I have the distinct impression that silence has reigned supreme regarding the final document of the Assembly of the Council of the European Episcopal Conferences (CEEC) held in Jerusalem from the 11th to the 16th of September this year. Present among other prelates from Italy were Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, who chairs the CEEC, and Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, who chairs its Caritas in Veritate Commission. This, however, is a shame, because on this occasion the bishops gave proof of wise (and hence courageous) Christian realism in a simple and clear way, temperate in form and strong in substance.
Their message touched on three points.
First of all, the current migratory phenomenon. Setting aside all sentimental and rhetorical language that does tug hearts, but also offends human reason, the bishops reiterated the duty of countries “to respond swiftly to the needs of immediate assistance and reception of desperate persons”, but did not leave this affirmation all on its own as often happens, with ensuing reactions on the part of politicians. In fact, they added that countries must “guarantee justice for all”, and therefore for host citizens as well; they must manifest readiness towards “those truly in need”, as if to imply that perhaps all those who seek assistance really do not need it; they must act with a view to “respective and collaborative integration”, which means that the migrants have rights as well as duties they must respect. The bishop also recalled that nations “bear primary responsibility for the social and economic life of their citizens”, and while they assist those in need they must also consider that this cannot be done at all costs, and that taken into due account must be the consequences for the life of the hosting citizens. It is rather rare for prelates to speak out in such a concrete manner and not limit themselves to elocution bespeaking a sort of abstract charity.
Regarding the causes for these migratory flows, the bishops of the CEEC were courageous in underscoring how it is contradictory, to say the least, to destabilize areas of Africaand the Middle East, and then complain if people seek to flee from those places abandoned to chaotic violence. For this reason, they call for “the adoption of suitable measures to put an end to the violence and construct peace and development for all peoples […] Peace in the Middle East and Africa is vital for Europe”.
Original as well is what the bishops have to say about freedom of religion, which people often think is endangered only outside Europe. On the contrary, the bishops of the CEEC know very well (and say so) that wars of religion are often wars against religion waged only in part by caliphates, but also in the west: “The secularization underway in European countries tends to confine religion to the private sphere and to the outskirts of society. Well within this ambit is the fundamental right of parents to educate their children according to their convictions. In order for this liberty to be exercised it is necessary for Catholic schools to be able to expedite their educational task for the good of society at large with all opportune forms of support”.
Lastly, the bishops gathered in Jerusalem spoke about the family. Their message in this regard also has to be read with a view to the upcoming Synod. No humming and hawing, concessions or ambiguity in their words: “The human and Christian beauty” of the family is known as a “universal reality: father, mother and children”, and not something having to do with social constructs. And if this were not enough, here’s what really tops it off: “The Church firmly believes in the family founded on the matrimony between a man and a woman, which is the basic cell of society and the selfsame Christian community. Not at all evident is any reason why different situations of cohabitation should be treated in the same manner”. That does it with civil unions and things like that! “Particular is the concern”, state the bishops, “caused by the attempt to apply the ‘gender theory’, because it is the expression of an anthropology contrary to the true and authentic enhancement of the human person”. “The Church does not accept the gender theory”. Is that clear?
Comforting indeed are documents like this one, where the Pastors act like true shepherds. In fact, the bishops of the CEEC conclude with an affirmation that a Pastor of the Catholic Church should never disregard: “. . .aware that in Jesus alone are the answers to the profound questions posed by the heart to be found, and does European humanism come to be in full”.