More Germans die every year from suicide than from traffic accidents, AIDS, drugs and murder combined. Germany’s two main churches now want to promote suicide prevention.
Germany's Catholic and Protestant churches are taking on the taboo topic of suicide, seeking to make amends for earlier church policies by raising awareness and supporting prevention efforts.
Starting a nationwide anti-suicide campaign at a mass in the city of Hanover on Saturday, German Catholic and Protestant leaders recognized the historical failures of the churches in addressing the root causes of suicide and vowed to prevent people from taking their own lives.
Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, head of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), said in a sermon that the "radical love of God" applies to those who have attempted to take, or taken their own lives.
"How could God let fall those who only saw death as a way out, when He knows their despair so well," asked Bedford-Strohm, whose EKD represents various strands of Lutheran and Reformed Protestantism.
Bedford-Strohm went on to denounce the earlier positions of the church in dealing with suicide. "It is a historical guilt of the church that for too long it refused the open arms of God," he said.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of the German Bishops Conference, said in his sermon that a main purpose of the church was to guide and protect people.
The role of the church is to listen to desperate people, understand them and take seriously possible signs of suicidal thoughts, he said, noting that the church had not always set the right tone on the issue.
"We want to be where we are needed, as Jesus of Nazareth has told us," the cardinal said. "In order for the silence and taboo to stop," Marx said, society must "wake up to the issue."
Mental health issue
Every year more than 10,000 people in Germany commit suicide.
Around 100,000 people attempt suicide.
According to experts, nearly 70 percent of suicides are associated with depression, during which time those suffering withdraw from social and personal relationships. Yet many of those affected send out cries for help to friends and family, religious figures, doctors and anonymous counseling services.
Barbara Schneider, the head of the National Suicide Prevention Program, told EPD news agency that people with death wishes sway back and forth between the will to continue living and the desire to be dead.
"The important thing is to bring someone away from this ambivalence over to the side of choosing life," she said.
The Catholic and Protestant churches believe they can fill an important role in supporting potential suicide victims and their families with various services. The Christian faith may also help some people overcome suicidal thoughts and provide spiritual meaning to their lives.
The national campaign is part of the Catholic and Protestant churches' "Week of Life," a 25-year-old program that this year is focusing on suicide prevention. The campaign opened in Hanover's Markt Church with presentations by self-help groups, counseling centers and aid organizations
cw/jm (KNA, EPD, DPA)