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BY Raymond J. De Souza
VATICAN CITY-The Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops closed Oct. 23 on a note of hope.
The synod, which began three weeks ago stressing the dire straits in which Christianity often finds itself in Europe, chose to conclude by proclaiming a “Gospel of hope.”
“Man cannot live without hope,” began the official message of the synod participants that was released on the synod's penultimate day. “But every day this hope is weakened, attacked and destroyed by so many forms of suffering, anxiety and death that cut through the heart of many Europeans and throughout the whole continent. We cannot ignore this challenge.”
“Enlightened by faith in Jesus Christ, with humble certainty, we know that we are not deceiving you when we say that hope is possible even today and that it is possible for all,” continues the message.
The synod made it clear that this hope was not a matter of mere willful optimism in the face of a bleak European scene. Indeed, the first sign of this hope highlighted by the synod was the numerous martyrs of modern times, which gave witness with their lives to a hope that “is stronger than death.”
Other “signs of hope” identified include the hidden “holiness of so many men and women of our time,” “the rediscovered freedom of the Churches of Eastern Europe,” “the Church's increased focus on its spiritual mission and its commitment to making evangelization the priority,” and “the presence and the flowering of new movements and communities.”
The synod participants spoke favorably about the process of European unification, especially in comparison to the violence and war experienced in the Balkans.
“As Christians,” they wrote, “we wish to be committed Europeans, ready to make our contribution to the Europe of today and tomorrow, treasuring the precious heritage left us by the ‘founding fathers’ of the united Europe.”
Pope John Paul II spoke of the hopes he shared with the synod participants during his homily at the closing Mass in St. Peter's.
“If we look to past centuries, we must give thanks to the Lord because Christianity has been, in our continent, a primary factor of unity among peoples and cultures and of the integral promotion of man and his rights,” he said. He spoke also of his “firm conviction that there can be no true and fertile unity for Europe if it is not built on its spiritual foundations.”
The Holy Father's ongoing reflection on the European question was symbolized in the gift that was given to all synod participants at the end of the synod. They all received a volume containing all of John Paul's interventions on Europe through almost 21 years of his pontificate — 669 audiences, homilies and addresses altogether.
That “European magisterium” will be added to in a year or two, when the final postsynodal apostolic exhortation will be written, signed by the Holy Father and released publicly.
These long documents synthesize the deliberations of the synod into a coherent whole produced by the Holy Father and his collaborators from the synod. Last January, on his pastoral visit to Mexico, the exhortation Ecclesia in America was released, completing the work of the Synod for America, and next month in India, the Holy Father will issue Ecclesia in Asia, completing the work of the Synod for Asia.
The European Synod concluded the cycle of regional synods of bishops established as part of the preparation for the Jubilee Year. Synods were held in 1994 (Africa), 1995 (Lebanon), 1997 (America), spring 1998 (Asia) and fall 1998 (Oceania).