BRINGING BACK CHRIST TO EUROPE
Fr. Ireneusz Skubiś talks with the chairman of the Commission – archbishop Marek Jędraszewski, the general vice-secretary of the Council of Europe Bishops Conference – a Dutch priest. Michel Remery and the secretary of the Section for Universities – an Irish priest Leon O Giollain Sj
In the mid April 2015 there is going to be an international congress held in Łódź, organized by the Commission for Catechization, Schools and Universities of the Council of Europe Bishops Conference devoted to life
FR. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ: – Priests represent the European structure associating representatives of particularistic Churches. What are the purposes of this institution and how does it realize them?
FR. MICHEL REMERY: – The Council of Europe Episcopate Conference consists of bishops from about 45 European countries. These are representatives of episcopates and representatives of these countries where there is no Episcopate conference – among the others, Luxembourg or Monaco. The Council Secretariat has its headquarter in Switzerland, in Sankt Gallen. Our task is to help bishops in Europe in facing challenges and work for the sake of unity in Europe. Our activity also comprises pastoral care about young people, especially those who study, helping in developing their vocations and building social communication among them. In order to achieve this purpose, we work in four commissions. Each commission deals with a different issue: the first one is responsible for mass media, the second one for priestly vocations, the third one for ‘Caritas in Veritate’ organization. The fourth commission deals with the issue of education – schools and universities. Three sections function within this commission, dealing with catechesis, Catholic schools and universities (academic pastoral ministry and catechesis).
ARCHBISHOP MAREK JĘDRASZEWSKI: – In most European Episcopate Conferences bishops are responsible for academic pastoral ministry, and each conference has the so-called delegate for academic pastoral ministry. Every year in various places in Europe there are meetings of these delegates and every several years there is a congress attended by bishops responsible for academic pastoral ministry, as well as, delegates, professors, students. These European meetings are significant in contemporary challenges.
– How do Priests perceive the experience of faith in Europe?
FR. LEON O GIOLLAINE SJ: –We notice increasing secularization. It has its ratio in the attitude to life, especially considering unborn children – in the form of abortion, and elderly people, as well as the ill towards whom there are attempts to use euthanasia. The problem is also an increasing number in suicides among young people – it is clearly shown by statistics of many European countries. Next year our congress will concern the issue of the human life – its value and sense – how this issue is perceived in various academic communities of Europe. We want to look at it also in the perspective of evangelization among young people. Experience of faith is participation of different people, also those who work in countries of high degree of secularization. There one can also meet many young people who strongly live their faith and prayer.
– In this sphere academic pastoral ministry has high possibilities – I think so on the basis of my 16-year-old experiences as an academic priest in Częstochowa. Do Priests observe communities, pastoral centres which can build strong and apostolic faith?
FR. MICHEL REMERY: – We can give many examples of local initiatives addressed to young people in a language understandable for them. For, we notice a problem of secularization but we also see young people open to listening, to what we want to pass to them. It is important that our all initiatives will address young people with great friendliness and warm-heartedness.
ARCHBISHOP MAREK JĘDRASZEWSKI: – I know that Fr. Michel has got personal experiences, when saying it – as a young Dutch priest. Would Priest like to share them with us?
FR. MICHEL REMERY: – I studied architecture. In 1995 I was invited to the World Youth’s Days with the Holy Father John Paul II in Manila by one of priests. I belonged to the group of young people who had been preparing a special message for the Pope. It was to be a synthesis of experiences of young people staying in Manila then. In fact it was a message leading to the statement: ‘We want to want Christ, live with Christ and living with Christ, we want to pass this experience to the whole world’. The problem was that I came from a strongly secularized environment, typical for Holland of that time. I arrived in Manila with a quite critical attitude towards the Church and Christianity. In Manila I had experienced for the first time that faith is something with which one really lives. I also experienced something very important: in order to believe, one must live with Christ, and must experience it with others, not on one’s own. It was a beautiful experience. A decisive moment was the time during which I was reading this message in presence of the Holy Father John Paul II, millions of young people participating in the World Youth’s Days in Manila, and journalists who were reporting this meeting in the whole world. I was saying that we, young people, being there, were feeling responsible for passing it to the whole world. The main thought of the message was that we want to live with Christ, together in His Church. And we wanted to bring this message to others.
I was experiencing that moment very much. After all, I had many doubts in reference to the text which had been prepared. I was standing 25 metres from the Pope. I noticed that the Pope was calling me to himself. I came up. I was just in front of the Holy Father. He was looking straight into my eyes. –Thank you for this message – he said. He was looking acutely, it seemed to me that he was penetrating me to inside. He added: - I am sure that you can do it. This is difficult but possible, and you can do it!
I returned to Holland with this message. I graduated from architecture studies. I worked in various important enterprises connected with air industry for many years. But I felt that something was missing in my life, that it was not what I wanted. The beginning of my conversion in Manila was the experience that I must live with Christ, in the Church, together with others. I understood that I had to become a priest. After a few years I was ordained. My whole priestly life has been full of work with the young. If somebody says who Christ is, how beautiful it is to live with Christ and is not afraid of any questions – then young people want to listen. I have been a priest for 9 years.
– What does Priest think secularization; what is its real reason?
FR. MICHEL REMERY: – It is difficult to give a precise answer. An influence of a society in which one lives and culture of last ten years are very important. On the one hand, a man is brought up to live with his own responsibility. More and more complex society puts an accent on individualism of particular people. On the other hand, a lot of our needs are satisfied without any bigger problems. Certainly, there are problems of unemployment, poverty, illnesses… We must do everything what we can to solve them, like problems of suffering but it is sometimes that we accept mentality of engineers leading to the reflection: how to solve a problem. Instead of looking for contacts with others in difficult situations, a man closes himself inside. Such an attitude influences also our attitude towards God. Instead of understanding that in difficult situations we must open up to Him, we run away from Him, closing ourselves inside.
As a result of such an attitude, there is an impossibility of entering relations with others. We are not able to open up to others, be somebody else. We are not able to accept that we can be dependent on somebody. If we cannot experience problems in inter-human relations, we are not able to accept the fact that we can be dependent on God.
Therefore, it is so important in our relations with young people to look from their point of view, at their questions, sometimes very particular and natural ones, in order to show that the relation with God is possible and frees the man. Young people have many questions. It often happens that they are not able to understand themselves that their desires and expectations implicate hunger for God. We have this desire of God in ourselves. So, the thing is that we should discover it in ourselves, give a proper name to it and, as a result, aim at God. In order to find real happiness, we must find God.
– Is the priestly ministry which we are observing in Europe, prepared for an individual leading others to God?
FR. MICHEL REMERY: – We must see two dimensions of the issue: on the one hand, individualism, about which we spoke, and on the other hand, globalism which makes us become inhabitants of one small village. This globalism makes problems of a society or a country become more and more comparable with problems of other countries, other parts of the world. It convinces us more and more that we can learn one from another.
– The topic of the Council of Europe Bishops Conference congress next year is going to be ‘life’. Is the attitude to it an ID of people of faith?
FR. LEON O GIOLLAINE SJ: – This is mainly the purpose of our congress – it is necessary to see life in its whole. Jesus came to tell us: I give you life so that you will have this life and have it in whole. Hence, certainly, it is very important to deal with various ethical problems connected with life, life defence, problems of abortion and euthanasia, etc., and it is also about seeing human life in a broader perspective: how people experience their life. This is life penetrated with Christ’s presence – it becomes beautiful for every man. Only then are we able to share our joy with others and we are able to live according to what Jesus teaches us. Love God, love another man – means live according to His values. We cannot live according to moral rules chosen by us. We must start with life which Christ wants to give us. It does not change the teaching of the Church when we consider morality, but the starting point is changing – there is a meeting with Christ which makes the meeting not with some legal, ethical or moral provisions, but a kind of way for life – life with Christ, who changes us and the whole world. The starting point is always Jesus Christ who calls us to meet with Him, to create a relation with Him.
ARCHBISHOP MAREK JĘDRASZEWSKI: – European meetings of the Europe Bishops’ Conference Council allow us to get to know problems with which various local Churches are struggling on our continent. We sometimes notice big differences which are among us, which are in particular countries. This year in Sarajevo there was a meeting of CCEE devoted to catechesis, and, exactly speaking – how to prepare teachers to be witnesses of faith. Only after some time did I realize in a discussion that discussed problems did not concern teachers of history, mathematics, physics, but catechists: they are supposed to be witnesses of faith but the first problem with them is that they should be really religious people. For us, Poles these are incredible things. Nobody can be a teacher of religion at school in our country – without university education in this sphere and, secondly – without mission of teaching given to him by a bishop. Whereas, before a bishop gives him this mission, he must have moral certainty that the future teacher of religion is a really religious man. On the other hand, there are problems connected with some structures. Recently the bishop of Alba (France) Jean Marie Henri Legrez told me that they have a catholic school in Alba in which children are prepared for the first holy communion by a protestant. The head-teacher cannot do a lot because the school is funded by the self-government and, to some extent, it is him who assigns teachers. The bishop does not have any influence on it. It seems impossible to us, but in other countries of Europe it is not so obvious. Getting to know problems with which bishops of other countries are struggling, enriches, sometimes teaches to be humble, gives a chance to broaden one’s own horizons, gives new impulses and inspirations. And we all are enlivened by one desire: what to do so that Europe could return to its Christian roots.