Willibert Pauels: Faith … © Michael Schopps (private)
… and humor © screenshot (DR)
He is one of the most popular artists in the carnival and probably the best known deacon in Germany: Willibert Pauels, our site has been closely associated with the city for a long time. In an interview now he talks about his faith and laughter in times of terror.
Willibert Pauels, a native of Wipperfurth, Germany, is a cabaret artist, a deacon, a diaclown, a humorist and someone who has learned to tame the "black dog" of depression. In an interview with the independent weekly newspaper "Neues Ruhr-Wort," the 61-year-old now spoke about his faith, laughter in times of terror, his conservative views and an unusual wish. our site publishes a specially created catch of the interview:
New Ruhr-Wort: Deacon Pauels, at the end of your performances as a "diaclown" you often quote the figure of Father Brown with the saying "Humor is when you laugh anyway". Do we need this especially in these times??
Willibert Pauels: It's almost true, they say: "Humor is a part of religion". Only those who stand above things can laugh at them. That also distinguishes healthy religion from fundamentalist religion. Fundamentalists can never laugh at themselves. For me, this is the litmus test: Can you laugh at yourself?? Can you laugh about your religion? Fundamentalists cannot. They're going after the joke-makers, starting with Umberto Eco's killer monk Jorge, who says, "Laughter kills fear. And without fear there can be no more faith. He who has no fear of the devil no longer needs God." Erdogan, Hitler and Stalin also persecute the joke-makers. My father told me: Anyone who made a joke about Hitler could be court-martialed. Because the worst enemy of fear is humor. And fear is the most effective means to make man docile. Religion must not scare anyone – this also applies to the threat of hell.
Neues Ruhr-Wort: Many people are afraid today. They lose at least a little of the lightness in their attitude to life – although the world is no more dangerous or endangered than it has been anyway since time immemorial. Can you pick people up more easily as a pastor and humorist?
Willibert Pauels: I think so. I would also like to remind you of a series in "Der Spiegel," "Everything used to be worse". The world has never been as good as it is today. But the feeling is different for many. In times of RAF terror it was different. There was little danger of becoming a victim of terror if you were not a politician. But the Islamic terror is nihilistic and therefore spreads more terror. Anyone could become a victim. I am convinced: You can only live freely if you have the Easter perspective.
New Ruhr Word: What does that mean?
Willibert Pauels: Then we can also laugh in times of terror. St. Laurence, according to legend, said as he lay on the grate being burned: "You can turn me over now – on this side I'm through." This is the paschal triumph! The triumph over the fear of death. The comforting certainty that things will go on. This is summed up most beautifully in the sentence: "When the doctor says 'Exitus', the believer says 'Introitus'." Woody Allen once said that since he chose atheism, he is an unhappy man. Whoever is receptive to the Easter perspective lives more freely.
New Ruhr Word: In our church things are often done with "high holy seriousness". How do we get more looseness and lightness into the Catholic Church?? After all, we are actually proclaiming the Good News..
Willibert Pauels: I would like to say it first Rhineland: Nix uvverdrieve, nothing exaggerate. The solemnity is very important to me. The "tremendum et faszinosum," the reverent shivering before the divine. If fear – then reverence! The liturgy must not fall flat. Harald Schmidt, as a cynic, once said: "I can no longer bear to come to a church service where the pastoral assistant dances me the climate change while singing Rolf Zukowski songs."The liturgy must tell of the other – not in the sense of fear, but in reverent fascination.
New Ruhr Word: You also sometimes self-deprecatingly call yourself a "conservative Catholic sack". How conservative are you?
Willibert Pauels: In a sense, I am also in favor of Cardinal Robert Sarah's suggestion that the priest turn to the East at certain moments along with the people, even though otherwise the Cardinal is far too conservative and too homophobic for me et cetera. But I agree with him on this point: when the priest, together with the people, is oriented towards the mystical light that comes from the East after the night Mass – everyone understands that! When the light comes invincibly out of the darkness – you don't have to explain that to anyone. I am not in favor of the extreme form, but rather of a liturgical mixed form: that the congregation gathers around the table, but that there is also an element where one feels: this is something different than a circle of chairs in kindergarten. I do not want to forget or vermariobarthen liturgy. High Mass should be taken seriously. As Augustine says: "If you understand him, it is not God."
New Ruhr Word: There speaks then rather the deacon than the Diaclown from you…
Willibert Pauels: But I have also always preached a bit in my carnival speeches. For me there is no other way. Humor without depth, without meaning – that is not possible for me. Those who are receptive to the Easter perspective have understood that. But of course I have often received criticism for it.
New Ruhr word: Do you ever miss your former boss, the "canal master," as you legendarily called Cardinal Meisner in a carnival?? Or does it work just as well with Cardinal Woelki??
Willibert Pauels: No… My friend Jurgen Becker once said: "It sucks that Cardinal Meisner is gone! Woelki is much too nice."The only ones who regret that Cardinal Meisner is gone are the cabaret artists.
New Ruhr word: The headstrong and often unpredictable Pope Francis never fails to make the Vatican and its staff sweat – and his supporters smile and laugh. Does "the" church have more humor today than in the past??
Willibert Pauels: Yes – when we think of 19. Thinking about the 21st century. Easter laughter only became popular in the 19th century. The church was abolished in the twentieth century. And that's where it started with the neurotic sexual morality that we still talk about today, and with the austerity. The First Vatican Council took place. The extremely strict Victorian era and other extremes prevailed. Before that, in the Renaissance, it was different. The Romans said, "Peccati de Carne – peccati di niente" – the sins of the flesh are nothing, they are venial. They loved Pope Alexander VI., who had several children because he was a good father. It is about time that the church gets more humor and lightness again. But the current pope is Jesuitically smart. He doesn't do anything from above, but he drops verbal gustos here and there and hopes that in this ossified building the foundation will move and the door of fear will be blown open.
New Ruhr Word: Just imagine: The doorbell rings. The archangel Gabriel comes to you and says: "Willibert, you have three wishes free" – what would they be?
Willibert Pauels: Only three? That would be much too few. (laughs) I want the Easter message to be true, because then everything else will come naturally. This is really my most fervent wish. But if the archangel Gabriel comes, then it is already true. If I look for me personally, I would like to have the talent to paint. I have such beautiful pictures in my head! I would like to be able to paint them – in the manner of the old masters. And I would like to travel through India by train – but that's a wish you can fulfill yourself. What I would also like very much before the system collapses – and it will: to travel once to North Korea, to a state of absolute control. Where else can you experience purgatory live? I have heard that there are even churches there that you can visit – but the "priests" in them are actors. One feels that however immediately. You just see that when someone is not a believer and not with heart and soul, with depth in the matter.
New Ruhr Word: A few years ago, you once said that it was difficult for you to say "no," but then you retired from the stage marathon, partly due to burnout. Today you openly deal with the "black dog" of depression that has accompanied you since childhood. From today's perspective, is there a positive lesson to be learned from the time of crisis? And how does it work now with saying no??
Willibert Pauels: In any case, I have taken something positive with me! When you go through a crisis like this, you are always stronger. It still doesn't work out with saying no. But I feel much better today and I'm doing much better than I ever have before in my life. There were also good times in the past – but I have never felt as unburdened as I feel now.
The interview was conducted by: Hildegard Mathies
You can find the full interview in the current ie of Neues Ruhr-Wort – The Independent Catholic Weekly on the Internet and on Facebook.