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Berlin's Bishop Dröge: 'Don't let violence discourage you'

Markus Dröge, Bishop of the Evangelical Church Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia, spoke at Berlin's memorial service at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. He talked with DW about the effects of the violence.

Berlin witnessed a moving memorial service Tuesday evening at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. It was held in response to Monday's attack on a Christmas market near the church, which left 12 dead and dozens injured. Some 800 people took part in the service, including Germany's political leaders. Markus Dröge, leader of the Evangelical Church Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia, spoke briefly at the service. Shortly beforehand, he spoke with DW.

DW: Bishop Dröge, as leader of the Evangelical Church Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia, with over one million members, your office is confronted with a plethora of information, opinions and emotions. How is the attack on the Christmas market at Breitscheitplatz affecting people in Berlin and the surrounding area?

Mourner at site of attack at Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz (Reuters/F. Bensch)

People turn to faith and prayer in times of insecurity

Bishop Dröge: We have, of course, all have been alarmed and horrified. People hear all the time that an attack could occur, but when it comes down to it, you don't really believe it will happen in everyday life. People are rattled, frightened and - understandably, I think - angry that something like this has happened. They are wondering what kind of people would plan such a violent attack that results in death and destruction and breeds fear during a peaceful time of year and at a peaceful Christmas market. I think everyone in Berlin is shocked, and we are unified as a city in our mourning - with the victims' families, with the injured - and we haven't really processed it all yet.

The Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church, where the attack took place, was destroyed during World War II. The ruins of the church are a memorial to peace, reconciliation and international understanding. What do you think about this location as the site of the attack?

I believe that a symbolic place has been struck. The Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church is just a torso which has remained from the ruins of the Second World War. It is a reminder of what can happen when people give in to violence and hate. But it is also a church of reconciliation - a symbol for reconciliation. It contains a "Cross of Nails" from Coventry's global community. Coventry, England's cathedral, was destroyed during the Second World War. Among the rubble of the cathedral bombed by Germans, the church's provost pulled out nails from the roof to form a cross. He noted that while only hate and destruction seemed to be apparent, the power of reconciliation was stronger. That is also the message of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. I think that it is precisely this message of hope that must carry us through and strengthen us.

Memorial service at the Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church (picture alliance/dpa/Michael Kappeler)

The memorial service at the Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church was interfaith

And all this at the end of Advent. Rather than peaceful anticipation, we now have tears, death and grief. What is your view on the timing of the attack - was it deliberate?

I cannot look into the hearts of those who planned it, but of course this is the time in which we are preparing for Christmas festivities - each in his or her own way. In the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, the Bach Choir was in the midst of rehearsing for the Christmas church services and did not even realize what was happening outside - only to then be shocked by the terror of the events. It is a sensitive time. I myself was already in the process of winding things down for the year and was focusing on the message of Christmas when the news came. It is extremely painful and has struck us at a very sensitive spot.

All of this right before Christmas. Christmas is not, theologically speaking, the most important Christian holiday, but the most cherished one in Germany. It is the celebration of God's love for people. What do you say to people in your Christmas sermon when the total opposite of love rears its ugly head?

This year's Christmas celebrations will clearly consist of taking our grief with us into the services - we will be thinking about the people who were injured, about those who have passed away and about the family members who are aghast and grieving. We will do that in our intercessory prayers, but we will also continue to campaign for God's message of humanity and pass it on.

Candles and mourner at Breitscheidplatz (Reuters/F. Bensch)

Bishop Dröge stresses the need for people to pull together while mourning over the Berlin attack

The story of Christmas demonstrates that God enters a world that was not defined by peace. When Jesus was born, there was a period of occupation in Bethlehem. There was oppression and violence. Infants were persecuted. But it is precisely this kind of world in which God wants to enter and once again breathe life into humanity. I truly hope that we will feel a great sense of community during Christmas services and that we together say: We will not be discouraged by violence, and we will not allow hate and violence to have the last word.

With regard to the attack that just happened, what will be your tasks as a bishop in the coming weeks?

The most important task will be preventing those responsible for the attack to be proven right in retrospect, and that the seed they sowed begins to grow. They want to sow hate and discord, and incense people and religions against one another. The main task will be to prevent that and to make clear to people to not prove the attackers right by continuing on this path, but instead, that we must stick together, respect and exalt humanity and not lose sight of our compassion. Only then can we overcome the attackers and ensure that they do not succeed in their goal.

Markus Dröge (62) has been bishop of the Evangelical Church Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia since 2009. It has over one million members. Dröge received his PhD in theology in 1999.

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