Peace über alles

4 min read

On most occasions, the Katholikentag, or German Catholic Day (a five-day long religious celebration for real) comes and goes without much ado. There are politicians coming and going, holding speeches, and participating in various programs, panel discussions and prayers, with a few minutes in the evening news devoted to the event.

This year, the 103rd edition found itself in the focus of media attention.

As in previous years, among the attendees were many heavyweights of German politics. The notable names included Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (a Reformed Protestant), Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck, and almost all Green members of the federal cabinet, along with leading CDU/CSU politicians.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was also there, who just a few months ago clashed with Pope Francis over his suggestion that Ukraine should start peace talks with Russia. Back then, Baerbock mockingly noted that she “didn’t understand” the pontiff’s remarks and urged him to visit Ukraine “to see them yourself”. She recalled finding herself lamenting “where is the pope?”, while she was talking to Ukrainian children. Neither this, nor her being a non-believer stopped her from attending, because, quote, “the church is a meeting place even for me”.

This year’s motto was “the future belongs to the people of peace”.

And indeed, there was a lot of talk about peace, even if people had slightly different views of how exactly it should look like. Probably even more words were devoted to democracy and dialogue.

The President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Irme Stetter-Karp stated in her speech: “Our stance is: peace needs more than the absence of war. Peace needs people who strive every day to ensure that violence, marginalization, hatred and agitation have no place in the world.”

The pope’s message (not the one from March that the Vatican was forced to retract after a wave of backlash) simply reflected on the motto and urged everybody to pray for peace. Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck had his hopes high up that the (Catholic) Church can function as a “giver of hope”, an institution that helps the society through the difficult transition. Friedrich Merz, on the other hand, seized the opportunity to outline the basic framework for a Christian Democratic peace policy.

In one of the less peaceful moments, for example, Chancellor Scholz found himself interrupted and verbally attacked by shouting climate protesters from the “Last Generation” group, who were demanding more attention to the environment. Until they were led out of the room because the chancellor (or the organizers) deemed that they were not ready for dialogue, just shouted “their pre-practiced slogans”.

But it was Bundespräsident Steinmeier, whose remarks on the opening ceremony got the most media attention.

His opening speech gave an interesting start to the celebration. He thanked the Church for “their special contribution to our democracy and our state”, adding a praise about the work against extremism, then continuing with his worries that “churches are seeing people’s support and trust fall away on such a scale. This shift is certainly dramatic. Here, one cannot ignore the causes of their own doing, such as the horrendous reality of massive abuse and the long history of cover-ups”.

Probably not something the Catholic Church likes to be reminded on, especially not on a day of celebrations.

And it’s not that there were no calls for reform earlier. Steinmeier himself has done it two years ago, on the 102nd Katholikentag in Stuttgart. ZdK President Stetter-Karp has been calling for reforms for years, more proximity to people’s real lives, more outreach to lay people and a greater role for women. The Bishop of Erfurt, Ulrich Neymeyr has repeated the same, emphasizing the need to seek dialogue “not only with Christians, but with everyone”.

Just like in politics, not much happened in terms of “adjustment” and “listening to people”.

And dialogue wasn’t extended to everybody, either.

The AfD, for example, was not invited to the event, because “it was impossible to have a dialogue with them” and the organizers didn’t want “to allow them to use the event to share their values”. For Christians supporting the AfD, the message was clear, “I hope that it will become clear on the Katholikentag: it is not about individual positions of this party, but about questioning the democratic system”. Understand: don’t vote for them. (This is, again, not new: in March bishops all around Eastern-Germany had condemned the policies of the AfD, warning Catholics not to become members.)

If anything, the location of Katholikentag serves as a grim reminder about the situation of the Catholic Church (or Christianity in general) in Germany. (And explains the sudden interest in an event that usually attracts less than one percent of the people attending Oktoberfest.)

In Thüringen, only about a quarter of the population identifies as Christian.

At the same time, it is the Bundesland where AfD polls consistently high (just a reminder: it was there that the AfD won its first leadership post), despite the fact that its regional branch has been classified as “right-wing extremists” by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV). The local elections in Erfurt (at the end of May) didn’t really bring unexpected results, either. Pre-election votes put AfD’s support at 40 percent.

Coming up in September are the state level elections, when AfD’s local Björn Höcke has good chances to become the minister-president (head of the regional government). And before that, the EP elections.

The last few, rather turbulent weeks (that also saw Björn Höcke being found guilty of intentionally using a banned Nazi slogan) didn’t erase enough support to allow the SPD/Greens to relax, no wonder they rushed to Erfurt to engage in “dialogue”.

It is debatable though that the Church can do much to help the issue.

Not only in Thüringen.

The number of Catholic priests has been decreasing year by year in Germany. In 2021, there were only 62 new ordinations, then in 2022, only 45. In 2022, 522,821 people left the Catholic Church (and this is the number of actual “exiters”, the number of non-believer Church members like Annalena Baerbock, is unknown).

In comparison, a joint German-Turkish training initiative trains yearly 100 imams (and if, for whatever reasons, there weren’t enough candidates, Turkey is more than willing to send imams to make sure that the 100-target is met). A recently announced new initiative of the Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institute for Religion (DITIB) aims to bring 75 graduates of Turkish faculties of theology or Islamic studies in every year to Germany.

In 2018, a magnificent 19th century cathedral was demolished (after several years of abandonment) in the village of Immareth (Nordrhein-Westfalen), to make way for coal mining.

With the current trends, the next might be demolished to give place to a mosque.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This website uses cookies to provide user authentication. Please indicate whether you consent to our site placing cookies on your device and agree with our Privacy Policy. To find out more, please read our Privacy and Cookie Policy