Cardinal Vincent Nichols used his address at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops on Saturday to praise the “rich variety” of Catholic life that the Synods have brought, and the way they have ended the “ Europe-centred imaging of the Church”.
Speaking on the on theme “Importance and Influence of the Synod of Bishops on the Life and Mission of the Church in Europe”, he recalled how in the last century “Europe was not only deeply divided but also absorbed within itself.”
Slowly, the meetings and the work of the Synod of Bishops have contributed to the dissolving of “our Euro-centric vision not only of the world but also of the Church”, he said.
The riches of the Church are to be found well beyond its European heartland, he reminded his audience in the Paul VI Hall, referring by way of example to the “struggles and heroism of the Church in China … eloquently expressed here simply by the enforced absence of Chinese bishops from this hall”.
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One of the most exhilarating “synodal” moments for him, he recalled, was during the 1998 Special Assembly of the Synod for Oceania.
“Mass was celebrated in the St Peter’s Basilica to the sound of conch shell horns and enriched processions and great garlands of flowers evoking the space, beauty and freshness of remote Pacific islands where Christianity was still in its first generation of disciples.”
Referring to the two special synods for Europe in the 1990s, he recalled the 1991 synod, with some regrets. “The level of self-criticism among us all [referring to bishops from East and West Europe] was not profound,” he said.
Eight years later, however, in 1991, “ there was much more mutuality”. In the West, he said, “we were learning about the real depth and radical nature of the challenges we were facing … in which … culture and Gospel were pulling apart rapidly”.
While in the East “what flooded in most powerfully were the materialistic-centred philosophies and cultures of the West, dissolving the religious resolve of many, which for some had been intertwined with heroic resistance to a foreign occupier”.
Europe today is not what it was even in 1999, he said. “As we know too well, the migration towards Europe of peoples from wars, violence and poverty in Arab States and from elsewhere is challenging our European sense of presence and status in the world.
The European Union is facing critical questions and tensions, especially the temptation to remain a fortress … But, and I quote, 'It is right that we should be silent when children sleep, but not when they die’.”
European Union is facing critical questions and tensions, especially the temptation to remain a fortress, Cardinal Nichols said (PA)
He concluded by referring to some of the discussions among the Presidents of European Bishops' Conference who met a few weeks ago in Jerusalem.
They spoke of “the challenges facing the family today and the strength which the family brings”, but at the same time of the “cultural tsunami of ‘gender theories’ sweeping through sections of our societies”.
At the same time, he said, the bishops recognised together that the family is “the first witness to the faith in society, the first workshop in the faith and the backbone of every parish, the first tutoring in humanity for every person”.
Nichols paid tribute to the work of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences that had “effectively served the collegiality enjoyed in this continent”. Its Presidents, he said, included some of the great leaders of European Catholic life: Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, Cardinal Basil Hume, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk and its present President, Cardinal Peter Erdö.
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