Ecumenical News International

Churches call for more solidarity at New Year

January 02, 2015

Hanover/Cologne (epd). At the turn of the year, the churches in Germany have called for better social cohesion. Speaking on New Year's Eve, Heinrich Bedford-Strohm , Chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), said that civic engagement and active participation in the ethical debates of our time are "not a Protestant option but a testimony to Christian faith". For example, Germany depended more than ever on volunteers for work with refugees, he added. Saxony's Bishop Jochen Bohl called for more mutual acceptance. If people were less concerned to set themselves apart the world would certainly be more peaceful, he declared at the New Year service in Dresden's Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady), which was broadcast on public television.

Refugees come to Germany from the crisis areas of the world in the hope of finding protection and a better life, Bohl said, yet some people here find this threatening. In his opinion, there should be a debate about the details of immigration and asylum policy, but not about whether or not to allow them into the country. "The state has its obligations in this regard," the bishop declared.

Gebhard Fürst, Roman Catholic bishop of the diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, called for a readiness to assist refugees. According to a release on New Year's Eve, he was concerned that peace in the world had not been so fragile for decades. Millions of people were fleeing from famine and risks to their lives; in 2014 about 3400 people had died crossing the Mediterranean. The refugees who were arriving in Germany had suffered a lot and needed assistance, Fürst added.

Cologne's Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki called for a more level-headed approach to the debate about rising refugee figures in Germany. "It is not us in rich Europe who have a refugee problem, but the poor neighbouring countries of the crisis regions," said Woelki on Wednesday evening in his New Year's Eve sermon in Cologne Cathedral. According to the United Nations there are 45 million refugees, and 80 percent of them remain in their home countries or neighbouring countries, he stated.  Woelki is concerned that not enough attention is given to this fact in the present discussion.

According to Woelki, this fact is downplayed precisely when organisations think "they have to defend the West against people who often have only been able to save literally nothing but their lives in coming to Germany."  Referring to the movement that has recently sprung up in Germany known as "Pegida" (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West) he believes that the West will not be defended if we "batten down the hatches".

Aachen's Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff called for a culture of welcome for immigrants from southeast Europe. It is very unfortunate to hear that migrants from Bulgaria and Romania are sometimes publicly accused of only wanting to live off government handouts, said the bishop at New Year's Eve prayers in Aachen cathedral. "No, we need them and we would do well to integrate such migrants, training them to get jobs and becoming friends with them."



extended search