Berlin, Germany, Sep 24, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The apostolic nuncio to Germany has written to the country’s bishops, comparing a recent letter from Pope Francis to German Catholics with a historic Nazi-era encyclical of Pius XI.
In a letter to mark the opening of the German bishops’ conference’s plenary session on Monday, Archbishop Nicola Eterovic reiterated the appeal of Pope Francis to the bishops that they focus on evangelization and maintain unity with the universal Church during their “binding synodal process.”
In June, Francis wrote to German Catholics about the state of the Church in their country, and to offer his own priorities and methodology for the syndoal path being undertaken there.
The German bishops’ plenary meeting runs from Sept. 23-25, at the end of which they will vote on draft statutes for the creation of a “Synodal Assembly.”
“The letter of the Holy Father deserves special attention,” Archbishop Nicola Eterovic wrote in his welcoming address to the German bishops on Monday, Sept. 23.
“It is indeed the first time since the encyclical of Pius XI, Mit brennender sorge — ‘With burning concern’ — that the pope has dedicated a letter to the members of the Catholic Church in Germany in particular.”
Eterovic – originally from Croatia – pointed out that while “the encyclical of 14 March 1937 denounces the inadmissible interventions of the National Socialist regime in the affairs of the Catholic Church, the current letter deals with issues within the Church.”
“As the representative of the Holy Father in Germany, I am pleased that the contents of the papal letter will be the subject of the study day during this assembly. I do not doubt that the pope’s letter will positively influence the so-called Synodal Path.”
In his own letter, the archbishop repeatedly stressed the need for unity with the universal Church, as expressed by the pope.
“Unity between the universal Church and particular Churches is essential for the effectiveness of evangelization,” Eterovic wrote, quoting Francis’ June letter.
“It is especially in these times of ‘strong fragmentation and polarization to ensure that the Sensus Ecclesiae actually lives in every decision we make and that it nourishes and permeates all levels… The universal Church lives in and from the particular Churches, just as the particular Churches live and flourish in and from the universal Church; if they were separated from the universal Church, they would weaken, perish and die. Hence the need to maintain communion with the whole Body of the Church always alive and effective.”
The nuncio said the pope wanted to remind the German bishops that communion “helps us to overcome the fear which isolates us in ourselves and in our particularities, so that we can look into the eyes and listen to those who are there, or so that we can renounce needs and thus accompany those who have remained on the roadside.”
The archbishop concluded by warning the German bishops against the temptation to seek easy solutions in the face of the crisis of faith in the country.
Citing Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Protestant theologian murdered by the Nazis, Eterovic said that relying on the “cheap grace” cannot be the basis for renewal, and is the “mortal enemy of our Church.” Instead, he urged the bishops to “struggle” for the “expensive grace” that is found through focusing on evangelization, as called for by the pope.
Eterovic concluded his letter by underlining the essential link between people, faith, and evangelization in the communion of the Church.
“As a community of believers, as a communion of lived and preached hope, as a community of fraternal love, the Church must unceasingly hear for herself what she must believe, what are the reasons for her hope, and what the new commandment of love is.”
CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language partner, contributed to this story
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