Hope in Europe in the light of the Sibiu AssemblyHope in Europe in the light of the Sibiu Assembly

Representatives of the Conference of European Churches and of the Council of European Catholic Episcopal Conferences met in London in late February. Part of their agenda was devoted to an evaluation of the Third European Ecumenical Assembly (Sibiu, 4-9 September 2007). The Bishop of London, Dr. Richard Chartres, offered the following reflection on the theme of “Hope in Europe in the light of Sibiu” at a session in Westminster Cathedral.

The lesson set at Vespers was taken from the first Epistle of St Peter – “Praise be to the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1,3)

After the decapitation of Marie Antoinette, hope migrated to politics in the Continent of Europe. The hope was that heaven could be built upon earth by applying a formula which included sacking the old management; generating new economic resources and changing the educational curriculum. This formula has produced many benefits and much has been achieved which only a fool would decry.

Now however hope is once more on the wing. We have discovered that happiness does not automatically flow from ever increasing productivity. Many of our social ills seem to arise from the fragmentation of society and personal relationships at a depth which is not susceptible to legislative “quick fixes” or decisive political action. We are alarmed by the impact on our earth and its climate of the way we live now and we suspect that the project of growth without limit with no end in view beyond the process itself, is unsustainable. Pessimism is a luxury to which rich people easily succumb. Hope is very often to be found among the poor which is what we would expect from the teaching of Jesus Christ. But in contemporary Europe pessimism abounds. I remember being shown the room in the German Parliament in Berlin set aside for members as a place of meditation. On the wall there were six panels whose significance was explained to us.

In the first panel flints protruded from an earth coloured background. In the second there were the flints and the earth but also a scattering of white painted nails. By the third panel the nails had been organised in symbolic shapes – cross, star and crescent. In the fourth panel the nails covered the whole surface. Then by the time of the fifth panel some catastrophe had occurred and there was just a random scattering of nails, much diminished in number across the surface of the panel. In the sixth panel the nails had disappeared. Once again there were flints protruding from the earth but on closer inspection within the flints there was a stratum of fossilised nails. It is a sober vision of human destiny but when we are at the end of our own resources, as so often in scripture, our eyes are opened to the fact that there is a panel missing to complete the whole, the symbolic seventh.

Sibiu was a glimpse of Europe as it could be with Christians gathered from every corner of our warring and ancient continent united in the faith that hope is engendered within those who keep company with Jesus Christ in his way of love, through his passion and crucifixion. If we pass through a death like his we shall participate in a resurrection like his. The subject of the missing seventh panel is the resurrection. When anyone is in Christ there is a new creation. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has give us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Richard Chartres
Bishop of London