[http://208.207.2.205/new_evangelization/europe/top_include_europe.htm]


 

Jan Pieter Cardinal Schotte, CICM
Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops



INTRODUCTION

In this First General Congregation, I have the joy of extending a hearty greeting to you all. We come here, in response to the call of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, to begin the Second Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops.

This greeting takes on a more intense, profound meaning when we consider that, in coming together in one place, we are visibly professing hierarchical communion, an effective and affective collegiality and a spirit of pastoral charity. We are setting out to walk together with the Lord and with all the particular Churches throughout Europe, the continent in which we live, a continent ancient and ever new.

At this moment, we turn our thoughts, affection and gratitude to you, Most Holy Father, for convoking this synod which actually began this morning at the Altar of God. We ask the Lord of time and history to bestow upon Your Holiness comfort which arises from having loyal followers in the faith. We also call upon the Lord to give to Europe the inestimable well-being of communion in Christ's name and after his example.

We also extend a word of welcome to all participants: the Presidents-Delegate, the General Rapporteur, the Special Secretaries, the Members of the Commissions, the Synod Fathers from the Eastern Churches, the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences, the Presidents of Regional Episcopal Bodies, Bishops from areas without Episcopal Conferences, Synod Fathers elected by Episcopal Conferences and those elected by the Union of Superiors General, Heads of the Departments of the Roman Curia, Members by Papal Appointment, Fraternal Delegates, Experts, Auditors and Invited Guest.

We voice our gratitude to you all for your presence in this synod hall, for the generosity with which you are to approach your work and for the time and energy required in the arduous work of "walking together"in synod. You have physically left your homes and daily responsibilities but they are not very far from you; you carry them in your hearts. In bringing these experiences to what you will observe and follow in prayer during this synod, you will return to your communities enriched in spirit. Gratitude and blessings to your particular Churches!

At this moment, I wish to summarise the stages in preparation for this Special Assembly, namely, the period of consultation on a possible synod topic, the drafting of the Lineamenta, the submission of responses to the General Secretariat from the concerned parties, the composition of the Instrumentum laboris and the technical organisation of the Synod (cf. Vademecum, art. 32). This presentation is meant to foster collegiality through acquainting you with the work of the General Secretariat in its role as "a permanent institution in service of the Synod, and established as a connection between the various Synodal Assemblies" (Ordo Synodi, art. 11, §1).

By receiving information on the various stages in preparation for this synodal assembly, each person will become better aware of the synod's various operative phases, the great amount of work and the number of persons involved, the time and energy expended, the many means employed and the travelling needed to hold this assembly, not to mention various difficulties. At the same time, each will greater appreciate the favourable results of all these efforts, above all in bringing about a better and more convincing exercise of ecclesial communion and episcopal collegiality, witnessed in exchanging views on the synod topic on the local level and in the mutual enrichment which results from the analysis and use of the local Church's responses to the Lineamenta in the composition of the Instrumentum laboris.

In this way, the particular Churches come to a greater realisation of how they benefit in a synod, and, at the same time, how the synod is in direct contact with the community which provides the synod's participants and which occupies the daily thoughts of the synod assembly during the congregations. In this manner, the "communion of lives" is expressed and strengthened as a privileged path leading to a unity of life and advancement towards the Lord, who is for the Church "the Way, Truth and the Life" (Jn 14:6).

From a logical, historical and ecclesial point of view, the question arises as to the timeliness of celebrating a Second Special Assembly for Europe. In response, it must be borne in mind that the First Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops (1991) occurred amidst the rapid changes then taking place in Central-Eastern Europe. This situation called for a time-schedule and certain conditions unique in the preparation and celebration of synodal assemblies. Today, other pressing circumstances and events indicate that the time is right to hold a Second Special Assembly. In fact, further developments after the First Special Assembly have lead to the conviction that another moment of meditation, prayer and consultation is needed to consider how to recuperate the great spiritual forces of the European continent. To achieve this, the efforts leading to this Second Special Assembly for Europe have extended over a 3-year period and have followed the customary procedure of study and thorough examination in key areas in the particular Churches.

ORIGIN

The First Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops was convoked amidst new civil, social and political changes which were occurring in Europe as a result of the collapse of totalitarian regimes and a new-found freedom by many nations in Central and Eastern Europe.

Given the moment, the assembly was convoked to hear from the particular Churches and their bishops who for decades were impeded from participating in the visible communion of the Catholic Church.

For this purpose, special criteria of participation were composed which favoured a major presence of the bishops of the particular Churches in the East. Preparations were deliberately done in a minimum of time so as to seize the historical moment.

After 1991, it was necessary to reflect on new circumstances and to proceed further to an examination of conscience as requested by the Holy Father in the Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente.

The Second Special Assembly then came about with its own course of events in its convocation, the institution of a Pre-Synodal Council and the consultation regarding a topic for the subsequent drafting of the Lineamenta.

CONVOCATION

On 23 June 1996, in Berlin, the Holy Father used the following words during his Angelus talk to announce the Special Assembly for Europe: "From this famous city, which in a very special way has experienced the fate of European history in this century, I would like to announce to the whole Church my intention to convoke a Second Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops. Together with similar synod assemblies in other parts of the world, it is to support preparations for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000" (L'Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English, 26 June 1996, p. 3). Beforehand, in his Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente, paragraphs 21 and 38, the Holy Father had announced "a series of synods" on the topic of evangelisation in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. In these paragraphs he communicated his intention to celebrate continental and regional synods for America, Asia and Oceania, without mentioning other synodal initiatives. It was a question, then, of a decision linked to particular needs and programs. History and geographical factors created special circumstances, extraordinary and compelling in nature, which were further intensified by those of a spiritual and theological character. These were considered the res novae of which Berlin was the symbol. They involved both society and the Church. Within the Church, these factors strongly called for the discernment and awareness of bishops and the whole community of believers. The urgent character of these events gave rise to the Second Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops. Coincidentally, there is an underlying meaning associated with the sites in which the two special assemblies were convoked. The first was announced in Velehrad, a land which only recently has emerged from strong religious repression; the second from Berlin, a city symbolic of moral, historic, and religious horrors which took place in the heart of Europe.

Since Europe is today experiencing an unprecedented sense of unity, it is right that the bishops on the continent come together in two assemblies to dedicate their maximum pastoral concern. It is also well to bear in mind that this present synodal assembly-the last in the series of continental synods-is taking place on the eve of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, as the completion of a long, common journey in spirit, indicated by the Holy Father.

TOPIC

On 18 April 1997, the Holy Father announced his choice of the following topic for the Second Special Assembly: "Jesus Christ, Alive in His Church, Source of Hope for Europe".

The first priority of the Church in Europe today is a Christology which places the Person of Jesus Christ at the centre of attention of the entire ecclesial community. Such a program meets all the needs of contemporary life-whether moral and practical in nature-, namely, those linked to philosophic and exegetical research, those associated with faith and culture, those related to evangelisation in areas pervaded by religious relativism or pseudo-religiosity, those involving theological reflection on the Trinity and Christ and, above all, those having an essential relation between the Person of Christ and his Church.

In Europe today, people often make a distinction between Christ and his Church to avoid association with the institutional Church. Many possess a mentality devoid of values, characterised by pragmatism, materialism, consumerism, nihilism, atheism and indifferentism, which is manifested in a disinterest towards spiritual needs or in accepting all religions as equal in character.

Such a situation requires not only reflection and discussion in the area of culture but also action in word and deed through an evangelisation of concrete everyday living. For Catholics, it is indispensable to rediscover their Catholic identity and the spiritual, Christian roots of Europe, particularly in the practice of a true ecumenical dialogue.

Various forms of nationalism are threatening life in many regions of Europe, thus making such action particularly urgent.

Jesus, Redeemer of Humanity and Founder of the Church of the Redeemed, leads each individual to a knowledge of a personal God. This is the centre of an evangelisation which is to be taken up anew and further intensified in Europe today.

Another element in evangelisation is announcing the dignity of the human person which has for a long time been degraded and wounded in Europe in many ways by ideologies denying religion and the life of the spirit.

The consultation on possible topics generated great interest in the various bodies contacted and the responses which arrived at the General Secretariat showed a high degree of collaboration:

Episcopal Bodies: 24 of 29 responded, or 82,75%.

Roman Curia: 17 of 25 responded, or 68%.

Union of Superiors General: 1 response or 100%.

PRE-SYNODAL COUNCIL

After announcing the Special Assembly, the Holy Father appointed on 29 January 1997 a 15-member Pre-Synodal Council to work with the General Secretariat in the preparatory process.

This Council was composed of 7 cardinals, 5 archbishops and 3 bishops, of which 12 came from dioceses of Europe and 3 from the Roman Curia. Four theologians from four different European countries offered assistance to the Council.

The Pre-Synodal Council held 5 meetings on the following dates: 18 - 20 March 1997; 11 - 13 June 1997; 4 - 5 February1998; 14 - 16 January 1999; 16 - 18 March 1999. The points on the agenda, beyond the customary report of the General Secretary on the activities of the General Secretariat, were the consultation on the synod topic, the outline of the Lineamenta, the presentation of the Lineamenta, the series of questions appearing in the Lineamenta, the report and discussion on the criteria for participation of this Special Assembly, the responses to the Lineamenta, the presentation and study of the draft text of the Instrumentum laboris and the presentation and examination of the final draft of the Instrumentum laboris.

The various subjects considered by the Pre-Synodal Council included suggestions about the Vademecum, the procedure for drafting documents (such as, the Nuntius or "Message" of the Special Assembly, the Relatio ante disceptationem, the Relatio post disceptationem and the Propositiones) and the participation of Men and Women Auditors and Fraternal Delegates.

The Pre-Synodal Council also discussed certain topics in the Instrumentum laboris for possible treatment in the Relatio ante disceptationem. In the course of their work, the members discussed important subjects which are summarily treated below.

Among the reasons for holding a Second Special Assembly for Europe only 8 years since the First Special Assembly, are a decline in the initial optimism at the collapse of Communism and a greater awareness of Communism's negative consequences. The two lungs of Europe do not yet function in a coordinated manner.

The negative consequences resulting from the collapse of Communism call upon the Church, in exercising her prophetic mission, to strengthen her identity and reinforce her proclamation of the message of Christian Hope.

In some cases, the teaching on the Church as mystery of salvation and community is not sufficiently appreciated. The moral values to be promoted in today's society are: those of the family as basic to the support of life, especially in areas like abortion and euthanasia; those of witnessing to the faith in the face of materialism which is a practical consequence of secularisation; those of Christian initiation which calls for the family to commit itself to being the place where children are first educated in the faith.

The Church must give a moral assessment of history which has witnessed the rise in this century of two totalitarian systems in Europe. The call for forgiveness is awaited from the Church as a proposal for the Europe of the Third Millennium.

The negative heritage of Communism appears stronger now than was first thought at the collapse of this political system (cf. Declaratio of the First Special Assembly for Europe). At present, the negative consequences of the collapse of Communism can be observed, above all, in the grave upheaval in values. Other walls have been erected in this situation.

The influence of the means of communication in the public life of society is a clear invitation to evangelisation of this area so bound to a materialistic, economic view of the person. At the same time, evangelisation ought to take greater advantage of these means in spreading the faith.

Cultural isolation causes the faith to be lived as a private, internal reality with no association to the community, a fact verifiable in both Eastern and Western European countries. This situation ought to be highlighted as a danger which threatens the ecclesial and communal dimensions of the faith. The mystery of divine salvation, when the action of grace is missing, is often replaced by the idea that one can save himself.

People in Europe today do not listen to teachers unless they are also witnesses to the faith (cf. Evangelii nuntiandi, 75). This is particularly true among the young, who are the hope of the Church in Europe. Furthermore, the value of the cross and sacrifice is emphasised as an expression of participation in the mystery of the love of Christ.

The social doctrine of the Church is a useful instrument which can become a point of dialogue and collaboration with European society. A contrary view in society sees the social doctrine of the Church as an ideal but not readily applicable to reality.

A creativity is urgently needed in proposing useful suggestions in the process of European unity. Many perceive this unity only from the point of view of economics and politics and not as a spiritual reality. Such a situation leads to extremism and syncretism under the pretext of dialogue. In this regard, the suggestion is made to use Christian humanism as an instrument of dialogue with contemporary culture, proposing the dignity of the human person, the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity in the social sphere and the formation of the laity not only in the faith but also in actively participating in the transformation of society.

The new movements ought not to be neglected, even if a certain imbalance exists in reaction to them. Such a situation makes it necessary to reconcile the principles underlying the life of the movement and its work in concrete instances.

The unity between "being" and "doing" ought to manifest the true identity of the Church who finds her hope in the risen Christ, who is the fulfilment of the promises of God who is always faithful. In him and in his glorious body the omnipresence of God is realised in the Church.

The solidarity of the whole Church in Europe, manifested in action as a mutual exchange of love-particularly in light of the Churches in difficulty-is important for keeping alive not only the faith but also the European culture in those areas exposed to serious material and moral destruction.

LINEAMENTA

At the first two meetings of the Pre-Synodal Council, the members drafted and approved the text of the Lineamenta, which was mailed on 16 March1998 to those determined by synod statute. A period of seven months was allotted for consultation, the results of which were to arrive at the General Secretariat by 1 November 1998. As the deadline expired, however, only 4 responses had arrived from the Episcopal Conferences, 4 from the Roman Curia and 1 from the Union of Superiors General. In addition to these official responses, 9 individuals sent observations. Among these was a 100-year-old layman who had found the text of the Lineamenta on the Internet, Mr. Joseph Pey of Marseille (France). Subsequently, other responses were received and the consultation ended with the following results:

- from Episcopal Bodies: 24 responses out of a total of 34, or 70,58%.

- from the Roman Curia: 9 responses out of 25 or 36%.

- from the Union of Superiors General: 1 response as foreseen, or 100%.

The percentages correspond more or less to those of other synodal assemblies.

On the basis of the above information-34 responses out of a possible 60-26 failed to respond to the questions in the Lineamenta, converting into a lack of response of 43,33%.

This percentage seems rather high. However, the information gleaned from the total number of responses sufficiently indicates the general tendencies of the all the Church bodies directly called upon to give their response.

As for responses which arrived after the deadline, the first response came on 22 October 1998 from European Russia, while the last was from Portugal on 8 January 1999 [1].

Various explanations can account for the tardiness in responses: various circumstances in the particular Churches and the structure of Episcopal Conferences, including the scheduling of meetings, internal working conditions and the concurrent synods.

The Series of Questions appearing at the end of the Lineamenta are addressed to concrete situations in life, ministry and witness in various communities so as to know real expectations and needs.

The areas treated in the questions are: the recent history of Europe, the Church in the culture of today's society and the Church as mystery, communion and mission. They also touch subjects of common interest, such as the liturgy, service, witness and hope in the Lord.

The responses have faithfully followed the structure of the Series of Questions. This is adequately seen in the consultation and reflection in the local Churches and indicates that the structure of the Series of Questions has been useful, even in the method of composing the responses. Furthermore, the Lineamenta for the Second Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops contains a novel aspect-an Appendix which provides 8 excerpts from the numerous discourses of the Holy Father on the subject of Europe.

Since the magisterium of the Holy Father on Europe has been significant, recurring, authoritative and wide-ranging, this collection is intended only to direct attention to the extensive documentation in this area, which not only provides the particular Churches with ideas and suggestions but also indicates a path to be followed by the Church in Europe and a possible approach in reflection.

This approach has ensured that the responses reflect the real situations existing in the individual Churches.

The responses to the Lineamenta also clearly indicate the irreplaceable task done by the particular Churches in the preparatory phase of the synod.

The particular Churches take part in the synod procedure in two ways: initially, in responding to the Questions in the Lineamenta and subsequently in the work of the Council whose members are pastors of the particular Churches.

In the course of work, these responses are examined and utilised in composing an initial draft text of the Instrumentum laboris.

INSTRUMENTUM LABORIS

After having received the responses to the Lineamenta, the General Secretariat held a meeting with the Pre-Synodal Council and experts to examine all the suggestions and to prepare the Instrumentum laboris. Such a document was presented and examined in its initial form at the Fourth Meeting of the Council and further discussed at the Firth Meeting. Keeping in mind the Council's suggestions, the experts completed the final draft of the document on 29 March1999. Subsequently, the process began of translating the document into various European languages, after which it was mailed to those concerned on 25 June 1999.

In this way, the pastors of the local Church have had a few months to disseminate the document in their communities so as to prompt further discussion and prayer on the synod topic.

COMPOSITION OF THE SPECIAL ASSEMBLY

The criteria of participation was mailed to all interested parties on 13 July 1998. These criteria have served as the basis for the composition of this assembly. Therefore, the three groups of Synod Fathers include members ex officio, ex electione and ex nominatione pontificia.

According to the criteria, the Synod Fathers are comprised of: 1 Major Archbishop, 1 Metropolitan of the Eastern Church sui iuris, the General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, 27 Heads of Departments of the Roman Curia, 32 Presidents of Episcopal Conferences, 2 Presidents of Eastern Church Bodies, 2 Presidents of Episcopal Regional Bodies (COM.E.C.E. and C.C.E.E.), 10 Bishops of Territories without Episcopal Conferences, 76 Elected by the Episcopal Conferences, 8 General or Provincial Superiors, 23 by Papal Appointment.

Other participants include: Women and Men Experts (17), Women and Men Auditors (39), Fraternal Delegates (10) and a Special Guest (1).

The individual categories of participants are those proscribed in the Ordo Synodi and those resulting from established practices at other continental synodal assemblies.

The election procedure deserves mention. In this regard, a letter was sent to all interested parties, accompanied by two forms to be completed with the results of elections, both for the Synod Fathers and Substitutes. Generally speaking, the election process was faithfully followed. However, some conferences followed their own procedure. In such cases, the General Secretariat was required to make the request to follow synodal norms and established practice so as to safeguard the integrity of the process and the title of those elected, not to mention to ensure a fair and authoritative composition of the synodal assembly.

Particularly important to note is that the composition of the assembly is governed by objective criteria based on impartiality and the most opportune number possible of participants at the assembly.

Most felt to limit the number of participants at the synod, even at the risk of having a different number from those of similar synodal assemblies.

The Religious Orders of Eastern Europe, suppressed for about 50 years, were given the special permission to use a different criteria from that of the West in electing members to the synod in order to acknowledge the difficulties they face.

Therefore, for the Union of Superiors General, eight (8) members were elected of which four (4) come from Central-Eastern Europe and four (4) from Western Europe. In the case of Central-Eastern Europe, Provincial Superiors were also eligible.

The breakdown and total number of Synod Fathers is:

Members ex officio: 72

Members by election: 84

Members by Papal Appointment: 23

Total:179

As well noted, the Ordo Synodi provides for the election of substitutes to guarantee the integrity of the synod, if an elected member is unable, for a serious reason, to be present. At this synodal assembly, 5 substitutes occupy the places of those who are absent because of health or other reasons.

The right to participate at a synod ceases when a Synod Father retires after his election to the synod and prior to the opening of the Special Assembly, without assuming a subsequent responsibility which would entitle him to retain membership in the episcopal conference to which he belonged.

PREPARATION

The Second Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops completes the "series of continental synods" in preparation for the Jubilee of the Year 2000. Since His Holiness called this assembly in June, 1996, the preparation period has lasted three years, which has allowed for an extensive reflection on not only the subject of Europe but also the results of the other synods in the series. Besides completing the "series of continental synods", this Special Assembly also manifests the Church's ecclesial character on the eve of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

PRE-SYNODAL SYMPOSIUM

As for some other synods, the Pontifical Council for Culture sponsored a "Pre-Synodal Symposium", 11-14 June 1999, with the topic: "Christ, the Source of a New Culture for Europe".

Participating at this important meeting were the General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops and the members of the Pre-Synodal Council for Europe.

This initiative, treating a topic closely aligned to that of the Special Assembly, provided an opportunity to treat related subjects and useful approaches to contemporary questions.

Attention should also be given to another initiative in the preparation process which took place in Romania at the "International Forum of Catholic Action", 31 July - 2 August 1998. This Forum treated the topic: "Christ the Saviour, Yesterday, Today and Forever. Christians and Christian Communities as a Sign of Hope for Europe. The Way Towards the Formation and Mission of the Laity in Various Situations." The meeting used the Lineamenta of this Special Assembly as a point of reference and formulated conclusions which were published.

INFORMATION

News regarding the preparation of the Synod has appeared regularly in the various organs of communication of the Holy See: L'Osservatore Romano, Vatican Radio and the Holy See Press Office.

Such information was provided at the convocation of the Special Assembly (23 June 1996), on the occasion of the five meetings of the Pre-Synodal Council and at the publication the Lineamenta and Instrumentum laboris.

The official notification of the date and venue of this Special Assembly appeared on the first page of L'Osservatore Romano, 6-7 April 1999.

The same announcement carried the names of those appointed to exercise special roles during the synod, namely, the Presidents-Delegate, the General Rapporteur, Special Secretaries and the President and Vice-Presidents of the Commissions for the Message and for Information.

In keeping with its responsibility to provide information in the immediate preparatory phase of the Special Assembly, the General Secretariat held meetings with the offices of the Holy See normally associated with communications. A joint meeting of these bodies took place on 1 June 1999.

CALENDER

The duration of the Special Assembly, 1-23 October 1999, is shorter than usual, meaning that not all of the bishops will be able to speak in the initial days.

A quick glance at the calendar reveals the schedule of synod work and its successive stages as well as their interrelationship in a logical and chronological sense.

The entire synodal process begins with a concelebrated Eucharistic Liturgy, continues in 19 General Congregations and 15 Sessions of the Small Discussion Groups and concludes with a concelebrated Eucharistic Liturgy. The work of the Special Assembly concludes with a fellowship meal.

Practically speaking, the first meeting of the Small Groups is placed in the first week so as to provide an opportunity for the members to come to know each other and to elect the Groups' Moderators. Just prior to transition to the period of Small Group Discussion, the Rapporteurs of the Small Groups are elected. The Moderators meet twice, while the Rapporteurs of the groups hold various meetings. The formulation of the Propositiones requires six regular sessions of the Small Groups, in addition to work foreseen on nights and holidays.

Four sessions are set aside to formulate the collective amendments to the Propositiones; 3 sessions to vote on these amendments; and one final session to vote on the Propositiones with either a placet (yes) or non placet (no) vote.

Once the draft text of the Nuntius or "Message" of the Special Assembly has been distributed and discussed in the synod hall, one session is given to the presentation and vote on the definitive version.

Two voting sessions are foreseen for the election of the members of a Post-Synodal Council.

Even if not appearing in the calender, three press conferences are to be held in the Conference Hall of the Holy See Press Office, under the auspices of the Commission for Information. These Press Conferences are scheduled for 2, 11 and 22 October.

The interventions of the Auditores and Auditrices are to be heard in two sessions, while the Fraternal Delegates are to be heard in another session.

The fast-paced yet orderly development of work reveals the interaction of the synodal phases which take place in a logical and coherent sequence.

VADEMECUM

After the publication of the document instituting the Synod, the Motu proprio of Pope Paul VI Apostolica sollicitudo (15 September 1965) and the first edition of the Ordo Synodi, containing the Statutes of the Synod (24 June 1969), a growing need emerged for a sort of manual, adapted from the Ordo Synodi, with various practical instructions for the synod participants. The resulting document, called the Vademecum Synodi, was subsequently revised and new elements introduced according to the particular needs of a given synodal assembly. Since 1990, this practical guide has well demonstrated its usefulness.

In its Fifth Meeting, the Pre-Synodal Council for Europe offered suggestions to improve and adapt the Vademecum text to this Special Assembly.

The procedural norms and directives of the Vademecum do not have equal value. Those from the Code of Canon Law, the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches and the Ordo Synodi, have the force of law; others are based on custom or the accepted practice at previous synods.

CONCLUSION

To conclude this report, I have the pleasure of recalling that the General Secretariat's sometimes arduous work of preparing for this assembly has been made light by many instances of communion in spirit and in deed. In a true sense, the "common path" on which we are about to embark, has already been pursued before this assembly in the local Churches and in the General Secretariat's constant interaction with the local Churches. The preparation has indeed been synodal in character.

"Travelling a common path" is a normal feature in the preparation of every synod. At this time, I wish to highlight how this aspect characterised the preparation of this synodal assembly.

To do this, I return to material already treated, since this is the second time that a special assembly has been held for Europe. In this regard, the procedure followed by the General Secretariat has been made easier through previous experience. At the same time, a new aspect is added, in that no continent until now has had two special assemblies. The effect of this particular feature is seen above all in the local Churches. It has also been reflected in the activities of the General Secretariat which has had to study with new resolve the present state of the Church in Europe as well as prepare effective instruments to assist the local Churches in following synodal procedure.

There was a real risk that persons and communities might consider as routine a further reflection on the ecclesial and historical situation of Europe.

Such a danger was wisely avoided because of a high ecclesial sense which was fostered by the synod's convocation. Even here, the providential correlation can be seen between the Church in mission and the Church in synod. Today, the nature of the Church and the nature of the synod are intertwined and reveal each other in ever more discernible signs of communion within the corpus episcoporum (episcopal college) and through the collegiality of bishops.

Thus, what might have been seen as a routine matter was looked upon as a re-awakening of the consciousness of the Church in Europe, urged on by new factors in various areas of culture, especially in philosophy, spirituality, social and ethnic conflict as well as political and civil transformation. This deep immersion in European realities has been clearly seen in the General Secretariat throughout the various phases of preparation, above all, in the responses coming from the Episcopal Conferences and in the discussion of the members of the Pre-Synodal Council in the 5 meetings held in the General Secretariat.

This ecclesial awareness has led to a renewed drive towards the final goal of the Synod, namely, to bring about, through this same ecclesial awareness, a strong and permanent path of hope for Europe. Today's European scene is characterised by obvious signs of moral and spiritual decay; individuals and whole peoples seem overcome by a strong sense of mistrust. This reality has been examined in depth in the pre-synodal period of consultation and is a compelling feature in many areas, especially in the mission of the Church, in ecclesial communion amidst a secularised environment, in ecumenism and in terms of witnessing in an age of secularism and religious indifferentism. Europe stands in urgent need of hope.

Another new feature of this Second Special Assembly for Europe is its occurrence at the close of the series of synods in preparation for the Jubilee Year. Indeed it is taking place on the very eve of the Holy Year 2000 as the final profession of pastoral charity of the entire communio episoporum. The bishops scattered throughout the world are approaching the Holy Door with the full intent of the sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum so as to take from the Heart of the Redeemer enough hope of everyone.

"Jesus Christ, Alive in His Church, Source of Hope for Europe" is the topic of this Special Assembly. The Church makes this call with a humility which comes from the awareness of the weakness of her members and with a parresia which puts her in contact with the power of the Risen Lord. Today, she proclaims this hope-filled message to all parts of the European continent, from the Atlantic to the Urals and from the Baltic to the Mediterranean. It is the hope of Abraham, Father of a Nation Beyond Counting, who abandoned himself to hope against all hope (cf. Rm 4:18); it is the hope of the Apostle Peter, who calls people to have a defence ready for the hope which is in the heart of each believer (cf. 1 Pt 3:15), not a deluded hope like that of the disciples on the journey to Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:21), but one which bears ardent witness to Jesus Christ, Alive in his Church.

 

[1] Responses were received from the following: Episcopal Conferences - Austria, Belgium, Belarus, Bosnia-Erzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, England and Wales, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Check Republic, Russia, Scandinavia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, Ukraine (Eastern Church Synod), Hungary; the Roman Curia - Congregations for the Eastern Churches, Evangelisation of Peoples, Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Catholic Education and Pontifical Councils for the Laity, the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, Inter-religious Dialogue, Culture and Social Communications; and the Union of Superiors General.

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