomed by the Catholic communities in Western Europe.
These demands are found in No. 114: "While fully respecting the
secular nature of the institutions, I consider it desirable especially
that three complementary elements should be recognized: the right of
Churches and religious communities to organize themselves freely in
conformity with their statutes and proper convictions; respect for the
specific identity of the different religious confessions and provision
for a structured dialogue between the European Union and those
confessions; and respect for the juridical status already enjoyed by
Churches and religious institutions by virtue of the legislation of the
member states of the Union."
These, I believe, are crucial issues for the future of our European
project and their outcome is far from certain.
At its heart, this document proclaims a real and clear hope for the
peoples of Europe. It states, with confidence that this hope is real,
for its source is not some private conviction but the very truth about
ourselves. Christ is the full expression of that truth.
We welcome this exhortation: "Jesus Christ, alive in his Church,
the source of hope for Europe" (No. 1). ZE03062902