Since I arrived in Germany, one thing has been clear to me: the necessity of discovering and deepening my understanding of ecumenism. I have met thirteen evangelical collaborators, all of whom represent, in one way or another, the different stances taken by Protestants, from the pietistic pastor to the most liberal who considers the Resurrection a myth. In our German town, we were the minority – 16,000 Catholics out of 60,000 inhabitants. The division of the Church was, with great sadness, present in many families in numerous ways. It soon became clear just how important it was to study the history of the Church and the Protestant Reformation, as well as Protestant theology, in order to understand this world.
Certain encounters during this period were precious gifts for me. For example, after a funeral that I celebrated, I received a letter about my homily. It was not one of those commonplace letters of protest written by the lay theologians of the parish. Instead, it was the head of the Evangelical Alliance thanking me for my witness of faith in Jesus, the Son of God, who rose from the dead. He assured me that I was truly his brother in the faith. He asked me if he could call me, not Pfarrer Carlin (“Pastor”), but Bruder Carlin (“brother”). Whenever I am involved in ecumenical discussions concerning intercommunion between Evangelicals and Catholics, which can become rather animated, I think of Mr. Esau and his letter, as well as many other Christians with whom I was given the opportunity to share the love of Jesus during my years in Emmendingen.
For the past 6 years, we have organized a public cultural event called the Rhein Meeting. This gesture was founded for two reasons. First, we desired to build a place where the adults of our community could be educated to judge, illuminated by the faith, our society, the Church and everything that our life touches. The other reason was the possibility of introducing the experience of the Movement of CL to the various engaging and interested German personalities whom we would invite to speak.
I would like to finish with some thoughts about the future. Our diocese is in the midst of important reforms due to the vocational crisis. According to Cardinal Woelki, we must answer the following questions in order to get to the heart of this crisis: first, where can someone encounter the faith today? And second, in which community can this faith grow and mature? The parish is not the answer, he told us. The solution cannot lie in changing the parish to make it more attractive; rather, we must recognize the presence of communities where the faith is truly lived out and shared, be it in a prayer group of the area, a school, a hospital, a place of charitable work, an Ecclesial Movement, or a religious order around the parish. Furthermore, thanks to the reorganization of parishes into unified groups (unità pastorali), each parish would be relieved of great administrative and financial managements, in order to have greater autonomy to celebrate the sacraments, proclaim the faith, sustain a common life, and be a place of sharing and encounter. We are filled with gratitude to have a bishop who is willing to share his missionary concerns with us, and who encourages us to be who we are.
(Father Gianluca Carlin, 51, ordained a priest in 1995, is the chaplain of the school Elisabeth von Thüringen and of St. Ursula High School in Brühl, Germany. In the picture, a panorama of Cologne)