The Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe (CCEE) is meeting this week in La Valletta, Malta, for its annual Plenary Assembly.
The session, entitled “New steps for a Synodal Church in Europe”, kicked off on Monday, 27 November, and will run until 30 November.
One of the focuses of the opening day were the ongoing wars in the Holy Land, in Ukraine, and the recent war in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, which was annexed in September by Azerbaijan, forcing most of its ethnic Armenian population to flee to Armenia.
In a video call from Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, offered an update on the latest developments in the Holy Land, including the humanitarian truce in Gaza and the exchange of prisoners and hostages.
The world needs peace
In his keynote opening speech, CCEE president, Archbishop Gintaras Grušas of Vilnius, reaffirmed the European bishops’ closeness to all those suffering from war across the world and their plea for peace.
“Today, more than ever, the world needs peace,” he said, recalling Pope Francis’ words that war is always a “defeat for humanity.”
Call for a definitive ceasefire in Gaza
Regarding the war in the Holy Land, Archbishop Grušas once again “firmly” condemned the terrorist rampage conducted by Hamas on 7 October, on behalf of the presidents of the European Bishops’ Conferences.
He also decried the Israeli military escalation triggered by the attack because, he said, “violence cannot be a way to defend a cause.”
The CCEE President also renewed the appeal for “a definitive ceasefire” in the Gaza Strip “so that the release of hostages may continue and the humanitarian corridors in Gaza may remain open.”
On Monday, the four-day truce brokered by Qatar and Egypt was extended for two more days thanks to an agreement between the two sides.
The exchanges of prisoners and hostages are proving fruitful: so far 50 hostages have been handed over to Israel and 150 Palestinian prisoners have been released. Meanwhile, food and other supplies continue to enter the Gaza Strip from the Rafah crossing providing vital relief to the Gazan population.
Call for a just peace in Ukraine
Archbishop Grušas then turned his thoughts to the ongoing war in Ukraine, whose capital, Kyiv, was hit in recent days by the largest Russian drone attack since the start of its invasion in February 2022.
He noted that the flow of Ukrainian refugees to EU countries has required a surplus of effort from European Churches “which have committed to giving not only humanitarian aid but also pastoral assistance to those who have fled the country.
Here again, the President of the European bishops appealed for a just peace “in compliance with international law,” which he said “is one of the great victims of this situation.”
Other issues addressed in the opening speech
In his speech, Archbishop Grušas also addressed other issues, including the protection of life, referring in particular to the recent Indi Gregory case in the UK and to the French plan to make abortion rights constitutional.
He said the CCEE shares the French bishops’ concerns about the controversial project announced by President Emmanuel Macron. Regarding Indi Gregory, he stated that placing the power of determining if person will live or die in the hands of a judge is “unacceptable.”
Synod focus of discussion at the Assembly
On Tuesday, the European bishops started discussing the central theme of the assembly, which focused on the 2021-2024 synodal process.
Discussions will be based around three main guidelines: updates on the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome in view of its second leg to be held in October 2024; the relationship between the Synod and the supranational structures; and the update of the Charta Œcumenica, the joint document on cooperation between the Christian Churches of Europe signed in 2001 by CCEE and the Conference of European Churches (CEC).
Keynote speakers include Cardinal Mario Grech, the General Secretary of the Synod, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the General Relator of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops and Bishop Mariano Crociata, the president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE).
The assembly will conclude with a final message from the presidency.
By Lisa Zengarini | VaticanNews