Mon, Mar 20, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Germans rediscover Christianity

Recent events such as a string of natural disasters and the election of a German pope have reawakened the interest of many Germans in Christianity and churches


The tsunami in Asia, hurricanes in North and Central America, earthquakes in Pakistan and India and now the threat of avian bird flu have helped trigger a new-style interest in God, according to Bishop Wolfgang Huber, the leader of the mainline Protestant churches in Germany.

Huber speaks of many secular people asking questions like "Are such disasters an expression of God's wrath or of his impotence? Are they indications that God does not exist? or do they lead us to the point where we -- in all our helplessness -- seek a foothold in him?"

Faith in God's omnipotence was "no guarantee of a happy ending, but it grants a confidence which carries through good and bad times," he said at a recent general church synod in Berlin.

Cardinal Karl Lehmann, head of the Catholic Church in Germany agrees, saying, "We certainly need a new sense of missionary spirit."

Huber maintains that many of the between 3.5 million and 5 million people in Germany who were baptized in Protestant churches as infants and later turned their backs on the church and cancelled their membership, were now "longing to find a new access to the faith."

"Receding numbers of church membership cancellations and the growing number of Protestants rejoining the church underlines this trend," he said, while claiming recent events had helped arouse religious interest.

Feelings stirred by the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of his successor Benedict XVI last year and other mass events like the Catholic World Youth Day in Cologne with 1 million participants and the Protestant Kirchentag (Church Congress) in Hanover with 200,000 had also played a role, Huber said.

Another impulse for the church occurred last month when the Protestant Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) in Dresden -- destroyed in the final moments of World War II but now superbly reconstructed -- was rededicated. Close on 4 million people in Germany watched the service live on television.

Bernd Merz, the Protestant Church's TV, film and radio relations officer, said blockbuster movies with religious content, such as CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, and Luther, the film with the late Sir Peter Ustinov (which drew a TV audience of almost 6 million) had also helped.

"People in Germany are rediscovering their Christian roots," Merz said.

Nikolaus Schneider, the Protestant Church president of the Rhineland, urges Christians, and especially the clergy, to "share" their personal faith. Academic preaching alone was not enough.

"We must not chicken out. Our theology must touch hearts. It seems strange that people are prepared to reveal their sex life on television, but cannot find the courage to say grace in a restaurant," Schneider said.

Today, the Protestant Church in Germany has some 25.8 million members, and owns more than 21,000 churches, 2,356 cemeteries and chapels, and 3,148 parish halls.

The Catholic Church also has about 26 million members and a similarly large number of churches and related property.

Both have been hit by the erosion in church membership in the past 30 years, the drastic cost of maintaining church properties, and by demographic change in German cities, including Berlin, where tens of thousands of Turkish immigrant families, many of them Muslims, settled in the 1970s and 1980s in the Kreuzberg, Schoeneberg and Neukoelln districts.

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