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German Catholics in US Eager to Hear Pope's Message

As Pope Benedict XVI began his six-day visit to the United States, DW-WORLD.DE spoke with Michael Schapfel, pastor of Washington's German-speaking Catholic community, about German Catholics' expectations for the trip.

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Pope Benedict XVI will discuss the Iraq war and immigration in talks with US President Bush

DW-WORLD.DE: Reverend Schapfel, what are your expectations of the papal visit to the United States?

Michael Schapfel: Many Catholic and Anglican Christians in Washington are excited to see the pope. There's a strong sense here that together, the United States and the Catholic Church overcame communism. John Paul II is particularly admired. His election is seen in relation to Solidarnosc in Poland, Gorbachev, the fall of the Berlin Wall, a unified Europe and victory over the Warsaw Pact.

Michael Schapfel

Michael Schapfel is pastor to German-speaking Christians in Washington

Greater Washington is home to a very traditional church for German standards. It takes its cue from Rome and listens to what is said there. The community was very happy about the election of the new pope, and is now waiting to see what message he brings to the United States.

Is the fact that Pope Benedict XVI is a German particularly important for the German congregation in Washington?

Yes, it plays a big role for a lot of our people. Many of them come from Bavaria and even the region where he was born. But the pope isn't coming to the USA to visit us Germans. The German congregation in Washington does not have a special role to play in the visit.

What is the make-up of your congregation?

There's quite a large, lively community of German-speaking Catholics in Washington. It's mainly made up of two different groups. There are those people who have worked here for many years or even decades, or who've married someone here or plan on spending the rest of their lives here. Then there are those who are only here for a few years. That group is mostly diplomats, army personnel or business people. So we have a firm basis for the community, as well as a regular influx of new faces.

How does German Catholicism differ from Catholicism in the US?

It probably doesn't differ as much as you might think. The Catholic Church is universal. The celebration of mass, the sacraments and the teachings are the same all over the world. Only the language is different. But in comparison to other local American churches, people often say they find our German community more relaxed, open, and maybe more strongly family and youth-oriented. But that comes from the fact that our community has a different age structure.

What is your view on ecumenism?

American Catholics always notice how we Germans see it as natural for Catholics and other Christians to be in touch with each other, visit each other and take part in events together. And here in our community, ecumenism is perhaps even more pronounced than it is in Germany, because the local German congregation doesn't want to separate everything according to confession. The close relationship between Catholic and Protestant Christians has a lot to do with our history. After all, we come from the country of the Reformation.

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