In a panel discussion on the “state of ecumenism after the pope’s visit,” Stephan Ackermann, the Bishop of Trier, and Nikolaus Schneider, president of the council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (the federation of Protestant churches in Germany), agreed that the Catholic and Protestant Churches could mutually benefit from and enrich each other.
In September, Pope Benedict XVI visited his native Germany and held an ecumenical service at the Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt where Martin Luther, founder of the Reformation, studied in the 16th century.
Schneider said that the ecumenical movement needs “new beginnings and sheltering.” There were “beautiful and difficult” aspects of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Germany, “but beauty prevailed.” No one had expected the pope to bear gifts, he added, “but there were many positive signs that we can build on.” That the pope gave a service at Erfurt was itself a strong ecumenical sign, Schneider said.
Ackermann commented on criticisms made over Benedict’s visit. “All parties became victims of their expectations, Catholics, Protestants, even the pope himself,” he said. He admitted to such expectations himself, saying he had hoped that pope would touch on the problems concerning interfaith marriages. “I also feel the pain of separation,” said Ackermann.
Germany’s Christian population is almost equally split between Catholics and Protestants, and marriages between members of the two denominations are common. Many had hoped that Benedict would address the issue of mixed-denomination couples wanting to celebrate Eucharist together, something not currently allowed under canon law.
Schneider recommended focusing on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 with an ecumenical view. “A common view on the Reformation would do both churches good,” he said, adding that after all both the churches have had 2,000 common years together.
Ackermann and Schneider also invited Christians of all denominations to make the traditionally Catholic pilgrimage of the Trier Seamless Robe of Jesus together. The relic, said to have been part of a robe worn by Jesus shortly before the crucifixion, will next be displayed from April 13 until May 13.
The panel discussion was followed by an ecumenical service to mark the Day of Repentance, as has been a tradition for the past 40 years.
The Day of Prayer and Repentance is celebrated Germany in on the Wednesday before the beginning of the Protestant liturgical year and calls on Christians to reflect and take a fresh view of daily life. Schneider said that the date had never been as significant as today, when “one crisis summit takes place after the other and where the news on the financial markets gives the impression that dark forces must be appeased by good conduct.”