Papal Address to Delegation of Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
Church of Christ Is Called to a Model of Harmony, Says Pope
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 29, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Here is the greeting John Paul II addressed on Saturday to a delegation of the
Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which came to Rome on the occasion of the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.
The delegation, led by Greek Orthodox Archbishop Demetrios of America, included Bishop Theodoritos of Nazianzus,
assistant of the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Thyateria and Great Britain; Archimandrite Athenagoras of Fanar; and
* * *
Dear Brothers in Christ,
1. I joyfully welcome you to the Vatican for this annual meeting on the occasion of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and
Paul. Your presence here, as representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch, His Holiness Bartholomaios I, is a sign of our
common love for Christ and an act of ecclesial fraternity, by which we reaffirm the legacy of love and unity which the
Lord left to his Church, built on the Apostles. These yearly meetings nurture our fraternal relationship and they
sustain our hope as we proceed step by step along the way to full communion and the overcoming of our historical
2. I give thanks to the Lord that, in the year that has passed, the Holy See has had many occasions for meeting and
cooperation with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Among these I would recall the message which I sent to His Holiness
Bartholomaios I for the Fifth Symposium on the Environment, which set out from my native land of Poland. I am most
appreciative of the kind words and the prayerful good wishes which His Holiness recently offered at two conferences
marking the approaching twenty-fifth anniversary of my Pontificate. Finally, I am deeply grateful for the Ecumenical
Patriarchate's efforts in these past months to coordinate the continuance of the work of the International Mixed
Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches. I ask you to assure His
Holiness of my fervent prayers that this initiative, which is indispensable for our growth in unity, will be crowned
The rapid changes taking place in today's world call for all Christians to show how the Gospel of Jesus Christ can shed
light on the critical ethical issues facing the human family, including the urgent need to promote interreligious
dialogue, to work for an end to the injustice which creates conflict and enmity between peoples, to safeguard God's
creation and to meet the challenges posed by new advances in science and technology. Here in Europe, the Lord's
followers especially need to cooperate in acknowledging and giving new life to the spiritual roots at the heart of this
continent's history and culture. The consolidation of European unity and identity demands that Christians, as witnesses
to the saving mercy of the Triune God, play a specific role in the present process of integration and reconciliation. Is
not the Church of Christ called first and foremost to offer the world a model of harmony, mutual forbearance and
fruitful charity which reveals the power of God's grace to overcome all human division and discord?
3. Dear Brothers, as we seek to advance in the dialogue of truth and the dialogue of charity, let us not be discouraged
by the difficulties we encounter. There is always a way forward if we are committed to fulfilling the Lord's will for
the unity of his disciples. We must continue our efforts, reinforce our desire for unity, and overlook no opportunity to
grow towards full communion and cooperation, all the time bringing before God in prayer our needs, our hopes and our
failings, that he may heal us through his great mercy.
I entrust these sentiments to you as I ask you to convey my fraternal greetings to His Holiness Bartholomaios I and to
the Holy Synod. May the Lord grant us the strength to bear faithful witness to him, and to pray and work without ceasing
for the unity and peace of his holy Church.
[Original text: English]
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Implications of "Ecclesia in Europa" for the Church in Western Europe
A Presentation by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 29, 2003 (Zenit.org).- 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.
* * *
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
B. The call to conversion and renewal, in communion and mission, for the Catholic Church.
C. The relationship it envisages between the shared public and political life of Europe and the faith -- or faiths -- of
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.
-- 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 universities.
[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 academic activities.
"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 subsequent
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 Europe.
* * *
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 healthy society.
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
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 Church.
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 liturgy":
"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
"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
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
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 goods.
"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 integration. ...
"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
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 Muslim thought.
"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
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 hearts.
* * *
C. The relationship it envisages between the shared public and political life of Europe and the faith -- or faiths -- of
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 these matters.
I believe that the three demands made in this papal exhortation will be widely welcomed by the Catholic communities in
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).