“More unites us than divides us”

Almost exactly one year ago to the day, Osnabruck Bishop Franz-Josef Bode opened the 97th Katholikentag. German Catholic Day. The 32 beginning tomorrow. The German Protestant Kirchentag in Bremen is also a home game for Bode, because the Hanseatic city belongs largely to the Osnabruck diocese. In an interview with the Catholic News Agency, the bishop talks about the trialogue of Jews, Christians and Muslims, ecumenical irritations and the Pope's Holy Land trip.

CBA: Bishop Bode, how is the relationship between Catholics and Protestants in Bremen?
Bode: Very positive. I think the two churches need each other and know what they have in each other – also because Bremen has no denominational religious instruction. We have strong Catholic schools. There are lively ecumenical activities. We are very well connected with the secretary of the Bremen Protestant Church, Pastor Renke Brahms, and the Catholic Church is also represented in the leadership team of the Kirchentag.
CBA: The dominant theme of 2009 is the financial and economic crisis. What message can a church congress send out??
Bode: That the Christian social doctrine has an extremely important status. Churches must oppose the overlordship of the market and an ever-widening gap between rich and poor. A social culture on a small scale is needed, where human values are practiced. It's not about expecting everything from the state or retreating into the private sphere, but about shaping the intermediate sphere. As churches we have a high mission. Of course, we have to model things positively in our own parishes, institutions and facilities. We are entrepreneurs ourselves. We can only credibly represent questions of ethics and social behavior if we practice them ourselves.
CBA: The motto of the Kirchentag "Man, where are you??" sounds almost like a continuation of the Catholic Day motto "You lead us out into the wide open".
Bode (grinning): Yes, I hope that by leading us into the wide world, man has not distanced himself so far from God that he has to call out to him: "Man, where have you gone??". Seriously, this is about God's first question to mankind in the Old Testament. Adam and Eve hid because they abused their God-given freedom. It is a very positive statement that God seeks man, even when he falls into debt. This question is excellent because it challenges people to clarify where they stand in their interaction with God and their fellow human beings. In addition, the form of the question is appropriate for today's situation, where many things are more a question than an answer.
CBA: Kirchentag president Karin von Welck hopes for a trialogue between Jews, Christians and Muslims. What experience do you have in this area?
Bode: In the diocese of Osnabruck we have a working group of religions with a very good cooperation between Jews, Muslims and Christians. But from the theological substance it is very difficult, because our dialogue with the Jews must not simply be leveled into a general conversation of religions. But if the relationship is clarified bilaterally, our goal must be to enter into a trialogue of the monotheistic religions. For we have a common message to the world, that there is a God before whom we answer and towards whom we walk. This is an important message from Jews, Christians and Muslims in today's situation of atheism and diffuse religiosity.
CBA: What do you think of the assessment that there is currently an "ecumenical ice age" in the relationship between Catholics and Protestants??
Bode: I do not share this assessment. I rather see that many things have become self-evident in our togetherness and are therefore no longer spectacular. The ecumenism of life works quite well. But in the meantime we have come to questions of substance about the identity of the churches. There is a tendency to preserve identities and profiles. Such an "ecumenism of profiles" makes us aware that we can only approach the other from a single identity. On the other hand, it must not lead to a demarcation, but rather to a "spiritual fundamental ecumenism", where the things that unite us are made clearer. We need to pull together again on spiritual and ethical ies.
CBA: What did the discussion about the "ecumenism of profiles" bring about?
Bode: We have become more aware of our foundations. The Kirchentag in Bremen will certainly show that, and also the 2. Ecumenical Church Congress (oKT) 2010 in Munich. I think it's good that the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, where ecumenical openness was founded, is also being celebrated in 2015 as part of the Decade for the Commemoration of the Reformation. In this way, this path can cross-fertilize and complement each other in the coming years.
CBA: How much do the irritations around the Pius-Brotherhood burden the ecumenical relations??
Bode: There has also been irritation within the Catholic Church over the Pius Fraternity – such as whether there is a backward step from the Second Vatican Council. I think this concern is unfounded despite the irritations. But we have to be careful not only in ecumenism but also in society that we do not lose credibility because of the internal conflicts of the last months. But I have the impression that the clarifications of the bishops and the Pope, and now his trip to Israel, have been very convincing and have triggered a movement forward.
CBA: The Kirchentag is the last marker before the 2. ECT. What signal would you like to see from Bremen in 2009?
Bode: The Bremen Kirchentag must make it clear that more unites us than divides us, that we are called together: "Man, where are you??". And that we are united in a spiritual ecumenism and ecumenism of life. With this, we prepare well for the theme of Munich "So that you may have hope". Then Bremen will be a step of hope on 2. oKT to be.

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