The Love of Christ impels me to proclaim the Gospel
In the Year of St Paul the jubilee 20th meeting of the Association of Coordinators of Catholic Schools of Evangelisation (ACCSE/2000) was held in Gibraltar on 30 April - 3 May 2009. It was organised by Henry Earle from the Diocesan Youth Ministry in Gibraltar. The theme of the meeting was the words of the Apostle to the Nations, ‘The love of Christ impels me to proclaim the Gospel.’ The meeting gathered 25 people from 10 countries. The main speakers were Fr Tom Forrest, CSsR, from Washington, Fr Jim Birmingham from Ireland and Fr Paul Bear, Vicar General from Gibraltar.
Sr. Mary O’Duffy, Director of ACCSE/2000 Europe, received a letter from the Holy Father Benedict XVI, ‘The Holy Father was pleased to be informed of the Twentieth Annual meeting of the Association of Coordinators of Catholic Schools of Evangelisation 2000 Europe, taking place in Gibraltar from 30 April to 3 May 2009, and he sends cordial greetings to all the participants. Noticing the choice of a Pauline theme for this year’s Conference, namely ‘The love of Christ impels me to proclaim the Gospel’, His Holiness urges you to draw inspiration from the tireless missionary efforts of that great Apostle whose birth two thousand years ago we recall in this anniversary year. Just as Saint Paul’s life was changed by his encounter with the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus, so too the lives of men and women today are given a radically new direction when they come to know and love Christ our Saviour. Yet how are they to hear the good news of salvation unless it is preached to them, and how can this happen unless a preacher is sent (cf. Rom. 10: 14-15)? The Holy Father therefore encourages you in your efforts to promote the evangelisation of modern Europe, so that more and more can discover the joy of knowing and loving Christ, through a life-giving encounter with the message of the Gospel. Commending all of you to the intercession of Our Lady of Europe as you gather around her shrine, His Holiness cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing.’
The 20th ACCSE/2000 Europe was an occasion to share the work of evangelisation conducted in various European countries, and especially in Gibraltar where the Catholic Church celebrated the 700th anniversary of the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe, and to show new challenges Europe faced. During the whole meeting the participants prayed for Fr Manuel Casanova, SJ, who died in February 2009. He was the first director of ACCSE/2000.
Fr Tom Forrest, Director of the work ‘New Ewangelization’ presented a new project of evangelisation to the year 2033, the Great Jubilee of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because of that it was decided to change the name of the Association to ACCSE/2033. The new project, embracing 21 years of preparation to the year 2033, aims at focusing the attention of the whole world on the Mystery of Salvation. The first three years should be devoted to planning. The Year 2012 is to show the mystery of the wisdom of Christ speaking to the doctors of the Law in the Jerusalem Temple. The next period was divided into two novenas: the first one, the years 2012-20121, is to mobilise priests and bishops to evangelisation and the novena 2021-2030 will be devoted to re-catechisation and mobilisation of laity to proclaim the Good News. The years 2030-33 should focus on the three-year public ministry of Jesus and the Jubilee Year 2033 is to be a great celebration of the Mystery of Redemption.
A special event of our stay in Gibraltar was our visit and Mass in the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe on 1 May 2009. The Mass was celebrated by Bishop Charles Caruana of Gibraltar. He told us the history of the stature of Mary with the Child and presented the celebrations of the 700th anniversary of the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe (the main celebration with the participation of Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, the retired Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, now the representative of Benedict XVI, was held on 5 May 2009).
The history of the Marian cult in Gibraltar began in 1309, when the Spanish King Ferdinard IV recaptured Gibraltar from the Muslim hands. After this victory the king gave thanks to God and dedicated the European continent to the Mother of Christ, giving her the title of Our Lady of Europe. At the same time he changed the ancient mosque located at the furthest southern end of the Rock of Gibraltar into the Catholic sanctuary, where a small statue of Mary was placed. In 1333, the Muslims recaptured Gibraltar and the Catholic population had to leave for Spain, carrying the statue of Mary with them. Henry IV, grandson of Ferdinand IV, recaptured Gibraltar in 1462 and again populated the Rock. The faithful added a big chapel to the eastern wall of the mosque and the whole area became the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe. In the 15th century the statue of the Virgin with the Child was placed there. It was a small wooden sculpture painted in red, blue and gold. The figure showed Mary with Jesus on her laps, sitting on a simple chair. There were crowns on their heads and Mary held a sceptre with three flowers symbolising Love, Truth and Justice. Within 200 years the shrine became famous and very popular, especially among sailors who saluted to honour Our Lady of Europe, going through the Strait of Gibraltar. In 1540 Turkish pirates sacked the shrine and town but the statue of Mary was preserved. The disaster happened in 1704 when Anglo Dutch forces captured Gibraltar. They plundered the shrine and threw the statue from the Rock. Some good person salvaged all the pieces and took to Algeciras in Spain. The statue was placed in the chapel, which was renamed to honour Our Lady of Europe. It was thanks to Bishop Scandella that the statue was brought back to Gibraltar in 1864. People built a new chapel where the statue was provisionally placed. The shrine was taken over by the army. In 1940 Gibraltar became mobilised as a military fortress and its civilian population was evacuated to French Morocco and then to England, Northern Ireland, Jamaica and Madera for the duration of the war (only men working in essential services were not evacuated). The statue of Mary was transferred to the cathedral where it survived the war. The Catholic Church in Gibraltar regained its shrine in 1961 and on 7 October 1967 the statue of Our Lady of Europe returned to her shrine, escorted by Gibraltar Regiment. On 31 May 1979 John Paul II officially approved the title ‘Our Lady of Europe and the Principal Patroness of Gibraltar.’ Then Bishop Rapallo asked the Holy See to change the date of the feast to 5 May when he learnt that the day was to be celebrated as annual Europe Day. The feast of Our Lady of Europe had historically been celebrated every 15th of August but Bishop Scandella changed it to the 30th of May. Bishop Rapallo consecrated the new shrine on 5 October 1980. The coronation of the statue of Our Lady of Europe took place on 10 May 1995. In the year 2002, the statue was taken to Rome. There was a large pilgrimage of faithful from Gibraltar. The Holy Father John Paul II crowned and blessed the statue during the general audience. From 5 May 2008 to 5 May 2009 the Diocese of Gibraltar celebrated the 700th anniversary of the devotion to Our Lady of Europe and the Patroness of Gibraltar. On that occasion, in his letter the Holy Father Benedict XVI recollected the words of his predecessor John Paul II from the apostolic exhortation ‘Ecclesia in Europa’:
Watch over the Church in Europe:
may she be transparently open to the Gospel;
may she be an authentic
place of communion;
may she carry out fully her mission
of proclaiming, celebrating and serving
the Gospel of hope
for the peace and joy of all.
The author participated in the meeting of ACCSE/2000 in Gibraltar.