The Symposium Of European and African Bishops Concludes at Manoppello
by Antonio Bini; photos by Antonio Bini and Paul Badde
Bishops on the Via Crucis leading to the Shrine of the Holy Face
Pescara - With a pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Holy Face the second Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) and the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe (CCEE)has drawn to a close.
"Evangelization today: communion and pastoral cooperation between Africa and Europe" was the theme of the Symposium which began on February 13, 2012 in Rome at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome, with discourses by Cardinals Polycarp Pengo and Angelo Bagnasco, Chairman of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) and Vice-President of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE)respectively.
The days of study and discussion were intended to understand and reflect on the pressing problems of the Church on the two continents, in a climate of friendship that will be useful for better cooperation on issues of peace, immigration, religious freedom and combating prostitution. For the Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo, "European and African bishops want to face together the challenge of the new evangelization, living in a more intense way our brotherhood in mission. A collaboration that is based on mutual exchanges. While in the past many missionaries left Europe to go to Africa, now we are seeing an opposite movement, with priests, nuns and lay religious coming to Europe from Africa. We discovered many common concerns and we are committed to working together in the field of pastoral care, health, education, and social problems. Moreover, our continent needs an injection of ecclesial vitality and this vitality can come from the young Churches of Africa."
Along the same line, the Senegalese Cardinal Theodore-Adrien Sarr, who stated "The African immigrants will help Europe to discover for the future new youthfulness and freshness in the faith. Future exchanges between the bishops will address issues such as education, the fight against poverty, health, training of leadership teams, the dialogue between religions, the arms trade, human trafficking, external debt and the exploitation by the mining companies."
This path of commitment to communion and solidarity of people coming from so many different worlds comes from belonging to the same Church, united in Christ.
This is the deeper meaning to be found in the final pilgrimage to Manoppello.
It is the Pope himself who, the day before, while meeting with the bishops attending the Symposium who did not hide the complexity of the challenges facing the Church today, starting with that of religious indifference. Recalling the moral authority and credibility that must support them in their pastoral efforts, Benedict XVI said that the gaze of faith fixed on Jesus opens the mind and heart to the First Truth which is God. Benedict XVI sought to further strengthen this thought emphasizing that "a bishop must be in love with Christ."
The Shrine of the Holy Face was framed with an unusual amount of pure white snow which however did not prevent the Bishops from climbing Tarigni hill, walking along the Via Crucis. At each station the reflections were led by a different bishop. Arriving in the Basilica, Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, prior to the solemn celebration of Mass, welcomed his brother bishops from Europe and Africa and spoke regarding the extraordinary image of the Holy Face in Italian, English and French. Referring to studies of P. Heinrich Pfeiffer, Sr. Blandina Paschalis Schlomer, Andrew Resch, Paul Badde and Saverio Gaeta he said that one can "respond positively and with sufficient moral certainty to two questions put by the Holy Face: Is this the Veil of Veronica once venerated in St. Peter's? And 'Is this the precious relic of the sudarium laid in the tomb on the face of the dead Christ, as attested by the Gospel of John (20, 6-7)?" These reflections were also been drawn up in a letter From Archbishop Forte personally delivered to the bishops present.
These assessments are important, which also take into account, perhaps, that the Vatican last summer in a press release for the first time admitted (after 484 years), the disappearance of Veronica during the sack of Rome in 1527. The meeting was an opportunity to meditate and pray before the Holy Face, described in detail by the German writer and journalist Paul Badde. Many bishops did not hide their emotion. A feeling that has united distant worlds, from that of the bishop of Iceland to that of South Africa. At the end of the celebration Archbishop Charles Gabriel Palmer-Buckle of Ghana, expressing gratitude for the welcome they had received, asked Bruno Forte on behalf of all, that each time he returned to the Basilica of the Holy Face he might remember in his prayers the European and African bishops.
When I asked the same Archbishop Palmer-Buckle, who was part of the core group organizing the Symposium, what was the meaning which he and the other bishops would attribute to the pilgrimage to the Holy Face, he reflected deeply before replying that the impetus which comes from having known the Holy Face is to "proclaim the true Christ, a living Christ." The Archbishop Bruno Forte, to whom I had asked what impressions he had received from the participants, confirmed to me that "all were deeply affected by the pilgrimage to Manoppello".
Also present at the gathering was Petra-Maria Steiner, who in recent years has dedicated herself to studies on the Holy Face, and who is engaged in a constant effort of promotion of the Holy Face in the German speaking countries. Lastly there should be noted the greeting of the President of the Polish Bishops' Conference Jozef Michalik to Immaculata and Caterina, young nuns who arrived from Poland a few months ago and are now serving in Manoppello.
BISHOPS WHO TOOK PART IN THE PILGRIMAGE TO MANOPPELLO
EUROPE: Jozef Michalik, chairman of the Episcopal Conference of Poland; Ludwig Swartz, archbishop of Linz, Austria; François Garnier, Archbishop of Cambrai, France, Gerard de Foix, Archbishop of Lille, France; Senkiv Taras, Greek-Catholic church Bishop of Ukraine, Lucjan Avgustini, Albania, Duarte De Cunha, Portugal, Zef Gashi, Montenegro, Petru Gherghe, Romania, Pierre Bürcher, Iceland; Vjekoslav Huzjak, Croatia; Everard De Jong, Netherlands;
AFRICA: Buti Joseph Tlhagale, Archbishop of Johannesburg, South Africa, Jean Gabriel Djarra, Mali; Touabli Youlo Alexis, Ivory Coast, Jude Thaddeus Ruwa'ichi, Tanzania, Jean-Noël Diouf, Senegal, Denis Komivi Amuzu-Dzakpah, Togo; Gabriel Justice Anokye, Ghana; Maragde Mbonyintege, Rwanda, Frank Nubuasah, Botswana, Emmanuel Obbo, Uganda; Louis Portella Mbuyu, Congo, Benjamin Ramaroson, Madagascar, Joachim Tarounga, Chad, Charles Kasonde, Zambia, Gabriel Charles Palmer-Buckle, Ghana.