This Saturday, 10 countries -- Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta -- will become members of the European Union, the motive for the recent pilgrimage of the continent's bishops to Santiago de Compostela, the "spiritual capital" of Europe.
In the framework of St. James' 2004 Holy Year, the pilgrimage was one of the initiatives organized last week by the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) to highlight the responsibility of Christians in the building of a united Europe, faithful to the values of its faith.
Some 40 bishops of COMECE led 300 pilgrims from the 25 countries of the future European Union to Santiago de Compostela.
Bishop Amédée Grab of Chur, Switzerland, president of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences, participated in the pilgrimage, which was joined by political personalities and representatives of religious communities and associations, as well as members of other Christian confessions. The council includes the presidents of the 34 European episcopal conferences.
Although aware of the difficulties connected with this "re-Europeanization of Europe," Bishop Grab told the Italian newspaper Avvenire that Europeans must have an attitude of "confidence" in the enlargement.
"Those who started and led the process were animated by a will of peace," he said. "The profound roots of a united Europe stem from the Franco-German reconciliation."
"Going back even further," he added, "we must not forget that the first stone was the birth of Pax Christi in France in 1943, precisely in view of reconciliation. The ultimate objective was and is a profound agreement among peoples."
Bishop Grab said "there is no doubt" that Europe's mission is to "promote peace" in two ways: the first, by "effecting greater justice, especially on the economic plane, because peace can only be constructed with justice."
The second way to promote peace is "through fraternity, a lived fraternity," he said.
The bishop acknowledged that the enlargement poses difficulties and limitations, "such as disparity of growth." "There might also be different ways of receiving the Christian values themselves and their place in the European Constitutional Charter," he said.
"And it might be that the continent's Christians, even though acting on the same premises, come to different conclusions," he continued.
"Nevertheless, we Christians are convinced that God is the Lord of history and has manifested his lordship by sending his Son, who died on the cross to gather those who are scattered," Bishop Grab explained. "Precisely at Easter, when we pray for the community, we are following the plan of God, who desires reconciliation."