RELATIO - Synod of Europe

Antonio Maria Cardinal Rouco Varela
Archbishop of Madrid
Relator General of the Synod







A vivid image persists in our memories - in the memories of all those who, from both within and outside the Church, closely follow events in Europe - of the Mass celebrated by Your Holiness on 23 June 1996 at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. You used the words of the Angelus, at the close of the moving beatification ceremony of Karl Leisner and Bernhard Lichtenberg, to announce your intention to call this Second Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops. The Special Assembly of 1991 reflected on the new conditions created after the events of 1989, the year when the wall fell which artificially divided Europe from the very heart of Berlin. You called for another meeting of the bishops of Europe-to use your own words-"in order to analyse the situation of the Church in the light of the Jubilee," in the hope of "an age of authentic religious, social and economic rebirth, … the fruit of a fresh announcement of the Gospel".

In starting this task today, we continue the work begun eight years ago by the First Special Assembly. Even then it was clear that what was being taken was no more than "the first step on a journey we must see through to its end" (Declaratio finalis, Introduction). The synod of 1991 was very aware of not only the opportunities but also "the enormous challenges of the present moment" (ibid.). In our approach to our Christian vocation, are we equal to the task that today's world asks from us? In the wake of the call by Your Holiness, Christians all over the world, preparing to celebrate the great Jubilee of the Incarnation, are undertaking a serious examination of conscience, not only to "acknowledge the weaknesses of the past (in) an act of honesty and courage" (Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente, 33), but also to place "themselves humbly before the Lord and (examine) themselves on the responsibility which they too have for the evils of our day"(Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente, 36).

The work of this synod may justly be considered a contribution to the examination of conscience which the Jubilee requires from us all. Europe will have to re-examine the path that, since 1989, it has been following towards the construction of a new unity based on freedom, justice and solidarity. We must examine the situation of the Church regarding the new evangelisation. The new evangelisation represents the specific contribution the Church can make towards the longed for spiritual, social and economic rebirth of our peoples with the final objective, inherent in the mission entrusted to the Church by the Lord and which constitutes her very reason for existence, namely, announcing and offering to humanity the Gospel of salvation (cf. Instrumentum laboris, 2).

For Christians, the examination of conscience is the opportunity for a renewed, profound encounter with the Lord; in other words, an occasion for conversion. This does not consist so much in an exercise of self-contemplation and introspection as it does in contemplating Christ. Thus, before him, we can behold our lives; lives that will no doubt be seen as weak and sinful but also bathed and renewed by the power of grace, which is Christ himself. He is alive today in his Church. For this reason we can consider our situation with an authentic desire for the truth. The Lord's presence among us means that we cannot give in to pessimism and despair, however large the challenges which face us, and however small our achievements and capabilities. The consolation we receive from him renders us capable of consoling our brothers and sisters and offering them true motives for hope (cf. 2 Cor 1:3-4): "Jesus Christ, Alive in His Church, the Source of Hope for Europe".

This Relatio ante disceptationem, in keeping with the model of the Instrumentum laboris, will, in the first place (I.), discuss the challenges of the times and the difficulties experienced by the Church. In the second place (II.), it will examine the mystery of the living presence of Christ in today's Church. From there it will, in the third place (III.), propose some fundamental guidelines for announcing, celebrating and serving the Gospel of Hope in today's Europe.


1. In the wake of the surprising and happy events in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989, some people imagined that there would naturally follow a period in which Europeans were finally going to see the realisation of their ideals of freedom and justice in full respect of human dignity. In fact, the much-pondered diagnosis issued by the Synod of 1991 was based on an appreciation of the situation that allowed no room for such false hopes. Declaratio I, 1 states: "The collapse of communism reopened the whole debate about the cultural social and political development of European humanism, marked by atheism, but not only in its Marxist form. It showed by facts and not simply by principles that one should not separate the promotion of God's cause from that of humanity's." (cf. Instrumentum laboris, 11).

1.1. In fact, ten years after the disappearance of the Communist regimes, the people have recovered their freedom and the continent its unity in similar forms of democratic government. However, there remain various indications that suggest an evolution of events which is not necessarily favourable to the cause of humankind. These signs give rise to some concern and require deep reflection. They betray the persistence, under new guises, of some basic problems of that immanent humanism which resulted in the totalitarianism Europe has been forced to suffer, almost until the last days of this century.

There can be no doubt that this last decade has witnessed new and positive economic, social, cultural and political opportunities for the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe. They have been freed from truly oppressive regimes that were incapable of allowing the development of societies often gifted with a rich cultural, and even scientific-technological, capacity. We note this with true satisfaction, especially because these new horizons have also seen the recognition of religious freedom and have opened new possibilities for the evangelising work of the Church. Communications and exchanges have become much easier and the construction of a common European house, although beset by diverse and constant difficulties, has not ceased to progress.

Nonetheless, we must note that no small number of more or less well-founded hopes from these years has finished in disillusionment and disappointment, both in East and West. In the East, hopes have been dashed for a growth that would quickly lead to a level of economic well-being similar to that of the most developed nations in the West. At times, the transition to the market economy in such extraordinary circumstances has led to mafia-type behaviour, rendering still more difficult an economic and political life that was already arduous after decades of oppressive state control. In the West, apart from inconveniences caused by deviating resources for economic reconstruction in former "iron curtain" countries and for the maintenance of stability and peace in the area-burdens taken on without great enthusiasm-we must also note the cultural and political monotony and greyness of current ideologies and doctrines. The reference that Marxism represented for certain advocates of immanent humanism, supported in so illusory a fashion in the supposed achievements of "true Marxism", has collapsed. Moreover, a certain type of resignation appears to have taken hold in the face of the apparent impossibility to present to society a project of true renewal for the future of Europe. The patent incapacity of States in general, and of the European Community itself, to end the problem of unemployment constitutes one of the most evident signs of this environment of apathy so widespread in Western European countries.

Furthermore, after 1989, "in the countries of the former Eastern bloc, after the fall of Communism, there appeared the serious threat of exaggerated nationalism, as is evident from events in the Balkans and other neighbouring areas [and from the recent tragic war]. This obliges the European nations to make a serious examination of conscience, and to acknowledge faults and errors, both economic and political, resulting from imperialist policies carried out in the previous and present centuries" (Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente, 27). It also obliges us-as Your Holiness recalled in your 1995 message, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War-not to forget the warning of Pius XI in 1930: "Even more difficult, not to say impossible, is that lasting peace be created between peoples and between states. If, in place of true and authentic love for the motherland, there grows intransigent nationalism which is the equivalent of hate and envy rather the desire for mutual good." Soon afterwards, in his Encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, that farsighted, brave Pontiff denounced nationalism as being one of the fatal idolatries of modern times.

1.2. In fact, if we study the roots of the present situation of hopelessness, we must trace it to the modern conception of man as the absolute centre of reality, the view which makes him occupy-falsely-the place of God and which forgets that it is not humanity that makes God, but, rather, God who makes humanity. Forgetting God led to the humankind's abandonment. The persistence of this immanent humanism, which lies at the base both of radical liberalism and Marxism, faces today's Europeans with a specific, problematic situation. On the one hand, the events of 1989 gave rise to justifiable hopes for overcoming the negative consequences of totalitarian communism, whose philosophy still endures in some places. The year 1989 also provided a good opportunity to re-examine the clear and, at times, dramatic exaggerations of individualism predominant in the West. On the other hand, many of the paths chosen in order to progress together towards a new Europe are simply branches of the above-mentioned conceptions of the person, the same one underlying the problems which a new Europe has sought-and still seeks-to overcome. A truly satisfactory solution has yet to be found. Indeed, in both the East and West today, we note a waning of those energies which, over the centuries, led the dominant culture in Europe to place all its hopes in the progress of humanity towards ever higher goals of material welfare as well as of justice and freedom.

It is no wonder that in this context a vast field has opened for the unrestrained development of nihilism in philosophy, of relativism in gnoseology and in morals, and of pragmatism-and even cynical hedonism-in daily life. The idea of constructing a truly human world on the single basis of humanity's potential cannot now excite the support-the somewhat naive support-of the 21st century, nor even that of the 1960's. Everything seems to have been tried already. Yet, the question remains -upon what can we build life and society; upon what truth, what moral values and what motivation from everyday life? Today, the troubling response to this question frequently heard is: on no truth (given that now we do not even believe in the truth about humanity), on no permanent value (given that we do not believe they exist), on no ideal, other than that of immediately exploiting whatever life can offer in the way of pleasure (given that we do not even believe in progress as the goal for humanity). The tremendous crisis occurring in such a vitally important institution for society as the family-from which an attempt is being made to disassociate its intrinsic and fundamental root, matrimony, with the consequence of a seemingly unstoppable, falling birth-rate-gives more-than-sufficient cause to think that these are the majority responses of societies who have settled on approaching the future with an inhibiting, self-interested mistrust. With assumptions like these, the growth of new forms of social marginalisation is inevitable as well as the inability to face the growing phenomenon of emigration with justice and solidarity.

Were the hopes for liberation in the hearts of people oppressed by Communism, the last deep, far-reaching hopes cherished by 20th century Europeans? Is resigning themselves to the narrow outlook of everyday life all they have left; or are they to seek to enjoy the fleeting moment which is known to be precarious but considered to be the only thing that truly counts? Is this truly the only way out of the crisis in the ideology of progress which is looming before our immanent humanism? Questions like these continue to prick our consciences and our hearts as Pastors of the Church of Christ in Europe. We must dedicate serious attention to them in this synodal assembly. It is true, however, that these are not the only matters which confront us. There are still people who continue to talk of purely human progress as an illusionary goal and a stimulus for political programmes. Many others wish to believe-and do truly believe-in a future of a greater humanity and solidarity between the peoples of Eastern and Western Europe and between Europe and the peoples of the South. Such people devote their imagination, resources and labour to achieve this goal. Nevertheless, it does not appear that they are able to win out over the hopelessness inherent in a situation which is perceived as being without goals or solutions, nor to prevent this hopelessness from being considered as one of the dominant current themes in Europe, a theme which deeply concerns the Church. In this context, what is the Church's solution? How does she proceed along the path which people are following today? What services does she offer them? What truly human contributions can she make to Europeans at this critical time?

2. Venerable Brothers, it is in seeking replies to these questions that we must direct our efforts in the coming days. We wish to open ourselves generously to the grace of the Holy Spirit and listen to his testimony in order to understand the manifold richness of the presence of Christ in his Church. This is our treasure. We have nothing else to offer those who seek our help. Remember the episode of Peter as narrated in the Acts of the Apostles: "I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk" (Acts 3:6). We will return to this subject later in this Relatio. First, however, it is necessary that we also become aware of a number of situations that weaken Church life in Europe today and that do not allow her to offer that clear witness of Christ and his Gospel that is so urgently required.

2.1. In the first place we cannot but recognise that Christians themselves, especially in the West, have at times allowed themselves to be affected by the spirit of immanent humanism, depriving faith of its vitality, even going so far-unfortunately on not a few occasions-as to abandon it altogether. It does not appear that we have yet overcome the tendency of interpretating Christian faith in a secular way as a strategy for better organising the things of this world. Reducing the faith to a tactic to achieve social or political objectives springs from an obscured faith in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for our salvation, which is totally unmindful of the last article of the Creed: "we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." Indeed, when faith in God the Father and Jesus Christ, who opens the doors of eternal salvation to us by means of his Holy Spirit, relinquishes, in one way or another, its irreplaceable position for a merely human faith in progress and the future of this world, faith in eternal life is weakened and disappears altogether. Outside of Jesus Christ we do not know what God, life, death or we ourselves truly are. It is no wonder that a culture without God also ends up being a culture without hope. Only in Christ, who is eternal, creative Love, the heart of man finds its true origin and destiny. Yet it is strange and alarming that preaching, catechesis and the teaching of religion and Christian life in general do not pay due attention to the Church's faith in the resurrection and eternal life. This clearly indicates a weakening of the Christian faith, given that "… the mission of believers is always and everywhere oriented towards the eschatological future" (JOHN PAUL II, Address to the Council of the EC -16 April 1993).

The consequences of an erosion in faith, brought about by the immanent mentality, have a capillary effect in all areas of Church life. The integrity of the saving Truth expressed in the Creed is not a mere "theoretical" question without any implications in the life of Christians. On the contrary, no so-called "orthopraxy" is possible without true orthodoxy, and only sincerely lived orthodoxy leads to true "orthopraxy." Indeed, almost every pressing problem facing the Church at the present time in Europe has its roots in the crisis of Truth and faith. This, in turn, gives rise to serious doctrinal fragmentation affecting the consciences of believers: the question of ecclesial ministry, consecrated life, the vocation of lay people and their presence in the world and announcing the Gospel to new generations.

The crisis in vocations to the priesthood as well as in vocations to the consecrated life has not yet been overcome. Europe, which not so long ago would send priests, monks and nuns to the missions and young Churches all over the world, today has fewer vocations than any other continent. At the same time, the continent is facing growing difficulties in supplying ordained ministers to its own local communities. Many monasteries are being deserted and are disappearing. The mammoth evangelising and educational task of religious orders and congregations is either being seriously diminished or reduced to doing what is merely possible in co-operating with lay individuals or institutions, or has altogether disappeared in some areas or sectors. There can be no doubt that the reasons for this alarming situation are numerous and complex. Nonetheless, it is certain that its deepest roots are to be found in secularisation within the Church, that is, in the diminishing or abandonment of the Truth of faith in our own lives and pastoral commitments.

There is no hope for vocations to the priesthood if the image presented of the priest is that of a "social worker" or a "psychotherapist," and not that of someone who is, before any other role he may have, minister of the one priesthood of Jesus Christ and his Mysteries of salvation, which liberate men and women from death and sin and open them to the infinite horizons of the eternal Life and Love of God. Nor can there be hope for a sufficient number of lasting vocations to consecrated life if monks and nuns appear more "faithful to the world" than witnesses and servants to the "only thing truly necessary," expressed through a life of poverty, chastity and obedience, whose ultimate meaning is to be a visible sign of the world to come. A true revitalisation in spirituality and the apostolate amongst lay people cannot be expected, if we use the same approaches as those adopted by social and political organisations for purely worldly ends, such as claiming and distributing power, thus disregarding the true nature of the lay vocation which is that of transforming this world in keeping with the Gospel. In short, it will not be possible to transmit the witness of faith to new generations if we merely present them with the formulae of a more or less modern or post-modern humanism, more or less tinged with a vague heterogeneous religiosity in place of the one Truth that saves us: that of the Love of God revealed through Jesus Christ, recognised within his Church as being ever new.

2.2. In the second place, we must recognise that the secularisation of Christian life within the Church, apart from the above-mentioned emptying of the Truth of faith so profoundly impoverishing Church life, also brings with it a deep crisis of conscience and Christian moral principles which endanger ecclesial unity and render evangelisation impossible (cf. Instrumentum laboris, 23). The Encyclical Letters Veritatis splendor (1993) and Evangelium vitae (1995) demonstrated this with pastoral and theological clarity.

Some Catholics feel that the appeal to absolute moral values is incompatible with an understanding of the person which gives due weight to the free and responsible nature of man, and the respect owed to the conscience of the individual. Under the influence of historic relativism and of a narrow view of human reason, there are many who, at least in practice, deny the Church's Magisterium as truly normative in moral questions. Instead, they attribute to her an exhortative role, a mere addendum to the basic work of morality which, according to some, is the task of purely rational debate.

With suppositions such as these, it is no wonder that theological teaching, openly in contradiction with Church doctrine, is being promoted, especially in matters concerning the fundamental rights of the human person and the just co-existence of mankind. Such a situation is raising concern and causing ecclesial dissent to foment even more (cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Donum veritatis [1990], especially nos. 32 - 38).

At the root of this situation, once again, is a reduced version of anthropology which has very little to do with the Christian view of the human being. The eclipse of God in the modern conscience has led to the unlimited acceptance of subjectivity as the fount and foundation of truth. From this perspective, freedom, seen as the ultimate source of all truth, ends up being understood as mistress and queen of the world; lacking all laws save those of her own design. How, then, can we be surprised, not only by individual violations of people's rights, but also by the style and practice of the "tyrant State", unhampered by any values or norms that are not those of its own "sovereignty"? Nationalism and Communism have been the most unfortunate exponents of this type of State organisation. Today, even the democracies in both the East and West are not immune to the threat of being manipulated and becoming, by pursuing the same course, protectors and guardians of social customs and actions that endanger-when not directly destroying-the inviolable rights of human beings and the institutions which protect them.

2.3. Under these circumstances, the Church must question herself calmly and confidently before the crucified and risen Lord, about her own situation and the conditions required of her so as to witness and be a true source of hope and life for men and women in Europe today. This will cause us to recognise, in the third place, that the weakening of the Truth of faith and Christian moral conscience inevitably produces a weakening of the evangelising capability of the Church, a fact which cannot be camouflaged by certain interpretations of readiness to dialogue and service.

No doubt, a necessary condition for the credibility of the particular Churches in the new Europe is the consolidation and cultivation of dialogue and co-operation between the different Christian confessions and between all those who believe in God. Furthermore, serious and confident dialogue with non-believers is absolutely indispensable in democratic and pluralist societies (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letters Veritatis splendor, 74 and Evangelium vitae, 82a, 90, 95c). At the same time, the "dialogue of salvation" (cf. PAUL VI, Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam suam, 39) by Christians, among themselves and between the Church and the world, is a demanding and delicate undertaking which will only bear fruit if truly based on the Gospel. Truth can never be ignored and systematically placed in abeyance. There is no small number of matters of vital importance in today's public debate in Europe which turn out to be, as Paul VI wrote, "resistant to friendly discussion" (cf. PAUL VI, Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam suam, 5). Take for example the problem of research with human embryos or their systematic destruction; abortion and euthanasia; a true conception of marriage and the family; or drugs and the arms trade. On some of these matters, rulings from European States or organisations exist in open contradiction to a Christian vision of the person and the world. It is necessary not to back away from patient and constructive dialogue; yet a presupposition of such a dialogue must not be-as even some Catholics seem to think-relative pluralism, that is, an abandonment-even theoretical-of all principles in the interest of merely pragmatic agreements.

Something similar can also be said concerning readiness to serve in various fields where human solidarity and Christian charity demand that Christ's followers be present. Thanks be to God, there is no small number of people who willingly commit their time, resources and even their lives in many different types of support and assistance services. Ecclesial organisations, working in the fields of charity and the promotion of justice amongst those who are marginalised in our societies, the peoples of Europe and the poorest in other continents, work with admirable dedication. Nevertheless, the temptation towards secularisation within the Church reaches even these areas. The work of volunteers and charitable ecclesial bodies in particular must not end up becoming just other "non-governmental organisations", whose Christian identity and programs become blurred and fade into pure humanitarian activity. The more services, offered by Catholic individuals and organisations, reflect the Church's moral doctrine on the dignity of the individual and the true sense of society and the common good, the more fruitful will be the eradication of the true causes of poverty and marginalisation. No less clear is the fact that only by adequately and organically integrating them in parish, diocesan and supra-diocesan structures, as well as by rooting them in the spiritual and sacramental life of the Church, can the actions and the institutions of service and co-operation be vitalised, making them living witnesses of the charity and hope that our European brothers and sisters demand today, especially the least fortunate: the hope that does not disappoint (cf. Rm 5:5) and wells up from the perennial font which is Jesus Christ (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor hominis, 13).


Vatican Council II, the Holy Spirit's great gift to us in this century which is drawing to a close, involved a renewal of the Church's awareness of herself and her mission in the world. Vatican II prompted the Church to look towards her centre and permanent source, that is, towards Christ and the Triune God revealed by Him. The Council itself and to some extent the synods that have marked the last few decades (I am particularly thinking of the Extraordinary Assembly of 1985 which celebrated and confirmed the Council twenty years after its closure), are an expression of the living presence of the Risen Lord in his Church, a Church he never fails to assist through the strength of the Holy Spirit (cf. Instrumentum laboris, 28-32).

The new springtime of the Church, announced by Pope John XXIII and prepared by the Second Vatican Council, has at times been obstructed and not infrequently delayed, especially in Europe, because of the problems caused by secularism, some of which I have just mentioned. However, in the last few years clear signs of the action of the Spirit of Jesus Christ have not been lacking, strengthening our faith in the Church as the Body of Christ and the People of God as well as encouraging our hope in a supernatural way. Venerable Brothers, allow me to illustrate some of these signs which demonstrate the zeal with which Jesus Christ is witnessed, celebrated and served today in our European Churches.

1. We note with pleasure that the Church has never ceased to listen to and examine the Word of God or to bear witness to it in many ways before the men and women of today. Indeed, this Word, which is the Lord Jesus Christ himself, continues to call upon Pastors, the faithful and all mankind. Truly, he is the Word of Life in person, the eternal Son of God, incarnated in the virginal bosom of Mary who, united with all of us in a special way along the pathways of this world, revealed to us the face of the living God, Father of mercy, and opened to us the source of true life. Through his incarnation, life, death and resurrection, we have access to eternal life which consists in knowing God and Jesus Christ whom he sent (cf. Jn 17:3).

Over the last few years, a growing need has emerged to study more profoundly, to better understand and to bring more coherently into the life of the Church, the Council's Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, In this matter, the enlightened guidance and suggestions of the 1985 Synod have proved to have great merit. Progress has been made in overcoming "the false opposition between pastoral and doctrinal duties," since "true pastoral intention consists in rendering real and concrete the truth of salvation which, of itself, is valid for all times" (Relatio finalis B, a, 1). Many attempt to acquire a more vivid awareness of a truly Catholic sense of the interpretation of Scripture in the Church, and there can be no doubt that, to this end, the indications published by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1993 have assisted greatly. Nonetheless, the most visible fruit, having the longest reaching effects, has been the Synod's suggestion of compiling a Catechism for the whole Church as a reference tool.

In fact, the publication in 1992 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church "has to be counted as one of the major happenings in the recent history of the Church," to use the words of Your Holiness at the presentation of the volume on 7 December of that year. It was the second time in her two-thousand-year history that the Church created such a reference work for the universal Church. The reaction on the Continent to the Catechism proved the accuracy of the suggestion made by the 1985 Synod and its special relevance for our particular Churches in which the grave problem of transmitting the faith to new generations is felt with particular urgency. The popular reception given to the Catechism, and its surprisingly becoming a best seller, also indicates the demand of people today for a precise presentation of the Church's faith. Apart from the personal opinions of some authors, men and women today continue to be interested in the doctrine of salvation offered by the Church, a doctrine which brings them in contact with the Word of Life, Jesus Christ, who is alive in his Church.

We have also experienced the presence of the Spirit of the risen Christ in his Church in the important doctrinal clarification presented through Your Holiness' Magisterium to the People of God. I have already referred to the Encyclical Letters Veritatis splendor (1993) and Evangelium vitae (1995). At the same time, we cannot overlook Ut unum sint (1995) and Fides et ratio (1998). All of these offer clear and vigorous testimony of the Word of Life, as the foundation of the unchanging values which sustain human life and its dignity and as the principle and path of unity amongst Christians as well as the salvation and strength for the endeavours of reason. Furthermore, the pastoral programme offered by the Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente (1994) enables our particular Churches to approach the celebration of the Jubilee of the Incarnation of the Word better prepared for the glorification of the Holy Trinity through living a faith full of hope and acts of charity (cf. Gal 5:6).

The Church renders thanks to God for all the services of the Magisterium of the Word of Life through which the Lord's promise continues to be realised: "I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20). The Church also gives thanks because the testimony, given to the world by our brothers and sisters coming from all conditions and states of life, has never ceased throughout the course of these years and this century which is drawing to a close.

I am thinking of many priests who, in the midst of the storm of secularism that has affected society and the Church in Europe, have remained faithful to their vocation as ministers of the Gospel. Their witness and ministry have not been lacking in rural or urban parishes, in teaching centres or in hospitals. On many occasions, they have withstood disdain, ridicule and sometimes personal attacks, even in those Western countries proud of their supposedly open and tolerant lifestyle. At other times, they have endured the misunderstanding of their brothers and sisters in the faith. Nonetheless, with their faithfulness, humility and strength-clear signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit who has rendered their lives fruitful-they have given an inestimable service to the Church. They have upheld the testimony of faith in times of trouble and have transmitted the witness of a vocation and priestly spirituality to the young whom the Lord has called to his service. Advancing age, far from diminishing the testimony of many priests who are content at having lived many years of dedication to the Lord in celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, adds still further lustre to their ministry.

Women and men missionaries, coming in large numbers from our European Churches, continue to bear witness to Christ all over the world. Their lives, completely dedicated to announcing the Kingdom of God, are an expression of the revitalising presence of the Lord in his Church. In the midst of a culture of ephemeral values and the absence of total commitment to life, their testimony takes on the new function of reminding our countries of their ancient Christian tradition. The pursuit of the poor in all parts of the world in order to bring them the love of Jesus Christ is a task that has frequently reached the heights of a new Christian heroism.

I am thinking also of those engaged in theological training and research. Many-indeed the overwhelming majority-respond in their daily activity to their vocation in true communion with the Church, notwithstanding the frequent appeals to move in an opposite direction. The challenge, faced by theologians in the urgent task of a new evangelisation of the "culture of freedom", is without doubt formidable, requiring perseverance and clarity. In this work, women also need to be welcomed and encouraged in order to open new possibilities in the service of evangelisation and dialogue with new forms of culture.

My thoughts also go to Christian families who, truly fulfilling their role as "domestic churches" according to Vatican Council II (Lumen gentium, 11), have been the place where Christ has made himself present to so many Europeans in East and West. When public institutions, schools and even certain ecclesial environments have ceased to be channels for educating new generations in the love of Christ and Christian hope, families have sown the seeds of the faith, personally accepted and lived in the hearts of the young. On many occasions, grandparents have known how to guide their grandchildren, and through them, their own children, to an initial encounter with Jesus Christ or to encounter him again. When the State directly hinders evangelisation or when pragmatic materialism besieges the faith of the young, many parents and grandparents take responsibility for baptism preparation of the young, their instruction for First Communion or even for marriage. Youth are also indebted to them for a true understanding and appreciation of the meaning of the word "love". How can we not gratefully acknowledge in these families and individuals, signs of the living presence of the Risen Lord in his Church?

Nor can we forget the important progress made over the last few years in the witness of Jesus Christ, given to the world with one voice by the different Christian confessions in Europe. On this subject it gives me pleasure to recall the common Christological Declaration signed on 13 December 1996 by Your Holiness and Catholicos Karekin I, Patriarch of all Armenians; or the "Joint Declaration on Justification" that will be signed on 31 October by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Lutheran Federation. The Pope's trip to Romania and his meeting with Patriarch Teoctist as well as the presence in Rome of Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople are signs of progressive understanding with the venerable Orthodox Churches. It is vitally important that we progress along the path of unity and witness in what constitutes the heart of the Gospel preached by the Church: "For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). Without doubt it is that very spirit of Jesus Christ, alive in his Church, that guides us towards re-establishing unity on the basis of jointly approaching-with many efforts at being patient and humble-the Truth about the Word of Life.

2. The unity of Christians is very important because, in one way or another, division affects the very character of the Church as sacrament. In fact, it is not just through the ministry of the Word that Christ makes his presence known in his Church for each generation. It is the very being of the Church as mystery of communion, as Body of Christ and People of God. As Vatican Council II demonstrated, "the Church, in Christ is in the nature of sacrament - a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and unity among all men" (Lumen gentium, 1). This was accurately and insistently recalled by the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (1985). In the final report the synod fathers said that "we cannot replace a false unilateral vision of the Church as purely hierarchical with a new sociological conception which is also unilateral. Jesus Christ is ever present in his Church and lives in her as risen. From the Church's connection with Christ we clearly understand the eschatological character of the Church itself (cf. Lumen gentium, chap. 7). In this way the pilgrim Church on earth is the messianic people, that already anticipates in itself its future reality as a new creation" (Relatio finalis II, A, 3). Later, the synod fathers laid down that the Church constitutes this messianic people, an anticipation of the future glory in virtue of "the unity of the faith and the sacraments and hierarchical unity"(Relatio finalis II, C, 2).

The celebration of the liturgy and the sacraments brings home to the faithful their participation in divine life and the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which will one day be fulfilled in eternal life. Consequently preaching and catechesis lead to the celebration of the mysteries of salvation. Liturgical renewal has greatly assisted towards more clearly uniting the idea of celebration to the Word of God and to the sanctification of all life. There are many places where the liturgy, renewed according to the true spirit of Vatican Council II and the guidance of bishops, has greatly enhanced ecclesial life, with a greater awareness of its own nature (cf. Instrumentum laboris, 68-70).

Let us consider the communities of women and men religious who daily celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours. Called by the Spirit into the desert, they combine public, divine glorification of God with the inner workings in the human heart of prayer and contemplation. Let us also consider the numerous cathedrals, parish churches and shrines where the celebration of the liturgy and the sacraments is fervently done, with dignity and total involvement of all participants. There are growing numbers of celebrants who exercise their sacred office according to the theological formation and training demanded by Vatican Council II and constantly urged by the bishops.

Like the religious, the lay faithful are assuming a greater role in the preparation and celebration of the liturgy and the sacraments. In this way the priestly nature of all God's holy people is taking on an ever-clearer profile before the whole world and before the particular Church community. In some places, where priests are lacking, the lay faithful and consecrated persons assist bishops in order that the celebration of the Word, the administration of Holy Communion and other celebrations may continue. Without it becoming a pretext for relativising the doctrinal and pastoral gravity of the problem of a shortage of priestly ministers already mentioned, which continues to cause suffering and difficulty for the Church, this fact has served as a golden opportunity for a deeper consideration of the sacramental nature of the Church and the central meaning of the ordained ministry as a gift of the Holy Spirit which makes present Christ, the Head of the Church. The Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis (1994) has made an important contribution to clarifying this reality and calls for a further examination of the theological and practical questions involved.

Along with liturgical life, popular piety continues to develop new ways to express the religious character of both individuals and peoples which the Church guides towards God "in spirit and truth" (Jn 4:23). Some of these expressions of popular piety, having shown themselves to be resistant to secularism, serve many people as a support for their Christian faith. The revitalisation, seen in some places over the last few years, in the life of confraternities, shrines, celebrations of patron saints, pilgrimages, processions and other expressions of religious fervour is a grace and gift of the Holy Spirit for these times of spiritual drought. All this is being better integrated into the true liturgical life of the Church through which Christ offers himself to the Father as the new and eternal covenant.

World Youth Days, called by your Holiness, are also part of the public celebration of Jesus Christ. The first of these that took place in Europe outside of Rome, in Santiago de Compostela in 1989 and the most recent in Paris in 1997, brought together throngs of young people with their eyes fixed on Christ, happy to have come into contact with him. United with the Pope and their bishops, young people from around the world-but especially from our European Churches on the occasions mentioned above-have been and will be (I am thinking of next year's World Youth Day here in Rome) a living, hope-filled expression of a Church gathered in prayer and called to praise Jesus Christ, who lives in her. They are ready to communicate to the world the Good News of Salvation.

A special mention must also be made of Marian shrines. The faithful have never ceased to visit them. The numbers of people approaching these places in order to encounter the Mother of the Lord Jesus are increasing. In these shrines, Mary consoles her children and strengthens them in faith in order that they become true, living stones to build up the Church. Marian devotion is also practised in parishes, families and Christian associations as a sure path to Christ, who in this way shows he is alive in his Church.

3. The future glory, celebrated by the Christian through liturgical and sacramental life as well as through prayer, shines through in the service of charity. Indeed, the life of Christians in the world, overcome with an eschatological hope nourished by the Word and the Sacraments, is entirely converted into true worship of the Creator.

According to the well-known expression of St. Irenaeus, "the glory of God is man fully alive and the life of man is the vision of God" (Adv. Haer. IV, 20, 7). Consequently, the presence in the Church of the glorified Christ has always been evident and continues to be evident today in the charity of each Christian as well as in the institutions that the Church places at the service of the spiritual and material necessities of humanity.

Amongst these realities, the Church's social doctrine must receive attention as well as those organisations that support and study that doctrine and put it into practice. For a certain period of time-happily a brief one-this doctrine was judged rashly and incorrectly as something from the past. After the fall of Communism in 1989, it has been possible to reconfirm the validity of the principles of the Church's social doctrine, based on the truth about the person proclaimed in the Gospels. According to the Encyclical Letter Centesimus annus, 11: "The main thread and, in a certain sense, the guiding principle … of all of the Church's social doctrine is a correct view of the human person and of his unique value, inasmuch as 'man … is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself' (Gaudium et spes, 24). God has imprinted his own image and likeness on man (cf. Gen 1:26), conferring upon him an incomparable dignity. … In effect, beyond the rights which man acquires by his own work, there exist rights which do not correspond to any work he performs, but which flow from his essential dignity as a person."

Defence of a human beings' inviolable rights forms an unavoidable part of the Church's mission. Your Holiness, from your first Encyclical Letter Redemptor hominis (1979), you have never ceased to proclaim that "man is the primary route that the Church must travel… traced out by Christ Himself" (14). You thus clearly echoed the conciliar doctrine of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church Today Gaudium et spes (especially number 22). Twenty years ago these words were heard with particular resonance in those parts of Europe where totalitarian systems systematically violated such important fundamental rights as freedom of worship, conscience, association, etc. In the intervening period the human rights' situation has changed considerably for both the Church and all Europe's citizens. Nonetheless, we must note that today human dignity is still restricted and attacked in many European countries. Therefore, we as Christians must raise our voices and use all means available to us to rectify these situations as soon as possible.

We give thanks to God that the Church, moved by the "Gospel of Life," gives clear witness through her numerous members and institutions, on behalf of the right to life of all human beings, from conception until natural death. Of course, non-Catholic groups and individuals are also involved in this noble enterprise. Unfortunately, little has been achieved and, worse still, the threats on the horizon appear ever more numerous. The presence of the risen Christ amongst us will give us the strength not to give in to discouragement. We have the example of many brothers and sisters from Central and Eastern Europe who struggled over decades to achieve their fundamental rights without losing heart, on many occasions at the price of heroic sacrifice.

In the workplaces our fellow citizens, especially the young and women, face many problems. At times, they lack jobs which enable them to live with dignity as human beings who must be given the opportunity to develop their capacities in the service of the common good. In this field too, Caritas, as well as other groups and individuals dedicated to the cause of the oppressed and the poor, have developed many initiatives aimed at training, supporting and creating awareness of the problems. The tradition of apostolic activity on behalf of workers remains alive. Happily, something similar can also be said of the welcome given over the last few years to many workers who have emigrated within Europe or who have returned to Europe. The Church, the Body of Christ, does not consider them strangers to be rejected but brothers to be welcomed like Christ Himself.

The Church's charitable activity has also extended to the so-called "new poverty" areas, which have appeared in the midst of our affluent societies. Examples are the world of drugs, AIDS, unemployed youth, divorced and children from broken homes. Christ the Saviour, through his disciples, continues today to heal and accompany people who are broken and beaten at the wayside of the road of life (cf. Lk 10:29-37).

This activity extends to those who populate the Third World and lack the minimum conditions for a dignified life. In these situations, the poor are evangelised by local Churches, often with the help of women and men missionaries from our European particular Churches. The younger particular Churches in those lands also receive large and generous material assistance that various Catholic organisations, supported by constant donations from the faithful, continue to send them from Europe. This genuine concern for our brothers who live in situations of extreme poverty is, without doubt, inspired by the living presence amongst us of he who said, referring to the poor: "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." (Mt 25:40).

In this way, our particular Churches in Europe bear witness to, celebrate and serve Christ, because he lives in them, as I have clearly demonstrated. I do not want to conclude this second part of the Relatio ante disceptationem without mentioning a prevalent, promising situation which, through God's Providence, is providing an opportunity to our Churches. I am referring to the so-called new ecclesial movements and communities. Through the course of this century, the Holy Spirit has inspired the faithful to undertake many initiatives within the Church in response to new, contemporary needs. Over the last few years, some of these initiatives have undergone a truly remarkable growth, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Though their vitality has created some difficulties in integrating them into the pastoral and juridical structures of the Church, there is no doubt that they constitute a great gift from God that revitalises the particular Churches in Europe for evangelisation in our time. With their various charisms, they make the Church present in the areas which touch culture, the needy and the marginalised, inter-confessional and inter-religious dialogue, the family, the young, the frontiers of the ad gentes mission and inter-ecclesial areas not sufficiently covered by other traditional institutions. They also provide numerous vocations to the religious life and to the priesthood in our dioceses.

Summoned by Your Holiness, founders and representatives of these movements and new communities came here to Rome, 30 May 1998, to give testimony to their ecclesial communion with Peter and demonstrate their desire to place their charisms at the service of the Church. On that occasion they heard these words from the universal Pastor: "In our world, frequently dominated by secularised culture which encourages and proposes models of life without God, the faith of many people is put to a hard test and not infrequently suffocated and extinguished. Consequently, the need is urgently felt for an ardent proclamation (of the Gospel) and a solid, deep Christian formation. Here are the new ecclesial communities, they are an answer inspired by the Holy Spirit to this dramatic challenge facing us at the end of the millennium. They are, you are, the providential answer!" Indeed, the movements constitute a significant sign that the Church is a visible historical reality, a Body animated by the presence of the Lord. They assist the faithful to live this presence in the "newness" of a personal encounter, thereby introducing an essential factor into the new evangelisation of Europe, namely, the witness and activity of many Christian men and women, converted to Christ and resolved to live for him, ready to profess his Truth in the communion of faith, celebrating his mysteries, nourishing their hopes in him, serving him with an experience of charity in all its forms and making plain in their lives that the vocation of sanctity belongs to every Christian.


Secularist culture, dominant in our modern day Europe, presents many difficulties in a person's life and in the announcement of the Gospel. However, there also exist many reasons to hope. The early Church faced similar problems. The Church began at Pentecost; yet Pentecost is not just an event from the past, it remains present in our own time, especially thanks to Vatican Council II. We are convinced of this fact. For this reason we will continue to work unceasingly towards a new evangelisation (cf. Instrumentum laboris, 52-59).

Europe is no longer clearly divided by walls and totalitarian ideologies, yet it is a continent where deep division still persists, causing people to suffer and threatening future adversity. This division exists between the baptised, who live their faith in God, and those who have distanced themselves from the faith of their baptism or who have never even professed it. I vividly remember your Holiness' words at Santiago de Compostela in 1982: "Europe is divided in its religious aspect; not so much in divisions that have arisen over the centuries as in the defection of the baptised and believers from the deep-seated message of their faith and from the doctrinal and moral energy of that Christian vision of life that guarantees equilibrium to individuals and communities."

Venerable Brothers, Europe is today faced with a fundamental decision: Conversion to the God of our forebears, whose Son was made flesh for the love of humanity, or separation from the spiritual roots that gave rise to a real humanism in Europe. Our task as Church members is to announce the living God with our words and deeds, that is, to proclaim the Gospel of Hope. In the final section of this Relatio ante disceptationem I would like to make a number of suggestions aimed at better accomplishing this task. I will use the same outline as in the preceding section and talk of how to witness, celebrate and serve the Gospel of Hope in Europe today.

1. The ministry of the Word must be carefully protected, because, "how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?" (Rm 10:14). Today, that ministry enjoys numerous possibilities, many of which have not yet been exploited to the full. The most recent means of communication, such as the Internet or new television technology as well as the more traditional means such as the press, books and radio are all instruments that we must learn how to utilise better. To use profitably these instruments in homilies and live speeches requires adequate training. I wish to take some time to explain both the fundamental outlines that this ministry must follow as well as what I consider to be one of the subjects that must be given priority in preaching today.

We must announce the Gospel with a full, courageous faith. Naturally, it is not so much a case of trusting in our own means and capabilities as it is of always recalling he in whom we have placed our trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:12). "The Word of God through whom all things were made, was made flesh, so that as a perfect man he could save all men and sum up all things in himself. The Lord is the goal of human history, the focal point of the desires of history and civilisation, the centre of mankind, the joy of all hearts and the fulfilment of all aspirations" (Gaudium et spes, 45). Dialogue with the atheistic culture of our day and with religions should not cause any Christian to doubt that in Jesus Christ, only begotten Son of the Father, God drew uniquely and supremely near to each person, who thus received salvation and the fullness of his being (cf. Instrumentum laboris: relations with Judaism, 62; with other religions, 63; with Islam, 64).

The days of fear and neurosis have passed. We still commit errors in our preaching and in our pastoral work, yet we trust that our own shortcomings are more than compensated for by the Word itself, when we present it clearly and faithfully. In no way whatsoever may we mistrust in the Gospel which is the force of salvation coming from God (cf. 1 Cor 1:18-25). We cannot rob this strength from our brothers who are suffering from a hopelessness which is fed-or at least not impeded-by immanent humanism. If the apparent success of the promises and solutions proposed by materialist ideologies at one time exercised a certain fascination-even over those called to announce the Gospel-, today we can and must feel ourselves freed from such subjugation. The clear failure of projects inspired by those ideologies must also serve as a lesson to us as ministers of the Word. These are signs of the times that confirm us in the faith we received from the Apostles: Jesus Christ is the one and only Saviour!

In Europe today, the Church must confidently preach Jesus Christ, crucified and risen; this is the Gospel of Hope. There are various signs that lead us to think that integral, clear and renewed preaching of the risen Christ, the resurrection and eternal life will be a priority over the next few years. A certain deficiency, recently characterising the ministry of the Word, is the first of these signs. Have we not spoken too little and in too fragmentary a fashion on the future glory that the Church expects for her children and for the whole of creation? Furthermore, have we not often been silent about the real possibility of eternal perdition, about which Jesus Christ himself has warned us? In the second place, another indication that speaks in favour of giving particular importance to preaching the last article of faith is the increasing recourse by many of our contemporaries-including some baptised-to certain substitutes for true hope, such as belief in reincarnation, astrology and other prophesying techniques. In the third place, hedonism and even ethical cynicism, which are becoming ever more commonplace amongst us, are undoubtedly a sign of a deficiency in the moral fibre which is based on faith in the eternal life, as "the hope of a new World must not lessen but rather enliven our concern to perfect this World (Gaudium et spes 39, 2). Furthermore, in the fourth place, in the face of a certain ecological concern, which is difficult to qualify as humanist, hope in heaven means that earth and nature are considered as the definitive place where human beings are destined to live and die. Such a hope warns against irresponsible use of the resources of God's creation. Finally, the paradoxical scepticism of modern day Europeans-children of the "culture of liberty"-concerning the true extent of man's free decisions, also makes us think of the necessity of speaking to such people with renewed commitment about the eternal dimension which is implicit in all levels of their being, called to perfect communion with God.

Knowing then, that, "in the midst of increasing indifference and secularisation we are called to bear witness to the values of life and faith in the resurrection, which represents the message of Christ in its entirety" (JOHN PAUL II, Message to the Ecumenical Assembly of Graz - 1977), what has been said thus far invites us to consider concrete proposals for preaching the resurrection and eternal life.

Whatever the case may be, today more than ever before, announcing the Word demands that ministers be trained. Such training must start with a serious cultivation of the spiritual life which will give the preacher the capacity to be witnesses of the Word they preach. It is not enough to foster trust and establish certain priorities, but to prepare and maintain the means. Undoubtedly, the first of these means, if we can call them so, is the minister himself, especially priests, deacons, catechists, teachers of religion. Indeed, all the baptised, in as much as they are witnesses of Christ, must receive the training appropriate to their situation not only so that faith does not die for want of care in a hostile environment such as the secularist world, but also so as to support and drive forward evangelical witness.

The training of ministers of the Word requires a theology explained and passed on in keeping with its specific nature as a knowledge having divine revelation as its foundation, a knowledge which is composed of a truth both confident in its own capacities and open to metaphysical possibility, as recalled in the Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio. Such knowledge cannot bear fruit if it is marginalised, especially within the Church, its Tradition and its Magisterium. Theology prospers and truly serves the cause of inculturation of the Gospel when it is, at one and the same time, contemporary and rooted in ecclesial communion.

As regards catechesis, we can rely today on the Catechism of the Catholic Church which provides a reliable guide for adapting local catechisms to various situations, thus ensuring that they are instruments well adapted for an integral formation in the faith. Catechists, pastors and all people with a higher level of training are to use the Catechism as a basic reference work in their announcement of the Gospel. A more extensive use of the Catechism in catechetical work as an organic part of Church life, is described in the General Directory for Catechesis, published in 1997. All these instruments must be part of the formation of ministers of the Word, if we wish to respond to the two most pressing necessities of the present moment: an complete, faithful exercise of the Church's faith and a knowledge of how to reply to the questions of modern man who is distancing himself from God and yet still seeking him. Giving ourselves up to individual creativity or, worse still, well-intentioned improvisation, can only prove harmful.

2. The celebration of the mysteries of salvation is the centre of the Church's life. Faithfully celebrated, the ministry of the Word leads to the celebration of the mysteries of the faith and finds expression in them. This is seen in the sacraments, especially in the Sacred Eucharist. The announcement of God's kingdom and future glory cannot be reduced to a mere proclamation of religious or moral ideas. Instead, it must lead each believer to a personal encounter with the risen Christ who draws near to persons of all ages in the sacraments of the Church (cf. Instrumentum laboris, 67). We must closely protect the celebration of the liturgy and the sacraments and foster conditions which will ensure its faithful celebration. Venerable Brothers, allow me to mention some of those conditions.

In the first place, it is necessary to foster an understanding of the true meaning of the liturgy and the sacraments and resist the temptation-popularly held today-of reducing Christian worship to a pure celebration of human life, thus stripping it of its sacred character and its divine association with the ritual and cult of the New Covenant. Of course, Christian worship must be united to life and cannot be genuine unless expressed in works of charity and justice. Nevertheless, liturgy and the sacraments remain sacred actions because the Triune God acts in them for the upbuilding of the Church and the sanctification of each person. It should be recalled that the sacraments are a precious legacy of Christ to his Church. She reverently celebrates those sacraments; she does not create them. Instead, she derives nourishment from them because through them she receives the saving strength of Christ, in the Holy Spirit. The Sacrament of Orders, which ordains ministers of the Eucharist, "the source and summit of the Christian life" (Lumen gentium, 11) and sacrament of "divine condescension" (JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Exhortation Dominicae Coenae, 7), clearly expresses the bond of the sacramental life of the Church with Christ. The role of lay people-men and women-in ecclesial responsibilities and ministries must render more profound the sacramental character of the Church, and not obscure it.

In the second place, the celebration of the liturgy and the sacraments requires an proper formation of all those who participate therein, ministers and faithful alike. Christian initiation has a fundamental component of mystery. It is an introduction to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries, an invitation which is not to be refused, even by children. For their part, ministers must be familiar both with theology and liturgical and sacramental practice so that, in keeping with the rich diversity of forms and methods of worship recognised by the Church, they might celebrate the liturgy and the sacraments as grateful and faithful servants of the Sacred Mysteries.

In the third place, it must be recalled that the active participation of all in the liturgy and the sacraments, particularly the Sunday Eucharist, must be protected and encouraged, according to the desires of Vatican Council II. This participation must not be confused with personal preference or activism. Above all, those who celebrate the liturgy and the sacraments must do so truly united in spirit to what the Church is celebrating. Therefore, spiritual formation is needed in addition to doctrine. How different is the celebration of the Eucharist by people with a true sense of prayer from that undertaken in more or less a routine way, even if these celebrations may be liturgically correct and use many enhancing effects!

For this reason, in the fourth place, the cultivation of spirituality is a necessary condition for the living, fruitful celebration of the faith. Faith must arise from the depths of the individual; mere doctrinal formulations or routine worship are unconvincing. On the other hand, our contemporaries, tired of superficial offers and the unbearable pace of a life devoid of meaning, need solid spiritual nourishment. They are longing for more substantial experiences and a true encounter with God. Unfortunately, they often seek this in esoteric movements or in the new syncretistic formulae of a so- called "eastern spirituality". Our great European spiritual traditions, Benedictine, Carmelite or Ignatian in origin, as well as the new movements and communities, can provide what is necessary to ensure that the celebration of Christ's Sacred Mysteries, exemplified and lived in spirit and in deed, may continue to be a source of true hope for Europeans-today and tomorrow-who are seeking God.

I would like to conclude these words on celebration by making reference to the sacrament of reconciliation and forgiveness. The Sacrament of Penance has a fundamental role to play in the recovery of hope. Only those who have received the grace of a new beginning can continue along the road of life without isolating themselves in their misery. Could it not be that one of the root causes of today's hopelessness and despair is the incapacity to recognise oneself as a sinner, and to allow oneself to be forgiven? And is this incapacity not due to the solitude in which so many people live, as if God did not exist, namely, in living only for themselves, without anyone from whom they can seek and ask for pardon? A return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, fully in keeping with conciliar teaching, in no way renders a sincere confession of sin superfluous, but makes it a necessity. This sacrament is an ever more pressing need, if we wish to advance along the road of evangelisation in Europe. The Sacrament of Reconciliation, faithfully celebrated and practised, provides for a renewed encounter of the Christian with the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ, leading all to the House of the Father of mercy, our origin and final destiny, a perennial source of hope (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Dives in misericordia).

3. Witnessing and celebrating the "Gospel of Hope" also involve service of the Gospel which is expressed in the service of each person. Of course, serving God and serving others are not identical, nor are love of God and love of neighbor, yet they are inseparable. Communion with God is not true and authentic if it does not include communion with his children, our brothers and sisters. The saints, in keeping with the various gifts bestowed by the Spirit, have always lived these two loves and services as inseparable realities unable to be compromised. Europe needs new saints; people who, without allowing themselves to give way to the temptation of reducing charity to mere philanthropy, live the Christian life in all its beauty and splendour; people who live as Christ's envoys, wherever they may be, in the world of politics, economy and culture and who work in industry, the fields or the home. Any job or occupation, not just the ministry of the Word and the sacraments, becomes an apostolate when lived in service to the Gospel.

The professional dedication of Christians to politics and the public order of society takes on a new and pressing urgency in light of the process-already fairly advanced-of building European unity upon the solid foundation of justice, freedom and peace. Just as in the times of the so-called "fathers of Europe" (some of whom are destined for sainthood), Christians today must continue working so that the Church's social doctrine might be put into practice within the structures of a unified Europe. Today, the validity of this doctrine is even clearer-if that be possible-than was the case fifty years ago when the Council of Europe, the oldest present-day European institution, was established. We are glad to see efforts being made, both within and outside the institutional framework of the European Union, to bring to the new European legal system-which is being ever more clearly defined-the principles of human dignity, so fundamental in the Church's social doctrine. Nonetheless, a great deal remains to be done. The task at hand for the future is immense; a truly historical challenge for Catholics and for all those who serve humanity. I wish to recall two basic matters, highlighted by Your Holiness in your address to the European Parliament on 29 March.

We must keep working so that "the most basic right, the right to life of every person," is put fully into practice, "and that the death penalty be abolished. This fundamental and indispensable right to life does not only imply that every person must be able to survive, but that each can live in just and dignified conditions. In particular", Your Holiness said, "how much longer must we wait for the right to peace to be recognised as a basic right in all Europe, and for all those responsible in public life to put it into practice?"

On the same occasion, you also said: "It is equally important not to neglect a serious family policy, which guarantees the rights of married couples and children. This is particularly necessary for social cohesion and stability. I invite national parliaments to redouble their efforts to sustain the basic cell of society, in other words the family, and give it its full place. It constitutes the primary place of socialisation and is a treasure of security and confidence for the new generations in Europe." Indeed, what hope can Europe have for its future, if the sad and frequently desolate spiritual and material position of so many families is translated into birth rates that are not even sufficient to replace the present generation; or, worse still, if through recognition of so-called "de facto unions", the primary role of marriage itself is questioned?

In these two areas-the right to life and the rights of the family-the duties and commitments involved, including those incumbent on the Pastors of the Church, do not permit either half-heartedness or delay (cf. Instrumentum laboris, 75-82). Social, cultural and juridical policy (constantly based on the principle of subsidiarity) and pastoral programmes must be established to ensure respect for the full dignity of individuals and their basic needs to live, grow, learn and develop in the love and hope of a life that befits a person as a child of God, a dignity which flows from the Paschal Mystery of Christ, who is alive and present in his Church.

Nor does the Gospel of hope demand lesser service from us in other areas. Children, youth, the elderly, the sick, the handicapped, the unemployed, etc., need human and Christian closeness that enables them to nourish a sure hope.

Finally, A new, clearer emphasis must be placed on the Church's desire to contribute to creating closer ties of solidarity and co-operation within Europe as well as with peoples from other parts of the world, especially the most needy. We must commit ourselves to the increased incorporation of former Soviet-bloc countries into Europe and its institutions, without their having to abandon their historical and cultural individuality. In generously exercising solidarity, the threat posed by extreme nationalism can effectively be halted. We must learn the lesson of the dramatic events of our recent past, those that led us into the Second World War when "the cult of the nation, pushed to the point of even becoming a new kind of idolatry, brought about in those six terrible years an enormous catastrophe" (JOHN PAUL II, Message on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the End of the Second World War in Europe).

Nor can Europe close in on itself in a kind of pan-European nationalism. It has well-known obligations of solidarity with peoples suffering all kinds of hardship, including living conditions that are nothing short of subhuman. Universalism, so characteristic of the common heritage of European humanism, must be put into practice by generously helping the many peoples who are frequently linked to Europe by historical and cultural ties and, therefore, cannot be abandoned to their fate or used merely as markets in the service of the interests of the so-called wealthy consumer societies, namely, our own societies.

All these commitments must be accompanied and supported by a rigorous intellectual and cultural apostolate. The service to which professionals in the sciences, especially the so-called human sciences, are summoned has particular relevance. They must seek true knowledge about the person, based on a sincere, open love for the Truth and for each individual; a knowledge capable of furnishing solid motives for living together in justice, freedom and peace and contributing to overcoming the threats of relativism, scepticism and hedonism.

Venerable Brothers, for the year 2000 of the Christian era we must once more call our Churches to announce, celebrate and serve the Gospel of Hope in Europe today, because faith in Jesus Christ has inspired Europeans over the centuries to do many projects and hold ideals loaded with future promise. The Church still professes that faith in Jesus Christ, alive in his Church. I have called your attention to a number of points worthy of consideration as we respond to the new appeals posed by the approach of the new Christian era. Allow me to conclude this third part with a number of general suggestions, applicable to all our evangelising work:

I. The new evangelisation of Europe must begin with the close communion of all local Churches, both with Peter and among themselves. It must be so, especially at a time of increasing inter-relations among all aspects of life. Moreover, unity and reciprocity among Churches are, already in itself, an important contribution to the union of the peoples of Europe. European ecclesial bodies such as the Consilium Conferentiarum Episcoporum Europae (C.C.E.E.) and the Commissio Episcopatuum Communitatis Europaeae (COM.E.C.E.), are called to exercise an important role in this area.

II. Ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue is another dimension that must mark the evangelising presence of the Church in Europe today. What the 1991 synod said on this subject remains true. Your Holiness has never ceased to invite us to this enduring, patient dialogue. "Witness of the unity (among Christians) is an essential element in authentic and profound evangelisation" as you recalled in February of last year at the joint council of the Consilium Conferentiarum Episcoporum Europae and the Council of Churches in Europe.

III. Finally, vocational pastoral guidance must not be forgotten. Without sufficient vocations to the ordained ministry and the consecrated life, a new, vigorous evangelisation will not be possible. A renewed determination, apostolically committed and fully integrated in every area of evangelisation, is the best "programme" for vocational pastoral guidance. Wherever the person of Jesus Christ is presented clearly to young people, he inspires in them a hope that motivates them to abandon everything and follow him. They heed his call and bear witness to him among their peers, so subjected in body and spirit to today's culture which seeks the "lowest common denominator". This is not just a theological opinion but a reality which is being confirmed daily in the new ecclesial movements and in all those places where the right conditions exist for a personal encounter with the Lord.


Europe, where "despite the message of great souls, the weight of the terrible drama of sin can be felt" (JOHN PAUL II, Speech to participants in the international meeting on: "The common Christian roots of European States" - 6 November 1981), is passing through a precarious situation placing it at a historical crossroads. Despair, which is more or less acknowledged but clearly evident in such situations as those resulting from the family or demographic crises, affects all sectors of social life, especially youth who are without work and bereft of hope for a meaningful life. On the other hand, thanks be to God, the unity and peace of the Continent continue to advance and take root in important political and economic aspects. Nonetheless, certain things cannot and should not be forgotten, namely, the risk posed by the continual violation of basic human rights, the problem of war, extreme nationalism and migration of peoples.

The Church, united to the destiny of Europe since the start of her evangelising mission, looks upon the situation with concern. However, numerous signs exist which nourish our hope, a hope based solely on faith in Jesus Christ. In his incarnation-whose 2000th anniversary we are about to celebrate in the Holy Year-he united himself in a particular way to every person. Many Europeans have found in him the meaning of life; they have formed a culture with deep Christian roots and diffused the Gospel throughout the world. Today in Europe, the Church continues to profess Jesus Christ, celebrating the mysteries of his life and serving him in charity.

With renewed vigour, the Church intends to offer Europe this treasure which was entrusted to her. Out of love for each person and all peoples of Europe and out of fidelity to her mission, the Church is not going to allow the fountain of hope to run dry, nor to reserve it for herself only. Today, in the atmosphere of despair-so often affecting our peoples-whose roots lie in the progressive detachment of people from God and Jesus Christ, the Church wishes to offer once again to everyone the hope she has received and of which she is the bearer: Jesus Christ who is alive in her.

To achieve this task and to begin the work of our assembly, we invoke the intercession of Our Lady and the saints: Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ and Mother of the Church, Star of the New Evangelisation, and Saints from Europe who have radiated the light of the Gospel. Among these, I invoke St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Teresa of Avila, who was followed in the last century and this one by two distinguished daughters: St. Teresa of the Child Jesus and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Ignatius formed apostles for the modern age; Teresa was a "learned master " in the spiritual life through contemplation of the Word of Life. We also invoke the saints who ploughed the fields of the first evangelisation, especially the patrons of Europe: St. Benedict, St Cyril and St. Methodius. Together with Mary and the Saints, Jesus Christ, alive in his Church, is the source of hope for Europe.