At the end the question: if god exists…

At the end the question: if god exists...

Valerie and the priest © Michael Bonte (private)

Journalist Valerie Schonian accompanied chaplain Franziskus von Boeselager in his everyday pastoral care for a year. First a blog emerged from the project of the Catholic Church. Now she has written a book about it.

For one year, the young Berlin journalist Valerie Schonian accompanied the Munster chaplain Franziskus von Boeselager in his work in the parish. She published her shared experiences and conversations in the highly regarded Internet blog "valerieundderpriester.de".

Now she has written a book about the project, which was not her idea, but for which she seemed the most suitable to those in charge: "Hallelujah – How I tried to understand the Catholic Church" has just come on the market.

In May 2016, the young woman travels to Munster-Roxel for the first time to meet with the man who – although a Catholic priest – will become one of the most important men in her life for the next twelve months. She will spend almost every other week with him, accompanying him for more than 180 days at baptisms, funerals, counseling sessions, parish meetings and church services.

Valerie is 26 years old at the time. She is confirmed, but only because her parents "thought it was a good idea. Church, especially the Catholic Church, is foreign to her. The search was on for "a left-wing and feminist journalist," as she recounts.

Foreign rituals

Chaplain von Boeselager has also come to his role by vote. The German Bishops' Conference selected the 39-year-old. He wavers at first, thinks and prays for a few days, as he tells it, and then agrees. In the end, Munster's Bishop Felix will speak of a "valuable contribution to the strengthening and perception of the image of priests" in society and of a complete success. More than five million media contacts on the blog and via Facebook will come together in the year.

On the one hand, Valerie tells how foreign the rituals are to her, how little her world of values corresponds to that of the church. It was difficult for her to see people doing things that she herself could not rationally comprehend, the journalist says. And she describes how she and the chaplain talk – about "God and the world," of course, about celibacy, about love, about how the Catholic Church behaves toward homosexuals. "It was mind-boggling on all levels. I just couldn't get my two realities into my head and didn't keep up at all. It was always exciting, always beautiful, but also always a little too much."

Then she notices how her initially strictly maintained distance is fading away. And she notices how she understands more and more the other side, too. About the reasons why Francis became a priest. She has also understood what the pastoral work of a priest is about. Her description of visiting the deathbed of a 91-year-old woman is among the most impressive passages.

Rome and World Youth Day

Valerie and the chaplain travel together to Rome and to World Youth Day in Poland. He visits her in Berlin, she accompanies him on a family visit. But even if the chaplain and the journalist become closer: The distance, especially in religious matters, remains. She sets the topics of conversation, he responds out of faith. She looks at the answer in a way that is far removed from the church and asks the next question. The priesthood of women remains an unresolved ie. In some ways, Francis is even more conservative for Valerie than some other priests in the Church. For example, if he sees the ordination office historically as bound to men alone.

At the end of the book, however, Valerie records what the year did to her. The chapters "If God Exists," "My God," or "What Do I Believe?" show the young woman's reflection, her experiences, her questions and her conclusions. Not least, they make "Hallelujah" a book both for those distant from the church, who want to gain a distanced insight, and for those who are close to the church, but who also have their questions about morals and values, tradition and future.

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Christina Cherry
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