The presidents of Europe's 34 Bishops' Conferences, the members of CCEE (the Council of European Bishops' Conferences), met for their annual assembly from 2nd to 5th October in Vilnius, Lithuania.
The discussions revolved around a reflection on current challenges for the Church in Europe, in the light of John Paul II's recent post-synodal Exhortation Ecclesia in Europa. In his message to the members of CCEE, the Pope once more stressed how much Europe has been linked to Christianity throughout its history and how important it is for Europe to remain faithful to these roots if the continent is to prosper.
The bishops discussed current political issues in Europe, particularly the preparation of the text of the Constitutional Treaty and the enlargement of the European Union, in some depth. On the day when heads of states and governments met in Rome for the opening of the Intergovernmental Conference on the Revision of Treaties (4th October 2003), they sent a message to president Berlusconi, giving fresh voice to their "wish that the Preamble of the Constitutional Treaty should refer explicitly to Europe's Christian roots. This request is based on the entire history of our continent over the last two millennia and expresses the expectation of the very large majority of people in Europe who, in various ways, live the Christian heritage in our time".
The Church's first task, and the contribution she can make to Europe, is to be herself: in other words, to proclaim the Gospel, well aware it gives hope to our contemporaries. Furthermore, the Church has to be a universal community: universal openness and responsibility must be expressed in her constant attention to the most marginalised people and those who suffer most in history. In particular, the bishops, once more, deplored the dramatic tragedy of the Holy Land, which is still costing lives and creating suffering. They renewed their promise of solidarity and support to the Christian Churches in the Middle East. These communities must not feel isolated and so the tradition of visit and pilgrimages to these lands ought to begin again.
The bishops of Europe further deplore the wave of cynicism across the world that seems to have abandoned Africa to a destiny of ever greater poverty and marginalisation. As a sign of solidarity and communion, with their sister churches in Africa, the bishops have decided that preparations for a meeting between European and African bishops in 2004 should go ahead. Attention was given to pastoral themes that are urgent for the new evangelisation: vocations, catechesis, safeguarding creation, migration, mass media. The European Bishops' Conferences' future agenda will also focus more and more on pastoral attention to universities and the link between Church and culture.
Ecumenical dialogue is still a demanding priority for CCEE, one that is covered in co-operation with CEC (the Conference of European Churches): in coming years both bodies will be busy with the process of the Charta Oecumenica as well as preparation of the third European ecumenical assembly (to be held in 2007). Above all, in order to reflect on the relationship between the proclamation of the Gospel (mission) and dialogue, the presidents decided that the Council should try, in the near future, to structure its projects for dialogue with culture and with other religions present in Europe in a way that responds better to current challenges.
The Council voted unanimously to reappoint Mgr. Aldo Giordano as secretary general for a further five-year term.
The bishops were given a warm welcome by Cardinal Audrys Backis. The meeting concluded with a solemn Mass in Vilnius cathedral, which was attended by Rolandas Paksas, the president of the Republic of Lithuania.
Vilnius, 5th October 2003
Information of the CCEE and the Lithuanian Bishops’ Conference