“The question of why remains”

Deployment jackets for emergency chaplains © Marius Becker

They were quickly on the scene after the attack on the Christmas market in Berlin and continue to provide assistance in the aftermath: emergency chaplains from the Archdiocese of Berlin. A year later, many emotions are now coming up again.

Interviewer: How do those feel today who witnessed the attack back then or lost someone in the process?

Brother Norbert Verse (Salesian and diocesan representative for emergency chaplaincy in the archdiocese of Berlin): We will certainly learn something new about this this afternoon, because with yesterday and today, there is probably still a lot going on with those affected and their relatives – especially when the memorial is inaugurated today. But many are of course still "on the way". It is something different to lose a loved one in private than to have such an event – and then also in such a marked time as the pre-Christmas season.

Interviewer: Can it be then – completely carefully formulated – "helpful", if one knows that completely many others are affected also by such a suffering?

Verse: That is definitely a help. Many have come together in small groups, which are also accompanied by other organizations working with affected people and survivors. There is sometimes great understanding among themselves, because they themselves know exactly what the other feels and how he is feeling. This can very often be a help and support.
Interviewer: When the bereaved and relatives come together today at memorial services, is that more likely to reopen wounds, or is it perhaps more helpful after all?
Verse: The experiences of other annual commemorations or commemorative events show that it is helpful. Of course, emotions and certain images come up again when you yourself were on the scene. But overall it is something helpful after all. We know that from our church history, at least from earlier times, when you think of the six-week office or the annual memorial service, that these are already periods of time that accompany and can be helpful.
Interviewer: Today, the question of "why" may now also come up again. Why could God allow this to happen?? How do you respond as a pastor??
Verse: That is always a very difficult question. There are situations like this event, where you stand there and say that you can't really give an answer to this. One thing is clear: This event is not made by God, but has been caused by people. This is very important. We are always left with the answer that people live in freedom and can make free decisions. But why you can't handle such decisions, or God says an innocent person shouldn't be affected, we'll probably never have an answer to that in the end, as long as we live.
Interviewer: After such a long time, it is now coming to light, bit by bit, that the assassin Anis Amri was obviously on record and that the crime could possibly have been prevented. What does this mean for the relatives?
Verse: That's certainly another big break in the coping process. Of course, that always raises questions. This causes a great deal of disorientation and perplexity. This can also go hand in hand with the fact that one's soul goes up and down, mood swings are part of it and anger and worry also come up again in the mourning for the loss of the loved one. This is then perhaps expressed in the question of why the state could not protect and work differently. Because the target of such an attack is usually not the individual person or the people who were there at the Christmas market, but it is more directed against an institution, in this case probably against the state, against our country. This of course makes speechless and extremely helpless.
Interviewer: Yesterday, Chancellor Merkel met with relatives; today, President Steinmeier, among others, is taking part in the local memorial services. Believe that their presence is a somewhat late coming, but still helpful thing to do?
Verse: Both helpers have heard this, and it can also be seen in the media that it comes too late for the relatives, precisely because such an act of terrorism is directed against the state, against the country. I'm sure you would have wished for this sooner. The reactions in the next time will show how helpful and supportive this signal might have been. I also heard that the meeting yesterday took some time longer than it was originally intended. From the outside, it may be a good sign that you have had a good conversation and contact – no matter the emotion. But there was obviously something there and people have certainly been able to leave something of their worries, their fears and their anger there and perhaps also take a little bit with them.

The interview was conducted by Uta Vorbrodt.

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