2-October-2012 -- ZENIT.org News Agency |

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Plenary Assembly of European Episcopal Conferences Concludes in Switzerland

Annual Meeting Focuses on Economy, Social Changes, Religious Liberty in Europe

By Junno Arocho

ST. GALLEN, Switzerland, OCT. 1, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE) concluded its annual plenary meeting in St. Gallen, Switzerland, this weekend following the Holy Father's call to "reflect on the unending task of evangelization and its current renewed urgency."

Under the theme of "The Challenges of our Time: Social and Spiritual Aspects," the bishops discussed several topics that are currently affecting the continent. Among the areas of discussion were the economy, the European Union's difficult progress with respect to freedom of religion and respect for life, and the current economic situation that has hit the European continent in recent years.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect for the Congregation of Bishops, commented on the importance of the plenary assembly, while reiterating CCEE president, Cardinal Peter Erdo's assessment of the current climate in Europe as a "crisis of hope."

"The presence of the Church and the strength of the Church in this moment to help the European countries is to not lose the awareness of the universal mission of Europe as the bearer of this message of the Gospel and the wisdom that the Gospel has brought in regards to the dignity of the person and human rights," Cardinal Ouellet said during a press conference.

The Canadian prelate stressed the significance of the Plenary Assembly to the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, which will begin in Rome later this month. "I think the Synod on the New Evangelization will bring us closer to the source of the personal encounter [with Christ] and, as I say, not only concern for the faith of those who have distanced themselves, but the concern for our faith - our own faith - because it can be more or less alive," he said.

Marginalization of Christians

The plenary assembly also gave particular attention to the persecutions against Christians in the world, while renewing its call to the international community to ensure that religious freedom is "respected and promoted always and everywhere."

The Observatory on Discriminations and Intolerance against Christians in Europe, a report detailing the marginalization of Christians throughout Europe, was also discussed. The assembly of bishops conveyed strong disapproval concerning a number of grievous events which "express an involution of culture and society that contradicts their alleged aims and purposes."

Fr. Ferenc Janka, the head of Holy See's "hate crimes" division at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), spoke during the assembly on the growing violence and, in some cases, limiting of religious freedom by governments as a growing trend within Europe. Fr. Janka expressed his concern that, while other religions faced with similar discriminations or limits on religious liberty have spoken out, Christians have remained silent, which has fostered an increase in offenses.

Regarding the case where crucifixes were banned in public schools and buildings, Fr. Janka recalled a lawyer's assessment of the case, saying that "while it is not surprising that such things happen, what is surprising is that no one says anything.

Social and Spiritual Challenges in Europe

The Plenary Assembly concluded with the celebration of the Eucharist in the Cathedral of the host city presided by Bishop Markus Büchel of St. Gallen. During his homily, Bishop Büchel highlighted the immense work and discussions during the plenary assembly, encouraging the prelates present in their task of" guiding the local Church and strengthening the faith with your vibrant proclamation."

"It's an important social and spiritual challenge, and all the more so in the light of the rapid transformations of our times!" he exclaimed.

"I hope and I pray that all the reflections and the efforts made for the New Evangelization will be accompanied by deep faith in the power of the Holy Spirit and by the yearning to understand what men are and where they are today."

The Council of European Episcopal Conferences released a message at the end of the plenary assembly highlighting their stance on the areas affecting the Church in Europe. The bishops reiterated the important role of the Church, saying that secular cultures that fight over different anthropological visions "should not look at the Christian message with suspicion, while it spreads its wings of faith and reason."

"Both wings belong to European history and are the foundation of our civilization. The Church, by bearing witness to faith's truth, engages in the cultural and social debate with Her heritage of wisdom and culture, showing what righteous reason can bring," the statement read.

The statement from the CCEE renewed the call for respect and openness to dialogue, saying that as Christians, the faithful are "endowed with a heritage of truth that has been proven by two thousand years of service, goodness and civilization."

"Our mission is a commitment for us to be wise Pastors of communities that are in history like yeast in the dough, and oil lamps that shine of the light of Christ for the good of all," the statement concluded.

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