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Pope’s Trip to Germany Fails to Meet Ecumenical Hopes

BERLIN (ENI) Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Germany on Sept. 23
featured an ecumenical worship service in the town of Erfurt that
was meant to reach out to German Protestants, but for many it felt like a
missed opportunity.

In his sermon, Benedict said “there was some talk of an ‘ecumenical
gift’ which was expected from this visit … Here I would only say that this
reflects a political misreading of faith and of ecumenism.” The Christian
faiths, he said, could not negotiate and compromise as if they were
political states.

“Faith is not something we work out intellectually or negotiate between us,”
he said. “It is the foundation for our lives. Unity grows not by the
weighing of benefits and drawbacks but only by entering ever more deeply
into the faith in our thoughts and in our lives.”

Many were disappointed there was no indication that the pope intended to
relax a ban on Catholics and Protestants taking communion together or
recognize Protestant denominations as “true churches” as opposed to
“ecclesiastical communities.” It was the second day of Benedict’s four-day
state visit.

“I think we all had high expectations which weren’t met during his trip,”
said Tabea Doelker, a member of the Evangelical Church in Germany’s (EKD)
Council who attended the Erfurt service. (EKD is the German federation of
Protestant churches.) “I don’t know if the pope, due to his age and
fragility, will be able to carry out the task of bringing Catholicism and
Protestantism closer together,” she said in an interview. Benedict is 84.

Although Benedict met with Protestant leaders at the Augustinian monastery
where Protestant Reformation pioneer Martin Luther studied, EKD President
Nikolaus Schneider said the encounter left hearts “burning for more.”
Schneider described the meeting as a “very serious and deep fraternal

Schneider described Luther as “a hinge between our churches,” and called for
Catholics and Protestants to be allowed to celebrate the Eucharist together.
Many Protestant churches allow Catholics and other Christians to take
communion together.

Benedict said he regretted a past emphasis on division. “It was the error of

the Reformation period that for the most part we could only see what divided
us and we failed to grasp existentially what we have in common,” he said.

With the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation coming up in 2017, many saw
the pope’s visit to the historical site as a message in itself. “He is
coming to a place that makes it very clear that we have a common history,
and I hope that it is a way of marking a point and saying that we … share
a common mission in the world,” said Bishop Ilse Junkermann of the
Evangelical Church in Germany, in an interview before Benedict’s visit.

Benedict went on to raise the challenges faced by the Christian churches in
an increasingly secularized society and called on Christians to address the
“ecumenical task” of making their faith relevant to the modern day.

Earlier in the day, Benedict met in Berlin with members of Germany’s Muslim

Mouhanad Khorchide, professor of Islamic religious studies at the University
of Muenster, said that he and other Muslims saw the meeting “as a gesture of
acknowledgement of Muslims in Germany which gives recognition and honor to
us as Muslims but also constitutes a further major signpost for the peaceful
co-existence of the Christians and Muslims of this world.”

There are about 3.5 million Muslims in Germany, making Islam the country’s
second largest religion after Christianity. In recent years, the building of
mosques in Germany has been a source of contention and there has been debate
among politicians over whether Islam “belongs” in Germany.

“The presence of many Muslim families since the 1970s has increasingly
become a feature of this country,” Benedict said. “However, it will be
necessary to constantly work to know and understand each other better.”