Sylvester 2016 © City of Cologne
At the turn of the year, representatives of Germany's two major churches called on people to stand together. At the same time, they expressed concern about an increasingly harsh tone in public debates.
Pope Francis has taken up a lance for young people. During his end-of-year homily Saturday in St. Peter's Basilica, the Catholic Church leader condemned a culture "that, on the one hand, idolizes youth and tries to drag out this phase forever," but on the other hand, offers no place for young people themselves. He strongly condemned youth unemployment and precarious employment among young adults. Instead, he said, it is important to offer those affected prospects of dignified and free work.
Meanwhile, in Riga, Latvia, the European Youth Meeting of the ecumenical community of Taize ended. It was attended by some 15.000 young people participated. Taize Prior Frere Alois called on them to seek moments of pause in the coming year amid all the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The next meeting will be held in a year in Basel, Switzerland.
Looking ahead to the federal elections
The president of the German Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, encouraged Christians in his year-end sermon on Saturday to work for "good togetherness in our community". This also applies with a view to the federal elections in the fall, the Munich archbishop emphasized.
The chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, called for confidence in his New Year's message. Fear is always a bad advisor, says Bavarian bishop. "It narrows the view and also the heart, makes one despondent and drops one's hands in resignation."
Forceful words in Cologne
In Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki recalled the events of New Year's Eve a year ago, when there were numerous sexual assaults against women, especially on the Domplatte and around the main train station. The perpetrators were mainly young men from the North African and Arab region.
Woelki called the events a "catastrophe". Much has changed since then. "The awareness of how vulnerable the dignity of man, his body and life are, the awareness of how violent sexism is and how endangered women are in our midst, has been heightened in a frightening way." – This year, around 1.800 police officers and about 600 municipal law enforcement officers to watch over safety of celebrants in Cologne.
Living with war?
Hamburg Archbishop Stefan Hebe called for concrete visions to be developed for regions suffering from war and terror. If military peace is achieved, the community of states must also set about defeating poverty, misery and lack of freedom. Otherwise renewed terror and war are only a question of time.
Bamberg Archbishop Ludwig Schick said he hoped 2017 would bring reforms "for our religious life and also for our social and societal life". Archbishop Hans-Josef Becker of Paderborn urged more direct conversations among people. He described a widespread speechlessness in the interpersonal sphere as a fundamental evil of society.
"Everything is possible"
Freiburg Archbishop Stephan Burger called on people not to be drawn into the abyss "by the maelstrom of populist currents". In an interview published by the Catholic News Agency (KNA) shortly before New Year's Eve, Berlin Archbishop Heiner Koch suggested a new debate on values. Relevant questions had been "completely neglected for many years according to the motto: everything is conceivable, everything is possible".
The bishop of Hildesheim, Norbert Trelle, expressed similar sentiments. He lamented that for decades "the question of meaning has been fading from the political debate". Bishop Helmut Dieser of Aachen and his brother bishop Georg Batzing of Limburg warned against elevating states of mind over facts in public discussions. Batzing lamented that more and more people are making their views absolute, ignoring doubts and considering the grossest simplifications permissible once again.
Osnabruck Bishop Franz-Josef Bode made the commemoration of 500 years of the Reformation the focus of his New Year's Eve sermon. He praised the ecumenical character of the celebrations: "For the first time, we recognize our common responsibility for the Christian faith on the occasion of such an event of the century."