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German Protestant Church opens biannual congress

A five-day assembly of Germany's Protestant Church has opened in Stuttgart. This year's convention will focus on topics ranging from the plight of refugees and the persecution of homosexuals during the Nazi era.

Under a clear blue sky in the western German city, tens of thousands of people were in Stuttgart Wednesday for the Kirchentag, the German Protestant Church Assembly, which attracted Germany's federal president and a host of leading figures in Germany's main protestant Church.

"Our society's ability to survive hinges on our ability to create and preserve peace," said Andreas Barner, president of the assembly that is dedicated this year to the promotion of peace under the motto - "For a smarter world."

Barner said recent developments around the world had made it all the more important to assume a Christian sense of responsibility.

"The world is going astray," he said in front of over 100,000 people in Stuttgart, naming examples such as the fighting in eastern Ukraine, unabated devastation on the part of the "Islamic State" ("IS") in northern Syria and Iraq, and terrorist-motivated violence in Paris, Copenhagen and Tunis.

Plight of refugees

Barner also touched on the drama of refugees: "The deaths in the Mediterranean must stop. No human being on the planet should have to lose their life on the run."

Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chairman of Germany's Evangelical Church called on the federal government to do more to bring an "immediate end" to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. "Nobody can stand by and watch as people are dying just because there is no legal way to get here from northern Africa."

Deutschland Evangelischer Kirchentag 2015

Discrimination against homosexuals persists today, Barner warned

The assembly also paid tribute to the victims of Nazi persecution, 70 years after the end of the Second World War in Europe on May 8, 1945. In particular, homosexual victims were remembered, with Assembly President Barner admitting that the Church played a role in the ostracism of gays and lesbians between 1933 and 1945.

"It is our moral duty to not let their suffering be forgotten," he said, adding that discrimination against homosexuals in modern society had to be eradicated.

Around 8,000 gay men were murdered by the Nazis. After 1945, Barner admonished that "the Nazi regime ended, but the persecution of homosexuals didn't subsist."

Deutschland Stuttgart Evangelischer Kirchentag 2015

Gauck said German politics had respect for the Evangelical Assembly

This year's Evangelical Assembly was kicked off by Joachim Gauck, Germany's federal president, who praised the event during an opening church service. Gauck said that German politics had "respect for the Evangelical Assembly because it inspires citizens to live by and protect virtues.

In addition to Gauck, a host of leading political and prominent figures will be expected to attend the festivities and events in Stuttgart over the next five days. The list includes Chancellor Angela Merkel, 2014 Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

glb/kms (KNA, dpa)

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