Rome (Agenzia Fides) - "So many people in Europe see the faith as déja vu, a relic of the past". This happens "Because they have not seen Jesus at work in their own lives. Often this is because we, by our lives, have not sufficiently shown him to them. God makes himself seen in the faces and actions of men and women transformed by his presence". Thus Pope Francis once again reminded all the baptized that the Christian faith is confessed and communicated in the world through witness, understood not as the 'mobilization' of pastoral apparatuses and operators, but as a reflection of the change that Christ himself can work in the lives of those who bear his name. The opportunity taken by the Bishop of Rome to re-propose the intimate dynamism of each mission and of each apostolic work was the Eucharistic concelebration which he presided over on the afternoon of Thursday, September 23 in St. Peter's Basilica with the participants at the Plenary Assembly of the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe, (CCEE), on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its establishment.
Addressing bishops belonging to Churches of ancient foundation, the Successor of Peter outlined the paths that should be followed and the criteria that should be followed in order to re-propose the salvation announced by the Gospel also to those who today live in the countries of the Old Continent, marked by advanced processes of de-Christianization.
Pope Francis recalled with realism the most striking effects produced in Europe by the "deforestation" of Christian memory. In European lands - the Pope acknowledged - "all around us churches are emptying and Jesus is increasingly forgotten". And this happens primarily not because the current inhabitants of Europe are evil, but because there is no one to awaken in them a hunger for faith and to satisfy that thirst in the human heart, that “innate and perpetual thirst” of which Dante speaks (Par., II, 19) and which the dictatorship of consumerism gently but insistently tries to suppress". In such conditions - the Pope added - the Christians of Europe seem taken by a sort of torpor: they appear "calm because basically we have everything we need to live", and they do not seem to allow themselves to be overcome by the restlessness that they should feel "into seeing so many brothers and sisters far from the joy of Jesus".
In his homily, the Pontiff briefly and effectively referred to the false solutions, the misleading attitudes and the inconclusive reactions that prevail in ecclesial circles in the face of the loss of any vital relationship between Christianity and the real experience of the European population. The first of the "wrong answers" quickly reviewed by the Pope is that of those who complain about the world and accuse the wickedness of the times: "It is easy", noted the Bishop of Rome, "to judge those who do not believe or to list the reasons for secularization, relativism and many other isms, but in the end it is sterile". The other path that leads astray is that of withdrawal that seeks protection and consolation by creating happy islands, conceived as 'worlds apart': "Today in Europe" - Pope Francis remarked - we Christians are tempted to stay comfortable in our structures, in our homes and in our churches, in our certainties given by traditions, in the fulfillment of a certain consensus". An introversion that often ends up taking the forms of ecclesial self-employment, the drift that pushes many to "concentrate on various positions in the Church, on discussions, agendas and strategies, and losing sight of the real program, that of the Gospel". These misleading reactions often have the only effect of expanding the desert. Because "if Christians, instead of radiating the contagious joy of the Gospel, re-propose worn out, intellectualistic and moralistic religious schemes", the Pontiff pointed out, "people do not see the Good Shepherd. They do not recognize the One who, in love with each of his sheep, calls them by name and looks for them in order to put them on his shoulders".
In the homily he gave before the European bishops, the Successors of Peter did not however limit himself to warning against temptations and reactivity that can ensnare the ecclesial apparatuses. The Pontiff also suggested where, by grace, a restart of the apostolic work in European lands can come.
First of all, the Bishop of Rome invited everyone to draw again on the "living Tradition" of the Church, an inextinguishable source that has nothing to do with the clerical fashions marked by "that restorationism of the past that kills us, kills us all". Drawing on the living Tradition of the Church - the Pope remarked - helps to "look to the future together, not to restore the past". It is always advisable to "rebuild from the foundations, from the roots - the Pontiff insisted - because that is where rebuilding starts: from the Church’s living tradition, which is based on what is essential, the Good News, closeness and witness. We need to rebuild from her foundations the Church of every time and place, from worship of God and love of neighbour, and not from our own tastes, not from any alliances or negotiations that we might make for defending the Church or Christianity". In concrete terms - the Pope suggested - in the Church there has always been a simple and privileged way to draw from the living sources of faith, which consists in looking at the faces of the saints, and following the steps of those in whose lives she works effectively and the grace of Christ can be experienced. Even the great saints of Europe - Pope Francis recalled - "did their small part, trusting in God. I think of saints like Martin, Francis, Dominic, Pio of Pietrelcina, whose feast we celebrate today; patrons like Benedict, Cyril and Methodius, Bridget, Catherine of Siena and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross". All of them - the Pope stressed - began with themselves, with changing their own lives by accepting God’s grace. They were not concerned about dark times, hardships and those divisions that are always present. They did not waste time criticizing or laying blame. They lived the Gospel, without worrying about relevance or politics. Thus, with the gentle strength of God’s love, they embodied his style of closeness, compassion and tenderness – for that is God’s style. They built monasteries, reclaimed land, enlivened the spirit of individuals and countries. They did not have a “social” programme, but the Gospel alone. And they carried on with the Gospel".
Even today, as in the times described in the Gospels - the Pope continued in the final part of his homily "This divine, merciful and overpowering love is itself the perennial newness of the Gospel. It demands of us, dear brothers, wise and bold decisions, made in the name of the mad love with which Christ has saved us. Jesus does not ask us to make arguments for God, he asks us to show him, in the same way the saints did, not by words but by our lives". Let us help today’s Europe – faint with a weariness that is Europe’s current malady – to rediscover the ever youthful face of Jesus and his Bride". (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 24/9/2021)