Due to changing lifestyles and values, Germany has seen a sharp drop in the number of priests. To make up for the gap, the German Catholic Church is turning to priests from other countries, such as India.
Father Johny Paulose came to Germany in 2006
Here at a Catholic mass in the village of Alfter, near Bonn, most of the churchgoers are elderly Germans. The service is being conducted by Father Johny Paulose, a young dark-skinned Indian priest. Most of the worshippers listen to his sermon, which Father Paulose delivers in German spoken with an Indian accent, with the help of ear phones.
Father Paulose is from the Southern Indian state of Kerala and has been in Germany since 2006. He is one of around 300 Indian priests working in Germany, which, he believes is still not enough to fill the available positions.
Fewer and fewer Germans are willing to join priesthood
To help the foreign priests adapt to German traditions and culture, the Archdiocese of Cologne offers pastoral courses for foreign priests. Father Paulose says the courses "go a long way in helping us adjust to our new working environment." He adds, "I must say I feel accepted and loved by the community I work with."
The parish of Beuel (a district in Bonn) is also dependent on foreign priests. The Vicar here is the Indian priest Father Josey Thamaraserry. He says everything was new for him when he got to Germany, the "food, language, culture and tradition," and it was also a big challenge for him. "German is a very difficult language and the food without spices and the extreme winter that is too harsh for us from the hot Indian climate."
He admits that in the beginning he had to struggle with fulfilling his duties. Not with "the liturgical functions," as those are the same for Catholic priests everywhere, but "when it comes to visiting people in context of death or some other sacrament we need to be fluent in the language to get in conversation and that was a challenge, which over the course of time became easier. In the case of death or tragedy, I could not console them with proper words as we have different cultural backgrounds."
Many of the churches have to rely on priests from abroad
Preparation is the key
Most foreign priests in Germany come from India and Poland. Normally, they undergo a two-year pastoral course on their arrival. Now the church is planning to speed up the process by having Indian priests take the courses in Bangalore before they come here.
The preparatory courses are to ensure that future Indian priests who plan on coming to Germany have it easier than Father Paulose and Father Thamaraserry, who had to learn all they know about German culture, etiquette and language in Germany.
Currently there are around 300 Indian priests working in Germany
The churchgoers are quite welcoming, as they are relieved to have priests in their parishes. Angela Hoffmann, a regular churchgoer at St. Mary's Church in Bonn, even appreciates the priest’s Indian accent. She says that it makes her "pay attention and concentrate on the sermon to understand everything because the priest is not speaking in his mother tongue." She says that gives her a feeling of being "closer to the Almighty."
In whichever accent the sermons are held, thanks to devoted international priests filling the gaps in Germany, German parishes can continue to flourish.
Author: Preeti John
Editor: Sarah Berning