European Bishops Thank Pope for Efforts to Unite Continent

Union Prepares for 10 New Member States

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SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain, APRIL 26, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The prelates of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community expressed their gratitude to John Paul II for his "great commitment" to the unity of the Continent.



The commission, known as COMECE, chose Santiago de Compostela -- the "spiritual capital of Europe," in the Pope's words -- as the site for its plenary assembly in order to underline the importance of the enlargement of the European Union.

On May 1, the European Union will accept 10 new members: Slovakia; Poland; the Czech Republic; Hungary; the three Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia; the former Yugoslav Republic of Slovenia; and the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Malta.

In a letter dated last Saturday, COMECE told the Pope: "We have come on the Way of Santiago to celebrate, in this Holy Year, the important occasion of the entry of 10 new member states in the European Union."

Bishop Josef Homeyer, president of COMECE, as well as the group's other prelates, signed the letter.

"From each country a delegation has participated including bishops, priests, religious and lay people," the letter stated. "We have walked together on a path which for centuries has been traveled by numerous pilgrims of the whole of Europe to the tomb of the Apostle, in order to confirm their own faith."

In fact, Santiago de Compostela "is highly representative of the cultural and spiritual unity of our Continent, faithful to its Christian roots from the first apostolic teaching," the prelates said.

"We concluded our pilgrimage with the congress 'European Union: Hope and Responsibility. The Development of European Unity from a Theological Perspective,' in order to deepen our sense of the duty of Christians to the service of the new Europe that is emerging," the bishops told the Pope.

"We wish to express special gratitude to Your Holiness for the great commitment shown during your pontificate to the unity of our Continent in reconciliation and solidarity," they added.

The prelates said: "If today we can rejoice, at this moment when the boundaries of the European Union are going to be enlarged," it is also due to the force with which the Pope "has declared the need for Europe to breathe with its two lungs of the East and West."