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Plenary

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Plenary

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									                                            THIRD EUROPEAN ECUMENICAL
                                            ASSEMBLY
                                            Sibiu, Romania
                                            4 – 9 September 2007

                                            Document/Dokument/Documento

                                            105-07

                                                 Sibiu, Friday 7th September 2007
                                                      10:30 to 13:00 hrs, The Tent
                                                                           Plenary



                              Andrea Riccardi

The light of Christ illuminates everyone

Hope for the renewal and unity of Europe


European Christians, during these days, if they do not read this assembly at
Sibiu as a merely ritual event, have an excellent opportunity to look together at
our continent in the world. Ten years ago at Graz the wall had just fallen: it was
the Christian assembly of a reunified Europe. It was a time of great enthusiasm!
The world has changed today. The future is not as exciting. There is scepticism,
here and there, even concerning this assembly: what is its use?

We are facing dramatic questions. The world asks them to us, and it compels us
to look beyond ourselves: how can we renew the life of Europe? How can we
progress on the path of unity? How can we be a human and evangelical
presence in the world… And what will be of the world tomorrow? (Since it will
certainly be less European, and less dominated by Europe). But often we limit
ourselves to looking at our own country or our own community. Every community
has its own problems, of course. But that is not enough. Today’s challenges can
only be grasped in a broader perspective. A globalized world requires a larger
vision. Not a vision focussing on the models of the globalized culture. The world
needs a Christian vision, an audacious perspective, like that of the first Christian
generations, who were able to be free from particularism, which is fear of the
world and distrust for the power of the Gospel. At the well of Jacob, in the land of
the Samaritans, Jesus told his disciples who were engaged in petty discussions:
“Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (Jn 4,36).
I want to try and open my eyes and see the fields of the world, lead especially by
the experience of the Community of Sant’Egidio to meet with many lands of
poverty. In doing this I am aware of the limits of my experience, as a European
Christian, as a historian, as a traveller through the world’s events.

Compared with many other parts of the world, Europe is full of resources. Among
them, above all, is peace, the precious heritage of sixty years of peace. In the XX
Century only twenty years went by between the two world wars. Then there was
war again, in 1939. In my life, as an Italian born in 1950 – and now you all know
my age – I have never had to experience war in my own land. The same cannot
be said for my parents and my grandparents. This is the great gift of peace.

After the abyss of World War II, Europeans finally understood how foolish it is to
fight each other. How many years were stolen from women, children, and men by
the foolishness of war, of unprecedented violence and slaughters! From the
abyss of World War II Europeans understood: never again one against the other,
always one with the other! This was the beginning of the process of European
unification, which was marked also by uncertainties and reluctance. The events
of 1989 erased the legacy of division of 1945. The liberation from Communism
took place when an unarmed force confronted regimes founded on violence and
coercion. Unfortunately, there were also wars in former Yugoslavia. But there is
peace in our continent today, peace and widespread well-being (with very high
standards in some countries, and areas of more or less penetrating poverty).
Peace and well-being… Peace in Europe may be considered normal by young
people, but it is actually something extraordinary in our centuries of history. It is a
blessing from God and a holy gift!

What should we do, then, with this heritage of peace? We are tempted to waste
it, like any other inheritance: waste it in the newly rising passion of nationalism.
This is an anti-historical stance: most European countries, whether small or
medium sized, cannot face alone the huge challenges of the world, the challenge
coming from the economy and civilizations of major Asian countries, such as
China or India. Nationalistic passions make people blind to reality. They stem not
from the will to dominate over others, as in the past, but from the desire to live for
oneself.
There are other ways to waste peace, the heritage of so many sorrows and
troubles of the XX Century: making Europe a fortress, lifting up walls around its
borders. If walls are built in self-defence, however, the demons of the XX Century
will be back with their lot of fratricidal wars. Walls are born from fear of a
increasingly larger world, with too many protagonists, who are both dynamic and
strong. European history has never been that of a fortress, but a history of
extroversion from our continent: Europe is bound to the Asian world, connected
to Africa and to the Middle East by the Mediterranean Sea, and looking out
toward the horizons of the Atlantic Ocean. A history of conquests and
imperialism, with negative consequences, and a missionary history.
Europe cannot become a protected fortress-like island. Europeans are tempted
to withdraw from history: perhaps saying they do not want to do wrong as they
did in the past. We are worried. We are no longer the ones we used to be. There
is a decline: there is evidence to it in the demographical projections. The
European Christians in 2025 will be less than the Christians of Africa or Latin
America. But there is also a void of future visions. Often politics yield no more
than the realism of financial governance. In the last decades, Europe has seen
the consumption of social and political ideas, the Marxist ideology and ideas on
how to change the society… Everyone has become more cautious in thinking
about the future.
Thirty years ago, as a newly elected Pope, John Paul II prophetically said: “Be
not afraid!”. He repeated with conviction the ancient call of Easter. It recurs often
in the Bible, because fear envelops much of the history of humanity and peoples.
To give up acting in the world at large and build walls does not make fear go
away. It does not vanquish our civilisation’s addiction to nationalistic pride. The
courage to be who we are cannot be found in identifying enemies on the horizon,
waving Christianity like a banner against potential enemies, though it is often the
easiest choice. We Europeans are not what we used to be, but we must not let
ourselves be imprisoned by deceiving passions or hiding from history. We are not
what we used to be, but what will we be?

We will be what we, men and women, are capable to live and communicate.
Europe is uncertain and fearful, rich in peace and well-being. And what about us,
Christians of Europe? The Word of the Lord is a lamp to our steps: listening to
the Word shows us the way. Jesus tells the women at the sepulchre: “Do not be
afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified” (Mt 28,6). By
seeking Jesus who was crucified we are saved from fear. It is what the new
martyrs did in the XX Century: martyrs in Russia (a memory that inspires respect
for the Russian Christians), in the East (I think of sorrowful Albania), in Spain,
under Nazism, in missions outside Europe. The search for Jesus who was
crucified endowed them with a humble strength while facing an overwhelming
power: a weak strength., In the XX Century, while bent on establishing new world
orders, Europe has been through a time of martyrdom.
The Christians’ search for Jesus who was crucified can disturb the culture of fear,
it can disquiet the attitude that wastes peace, well-being and freedom. Martin
Buber wisely said: “To begin with oneself: that is the only thing that matters… the
lever of Archimedes with which we can lift up the world is our inner and personal
transformation”. Spiritual men and women begin with themselves but they do not
give up lifting up the world. The path of inner and personal transformation... lifting
up the world begins from our hearts. To lift up the world from evil, from the misery
that still exists in the rich Europe, where the word “justice” is forgotten, from the
misery of the South of the world, from widespread violence, and war…
Spiritual men and women do not give up lifting up the world. The belief in a
providential economic salvation is not enough to show us the way to the future.
We are tired of ideologies, and an ideological form of Christianity is hardly
enough for us. We need lives full of faith and love in this Europe poor of visions
for the future. The Apostle Paul bears witness to the Corinthians concerning the
corner stone of what being Christian means: “For Christ's love compels us,
because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he
died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him
who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor 5, 14-15).
What we commit ourselves to and what we offer to Europe is no longer to live for
ourselves. The Word of God offers us a thought that disquiets us and our
European culture: that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for
him who died for them and was raised again! Christians must be free from fear
and insatiable avarice (whichever its reasons) that make us live for ourselves,
powerless, narrow-minded and closed. Embittered by petty family quarrels, in a
time rich with well-being and peace, unconcerned by those who live outside
Europe with no peace and no life worthy of the name. Will we be capable of
challenging the culture and praxis of countries and communities that live for
themselves? Will we be capable of attracting with the joy of finally being true men
and true women? The great Jewish teacher Hillel once said: “In a place where
there are no men, one must strive to be a man”. Strive to be a man, strive to be
human! Then we shall open a crack into the political correctness of the living for
oneself, of the fortress Europe, and the selfish short-sightedness of European
nations closed in themselves.

What does it mean to help Europe not to live for itself? It means to win over the
temptation of nationalism. In 1968 in his dialogue with Patriarch Athenagoras,
Olivier Clement, one of the great Christians of our times, already pointed out the
first steps of an undergoing process of globalisation: “On one side… the rising of
a planetary man, in an increasingly world encompassing history; on the other…
each people retreats into its own originality…”. And the Patriarch, the father of
ecumenism in the XX Century, answered: “We Christians must feel we are in the
joint of these two motions, to try and harmonise them… Churches as sisters,
peoples as brothers: such should be the model we set forth and the message we
give”. Not to live for oneself is to be at the joint and find a peaceful balance
between globalising unification and growing particularism. The European
Countries are reminded that they cannot live only of a national future: there is a
process of unification that needs to progress. They are afraid of losing something
today, but in the future the states of Europe will be lost if they are alone. The
unification of Europe, however, is far from being mere bureaucracy or a soulless
construction, devoid of passion.

Christians as brothers (which is ecumenism) must be the soul of more united
European peoples. There are many people who are sceptical concerning
ecumenism. There are several reasons. But unity among Christians is a
commandment of the Lord. Who would dare give up the commandment of love
because people still hate each other today? We need each other. Ecumenism is
an exchange of gifts. As a Christian of the West, I can say how much we have
received from the spreading of the icon in the West, how much we can receive in
terms of liturgy and spirituality from the East. There is a profound and mysterious
bond between peace and unity among Christians and peace and unity in the
world.

Travelling around the world, there is a question addressed to Europe. Is it not a
call? Twice in the XX Century war in Europe has meant war in the world. Peace
in Europe can become peace for the world. Today war is rehabilitated, in our
current mentality it is an instrument to solve problems. It is accepted as the
natural companion of our history. Few people – look at terrorism – are enough to
make war and make many people suffer. Violence, with the diffusion of weapons,
is often a companion of life in our world, which for the first time in its history, in
2007, has seen the urban population exceed the rural population. But war and
violence come from evil!

The Christians of Europe are responsible for peace in the world. This mission is
made feasible also by our continent’s resources. The demons of war can be
defeated. Christians have a power of peace. I say this thinking of the experience
of the Community of Sant’Egidio in Africa (with the accomplishment of peace in
Mozambique, for instance, after war had killed one million people). Today
everyone can work for peace, not only major states. With its conflicts Europe
provoked two world wars, shouldn’t it be the root of peace in the world? It is up to
us Christians to demand this from our governments. But it is also up to us to
discover our power to free the peoples from the evil of war. War is a terrible
disease, but it can be healed.
If it does not want to live for itself, Europe cannot forget Africa. Even though
Africa may seem distant from Romania. Its future, however, is joined to Europe.
Today Africa is the land of sorrows, diseases and violence, but it is also the land
where the new Chinese expansion is taking place, with its offer of capitalism and
authoritarianism. Great European men indicated that Europe and Africa share a
common destiny: like Albert Schweitzer, a theologian, an exegete, but also a
doctor who spent most of his life for his African patients. We are worried today
because 30 million people are HIV-positive, and by a vast majority they cannot
be treated because of the high price of the drugs, while AIDS can be treated in
the whole of Europe. This is a shameful detachment of Europe. While it fares
sumptuously, Lazarus lies dying on its doorstep. He dies of diseases. He dies of
hunger and due to lack of water. One billion people in our world have no access
to clean water and this leads to the death of 1,800,000 children in the world every
year due to intestinal diseases.
Justice cannot be absent from our prophecy. It is a word that has lost its
profound biblical echo, after being overused by politics. But Jesus speaks of it in
the beatitudes, with loving eyes for those who thirst for it. Justice must stir the
economic policies of our countries, where there are too many poor people; it
must stir the economic relations between us and with the world, with Africa.
Africa must be thought of together with Europe, for it is a test for the ethics of
international policies.
A great Pope, forty years ago, wrote: “What must be promoted is a planetary
humanism”. And he added “The world is sick. Its sickness is not so much in the
waste of its resources, or the hoarding of resources in the hands of a few, as in
the lack of brotherhood between men and peoples”. Europe – and it is the
impulse we can give as believers – can recover its place in the world working for
a planetary humanism. That is why we must be audacious, but also believers and
brothers.

Western Christianity has a love story with the South of the world that needs to be
rekindled. Eastern Christianity – Christianity in Russia, which runs deep into the
very heart of Asia – has its love story with the East and the Middle East. Christian
communities, according to their history, can be audacious and committed to give
new live to brotherhood among peoples in Europe and beyond. Doesn’t Europe
have the chance to be an agent of brotherhood among peoples today? And
European Christians, don’t they have a responsibility to pursue this route?
The life of spiritual men and women in Europe can be a source from which much
may flow: a planetary humanism, initiatives of peace and solidarity, a wise
meditation on the world, capable of looking at it as the common house of all
peoples and human beings. Besides, the environmental changes (which are now
perceived by everyone in their effects) show that the earth is a common house.
This confirms also the tragedy of the yearly levy of natural resources that
exceeds by 25% today the earth’s capability to regenerate them. The fate of
peoples is more and more interconnected, like in a common house: it was the
profound perception of the vision of the fathers.
Since 1989, the ecumenical Patriarch wanted the 1st September, the beginning of
the liturgical year, to be the feast of creation, when Christians become the voice
of the creation that suffers the pains of birth. The 1 st September was also the day
when World War II began in 1939, when Poland was invaded by the Nazi armies
and Europe fell into the abyss. We bear the sorrows of creation, of war, the
mother of so many sorrows and so much poverty, in prayer and in the liturgy.
From a Church that listens to the Word of God, that prays, and rebuilds a
shattered unity, stems a new way of looking to the world, a sense of responsible
love that becomes mission, which is no longer to live for ourselves. A humanism
is born, that can stretch out to the entire planet. Europe today is no longer what it
used to be; but it can be better than it was, for itself and for others.
The world can be lifted up, peoples, men and women, from the slavery of war
and poverty, from the imprisonment of living for oneself, if we open our hearts to
the Gospel, if we join the prayer of the Church, and we look at our brothers with
love. Saint Seraphim of Sarov wisely taught: “Acquire peace in yourself and
thousands around you will find salvation”. The path of the heart, the path of a
love that pacifies, heals, and makes rise again, are all the same humble and
strong route: the path of Christians, of a Christian people, that learns from the
crucified Lord not to live for itself.

								
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