The Church in Europe of 2015

The annual meeting of press officers and spokespersons (June 17-20) and the annual meeting of the Secretaries General of the European Catholic Bishops' Conferences (June 18-21) were held this year partially jointly in Prague (Czech Republic), at the invitation of H. Ex. Mgr. Tomáš Holub, Secretary General of the Czech Catholic Bishops' Conference.
Published: 22. 6. 2015 17:36

Prague: In their works, the Spokespersons and the Secretaries General have faced many issues - some separately and some jointly. Below is a brief summary of the topics they have discussed.

The Church and social media

The Catholic Bishops’ Conferences are making a great effort to communicate in the digital age, in particular to get ready to a proper use of social networks (Facebook, Twitter ...). The management of the digital profile of a person or an institution of the Church poses new challenges. We need ‘timeliness’, a photographical or ‘videographical' approach, a dialogue-oriented attitude, open to interactivity, and especially the training of communicators. We cannot be improvised social media editors, you need competence and professionalism. In fact, it is not enough to have a Facebook page, send some tweets, or post contents which have been designed for other media, to propose the Gospel of Christ with a modern and attractive language. If the use of social media is certainly not the main purpose of the press offices of the Church, nonetheless it is an instrument and a constant challenge to outreach in particular the younger generations.

Intra-ecclesial Network

Synergy, training, and counseling are the key-words of the relationship between the Communications Office of a Bishops' Conference and its diocesan offices. To best fulfill the common mission, which is at the same time an informative and cultural mission, there was an increase of the initiatives and instruments put in place by the bishops’ conferences to foster a steady and permanent relationship and dialogue between the central structure and the local communities. If the structures of communication can sometimes be perceived as a burden to a diocese - especially from the financial point of view -, the national office is often called to accompany the local communities in a process of ‘essentialization’ and sharing of the means and resources available but without any detriment to the quality of information. Therefore, more and more national offices are called to be 'services providers' and to offer subsidies, training courses, and counseling especially in the management of crisis situations. The sharing on different approaches and solutions adopted by the various bishops' conferences has enriched the debate and allowed for highlighting the best practices.

Transparency in the Church

If the Church - universally speaking - today enjoys a certain sympathy from the public opinion, this is not only due to the extraordinary ability to communicate of Pope Francis, but also to his desire for greater transparency in the Church, in particular on the theme of finance and its management. Starting from the IOR case, with the help of two experts of Communications & Network Consulting, the company in charge of communication on behalf of the IOR, the spokespersons have discussed the 'best practices' to be adopted to achieve transparent communication in the activities of the Church, especially in the economic and financial area. However, if transparency plays a primary role in building the good 'reputation' of an institution – including the Church -, the spokespersons pointed out that transparency is not a value in itself, but rather a tool, which is necessary also to go beyond the many preconceptions and 'urban legends' which are particularly in vogue when it touches on the theme of the Church's finances.

Jubilee of Mercy

Connected in video conference with the President of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, H. Ex. Mgr. Rino Fisichella, the spokespersons have focused on the Jubilee of Mercy summoned by Pope Francis with the Bull of indiction "Misericordiae vultus", and reviewed the international events already scheduled. The unique feature of this Jubilee is also in its celebration that wants to have, above all, a strong local character. The elements provided by Mgr. Fisichella will be useful in view of a better coordination and organization of national and international activities.

The reform of the structures of communication of the Vatican, the Synod on the Family, and the Encyclical Laudato si

Secretaries General and spokespersons have focused on three more issues of particular relevance and importance for the life of the Church and which directly concern the relationship between the Holy See and the Bishops' Conferences.

With H. Ex. Mgr. Claudio Maria Celli, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, the participants addressed the issue of the reform of the structures of communication of the Holy See. Mgr. Celli introduced the guidelines that have inspired this reform and described the journey of reflection which had been made and the issues which had been addressed. In particular, the participants focused on the intra-ecclesial dimension of the communication between the Holy See and the Bishops’ Conferences, always in the aim to enhance and develop, together and in the best possible way, the way to proclaim the message of the universal Church.

With Fr. Federico Lombardi, Director of the Vatican Press Office, secretaries general and spokespersons have focused on the modalities of the forthcoming Synod of Bishops on the family.

Mgr. Osvaldo Neves de Almeida, an official of the Secretariat of State, presented the new encyclical of Pope Francis ‘Laudato si' by highlighting its elements of continuity with the pontifical magisterium of the recent popes on the subject of ecology and its elements of novelty. While explaining the theological and anthropological foundations of a document that has the characteristics of a pastoral letter of the social doctrine of the Church, Mgr. Neves de Almeida emphasized its strong appeal not only to personal conversion but also to a political and social conversion.

The Church in the Czech Republic

During the meeting, the participants met the Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Dominik Duka OP, and the retired Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, who was President of CCEE from 1993 to 2001. They were also offered a presentation on the Church in the Czech Republic and on the local Catholic media.

Christianity in Europe

What is the situation of Christianity in Europe? Are we approaching its sunset, or facing its 'noon' crisis that might scare us or become an opportunity? These were the questions to which Mgr. Prof. Tomáš Halik, winner of the 2014 Templeton Prize, proposed an answer at the meeting of the Secretaries General. After a deep reflection on the theme of Christianity in Europe, he elaborated the idea that Europeans, even if they say ‘no’ to any form of institution – including the Church - continue to be seekers of God. This means that the Church is called to be a travelling companion of all these men and women in search of God.

Reports of the Bishops’ Conferences

This year, the presentation of the reports of the Bishops’ Conferences by the Secretaries General was based on two issues of particular relevance and urgency for the Church: the gender theory and the issue of refugees and asylum seekers.Inclusion, compassion, and equality are the terms that, although they belong to the terminology of the Church, have fuelled and are still fuelling the debate of those who use the gender theory to promote a new anthropology that excludes all natural sexual distinction and promotes the same-sex unions and their ability to have children. In this social confrontation it is important that the Church may enter into dialogue primarily with her own faithful who are no longer willing to be on the sidelines of the social debate. On the issue of refugees and asylum seekers, the secretaries general launched the alarm in front of the growing 'social selfishness' powered by the security-focused migration policy that can be found in many European countries. Even in the Church, as the secretaries general pointed out, it is necessary to resume a reflection on the ethical reasons that are at the heart of the position of the Church and her activity in the area of migration. Although there is general recognition about the immense work carried out by the Church in this area, she cannot replace the States. Indeed, she is called to insist that the States assume their responsibilities in managing migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers with dignity and protecting their human rights.

During the proceedings, the Secretaries General of CCEE and COMECE have presented their respective reports of the two European institutions.

The 2016 spokespersons meeting will take place in Scotland on November 16 through 19, while the next meeting of the Secretaries General will be held in Germany from June 30 to July 3, 2016.

The meeting of the Secretaries General ended on Sunday, June 21, with a Mass celebrated in the cathedral of Prague and presided over by Cardinal Dominik Duka OP.

(Author: Thierry Bonaventura, CCEE)

František Jemelka

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