A Pope with Vision who contributed to the building of bridges in the new Europe
The following statement is offered by the COMECE Executive Committee on behalf of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) on the death of His Holiness Pope John Paul II on 2nd April 2005 in Rome:
“The death of His Holiness Pope John Paul II marks the end of an historic pontificate. The memory of this energetic, courageous and visionary pontiff, who bore suffering and weakness with dignity, has inspired countless millions of believers and non-believers across the world.
The President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, the member bishops and secretariat pay tribute to the memory of Pope John Paul II. We pray that as he served Christ with unflinching courage in this life, he may now see His Lord and Saviour face to face.
As The Servant of the servants of God, Pope John Paul II was a pope of universal vision in his teaching and in his pastoral outreach. He was a Pope for the globalising world; he proclaimed the universal message of Christ as the source of true hope for humanity. His vision of human dignity - rooted in the person of Jesus Christ, in whom God lived, suffered, died and rose from the dead – was inextricably linked to the common good of all of humanity. Through this vision he sought to build bridges between peoples everywhere. He took particular pains to deepen ecumenical understanding between the Christian confessions, as well as to promote and strengthen interfaith relations.
Europe is indebted to Pope John Paul II’s vision and drive. As a son of Poland, he experienced the horrors of war and the subsequent painful division of Europe. His involvement in the grassroots struggle for freedom from the shackles of oppression influenced his papacy from the beginning. He envisaged a Europe which transcended the divisions of the Cold War. Fully recognising the significance of the process of European integration, he often expressed the desire that this free organisation of peoples and nations in solidarity, as achieved in the European Union, would one day encompass the countries of central and eastern Europe, so that Europe might acquire “the dimension given to it by geography and more so by its history” (Address to the European Parliament, 12.10.1989).
Aware of the challenges facing Europe after the peaceful revolution of 1989 and convinced that the Church had a vital role to play in promoting new relations and reconciliation between East and West, Pope John Paul called the first Special Assembly of Bishops for Europe in 1991. This Synod gave an impetus to the exchange of gifts and to mutual enrichment between the local Churches of eastern and western Europe.
His vision of Europe was that of a continent with its two lungs, east and west, breathing in harmony “not just in the religious sense, but also culturally and politically” (Address to COMECE Plenary meeting in Rome, 30.03.2001). He never tired of reminding us that the exercise of freedom in the new Europe would be liberating only to the extent that it is linked to exercising responsibility for others’ rights and for the common good of society worldwide.
For John Paul II, the humus of Christian civilisation, kept alive and nourished by Christian citizens, is the source of value-based choices for the organisation of life in society, human dignity, human rights, justice and peace, and the rule of law. He continuously encouraged Europeans to recognise “how Christianity can offer to the European continent a determinative and substantial support for renewal and hope, proposing with renewed fervour the ever pertinent proclamation of Christ the Redeemer” (COMECE Plenary meeting in Rome, 30.03.2001).
His challenge to Europe and Europeans, in his memorable address in Santiago de Compostela in November 1982, “Rediscover yourself. Be yourself. Rediscover your origins. Bring your roots to life … Reconstitute your spiritual unity in a climate of full respect for other religions and for genuine freedom” remained a central preoccupation of his more than 1,000 interventions on European issues. He called upon the European politicians to protect the human rights of individuals, minorities and peoples, starting from religious freedom. He asserted that utmost attention should also be paid to concerns for human life from the moment of its conception to natural death, and to the family based on marriage. (Ecclesia in Europa No.115)
John Paul II was convinced that “Europe is called above all to rediscover its true identity“ (Ecclesia in Europa No. 109). Whilst acknowledging the expansion of the European Union, he insisted that the integration process “must consist above all in an agreement about the values which must find expression in its law and in its life” (Ecclesia in Europa No.110).
To address the challenges facing European society and the Church in Europe at the turn of the millennium, he called a second Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Europa, signed by Pope John Paul II on 28 June 2003 which followed from the second Synod, proclaimed Jesus Christ as the true and ultimate hope for Europe. For the first time, the Holy Father used the phrase “Church in Europe” (Ecclesia in Europa Nos.45, 65, 69, 105), as a subject and agent, thus calling upon the local Churches and Christians to think and act continentally, to transcend the confines of borders and to reach for new horizons of community. His tireless efforts to reconstitute a Europe built through solidarity will be a living testament to his papacy.
His pontificate was also hallmarked and strengthened by his willingness to pursue God’s will to the last. His careful and fatherly shepherding of the Church through what has been an eventful and historic quarter century and into the third millennium has come to an end. His passing leaves not only the Church, but the world in mourning for a great moral leader.
His encouragement to young people, his empathy with the aged, the sick and the suffering were testimony of his ability to enter into the lives of many at a very personal level. He humbly followed Jesus’ example and was for the world a living example of the gospel message lived out truthfully and reverently in contemporary society.
These days of mourning will be marked by prayer for one who led in serving, as he served in leading. May he rest in peace with the Risen Lord.”
The members of the Executive Committe are:
- Bishop Josef Homeyer, Bishop of Hildesheim, Germany (President of COMECE);
- Bishop Adrianus van Luyn SDB, Bishop of Rotterdam, Netherlands (Vice-President); and
- Archbishop Hippolyte Simon, Archbishop of Clermont, France (Vice-President)