The first "cafe talks" with bishops in Hildesheim met with great interest. Not all of those interested were able to find a seat when six senior bishops answered questions on the eve of the spring plenary meeting of the German Bishops' Conference.
"Cafe international" – that's the name of a popular board game in which players place people at cafe tables in ever-changing combinations A kind of "cafe clerical," on the other hand, was played out by six Catholic bishops this Sunday evening in Hildesheim. An experiment devised by the host diocese in the run-up to the spring plenary meeting of the German Bishops' Conference, which begins on Monday. "We do not only want to discuss in closed conference rooms among ourselves, but we want to get more directly into conversation with the people," emphasizes Hildesheim's Bishop Norbert Trelle: "They should be able to bring everything to the table that is close to their hearts."
And the visitors don't mince their words as soon as it's time to "Ask the bishop.". Trelle himself, who is responsible for topics such as immigration and asylum in the Bishops' Conference, has to deal with the question of whether Pegida or the Salafists are worse for Germany. Cafe visitor Ursula Stasch is pleased that the bishop has come to the North City for the conversation, "where questions of migration are particularly burning under our nails". And Helga Lauber at the next table would like to see a church "that stands much more resolutely by the side of the refugees".
The other bishops, too, are primarily addressing the ies for which they are responsible in the bishops' conference: Social Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck, for example, speaks about business ethics, the financial crisis and social justice. Trier's Bishop Stephan Ackermann, as chairman of the "Justitia et Pax" ("Justice and Peace") Commission, reports on his recent trip to Israel and Palestine and debates fair trade and injustices between industrialized and developing countries.
Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann from Wurzburg explores questions about art, culture and religion in the Museum Cafe. In this context, he expresses his concern that "our ecclesiastical language is hardly understood in large parts of society today". It is therefore all the more important to him to "remain able to speak and on the ball" in cultural circles as well.
It is no great surprise that family bishop Heiner Koch (Dresden-Meissen) has to face particularly heated discussions. In the "kreuz-bar" many are literally at cross purposes with Catholic sexual morals, the understanding of marriage and the treatment of remarried divorcees. "Almost like my days as a student pastor," Koch feels reminded of earlier times and describes the conversations as "very personal, open and instructive". But the discussion also shows that "in many congregations, there is obviously too little talk about these burning ies.".
Experiment a success
"The last one turns out the lights" – this is the title of the conversation about the future of church, faith and congregation with Osnabruck's Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, chairman of the pastoral commission. But it is here, of all places, that the lights stay on the longest. Because so many passionately want to have their say in the "Cafe Leidenschaft," Bode spontaneously adds a second round of discussions after many visitors have to be turned away in the first round.
There is a great deal of interest. By far not all interested parties find a place in the cafes. In a first conclusion, not only the bishops and the organizers are very satisfied with the experiment, but also the visitors. Julia Schramm from Hildesheim, for example, finds it "exciting and stimulating to talk with a bishop at eye level". Many are otherwise often "rather aloof". Her conclusion: "We need such conversations much more often in the church."
And Bishop Koch even speaks of a "piece of synod in a new form". He wants to take this form of dialogue with him into the planning of the Katholikentag 2016 in Leipzig: "We are looking intensively for new forms, because some things have also become stale. And in an atmosphere like this, many things are easier to achieve than in large anonymous conference rooms. I can only recommend this."