Pope to waken Germans to importance of faith, archbishop says

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

BERLIN (CNS) — The president of the German bishops’ conference said he expects Pope Benedict XVI to “wake up” his fellow Germans to the reality of God, the place of religious values in society and the need for a patient search for Christian unity.

Archbishop Zollitsch (CNS file/KNA)

“He’s going to wake us up. He doesn’t want us to get distracted by the question of the financial crisis and financial problems in Germany … but what is worth living for,” Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, president of the bishops’ conference, told reporters on the eve of the pope’s Sept. 22-25 visit.

“The pope knows about the situation in Germany. He knows that Christian belief — in the Protestant as well as the Catholic Church — has weakened. The number of the faithful has decreased, and participation in religious services has declined. We have learned that people are not really interested in religion anymore,” he said.

The pope wants people “to focus on God, to reflect on God,” the archbishop said.

With 17 speeches and even more meetings scheduled over four days, “the program may be too much for an 84-year-old man, but he is ready for the challenge,” the archbishop said.

Archbishop Zollitsch said he is convinced that what the pope has to say will renew interest and reflection about religious themes in Germany and will give new energy to committed Christians.

“I am looking forward to the visit, but I am not expecting miracles,” he said.

German media have been filled with predictions that Pope Benedict will make a major gesture of reconciliation with Lutherans when he travels Sept. 23 to Erfurt, meeting with German Lutheran leaders and holding a prayer service with them in a monastery where Martin Luther lived before launching what became the Protestant Reformation.

“He’s most likely to tell us to move along this path” of joint cooperation for the good of society and of careful dialogue in order to resolve issues still dividing Catholics and Lutherans, the archbishop said.

“Human errors caused this division” within Christianity, and human effort will be needed to resolve it, he said.

Christian unity “requires patience, and the pope is patient. But we also have to be patient, which requires being courageous,” the archbishop said.

Archbishop Zollitsch would not confirm speculation that Pope Benedict would meet with victims of clerical sexual abuse during his stay in his homeland but said the pope has kept a close eye on the situation in Germany and “wants to heal these scars.”

While he has encouraged the German bishops to implement stronger child protection policies, “he does not want his visit to be overshadowed by this sad chapter” of church history, the archbishop said.