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German Catholic Congress ends with refugee appeal

Sertan Sanderson (with KNA, dpa)May 30, 2016

The 100th Catholic Congress in Germany brought together thousands of believers looking for new ways to assert their faith in volatile times. The three-day event ended with a message on the ongoing refugee debate.

German Catholic Congress
Image: Katholikentag

Europe's refugee crisis was one of the main themes at the closing of the 100th German Catholic Congress, as it was indeed throughout the three-day event. Celebrating mass in front of 20,000 people, Cardinal Reinhard Marx told the faithful that Christianity held non-negotiable tenets on the issue, and reminding the congregation that thousands of people were drowning at the gates to Europe.

"We must not allow this to continue," Marx stressed.

"If someone approaches our borders in need, he or she will need to be treated with dignity."

Redefining the church for modern times

More than 1,000 exhibitions, performances and talks were staged in Leipzig in the three days of the festival, attracting roughly 40,000 visitors in total. The event, organized by the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), started in 1848 and has been held every two years since - with the main exception of during the days of the Third Reich.

Nowadays, political parties are invited to take part in the event to exchange views with the faithful and find common ground. This year's congress, however, stood out for a particular party not being invited to the event: the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) was not asked to participate in the events.

Thomas Sternberg
The President of Germany's Central Council of Catholics (ZdK), Thomas Sternberg, said the congress was a successImage: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Seidel

Organizers justified this by stating that the AfD's anti-immigration agenda was incompatible with the ideas of openness and hospitality that Catholicism places on the members of the church, referring once more to the issue of mass migration.

The President of Germany's Central Council of Catholics (ZdK), Thomas Sternberg, said that he knew no one among AfD leadership ranks who represented a political position that could be helpful in the refugee debate - a cause, he added, that has hundreds of thousands of Christians involved in volunteer positions and other ways of trying to help those fleeing war and famine in their native countries.

Gay Rights and other issues

Three advocacy groups supporting gay and lesbian Catholics were also in attendance at the congress, signaling a more tolerant approach towards sexual orientation taking place in parts of the church. The Catholic Lesbian Network and the Workgroup Homosexuals and Church were invited by organizers to present their work on the open integration of sexual minorities to the Catholic Church.

The prospect of having female deacons was also highlighted in the sidelines of the congress - amid great applause. Having suffered numerous sex scandals in the past years, the Catholic Church, under the guidance of Pope Francis, is trying to reassert its position in the world, hoping to witness a revival with a number of reforms and more welcoming attitudes to previously excluded demographics.

Sternberg said the event was a great success to that end. "We witnessed a lively church in these few days in Leipzig, and we saw that the church can do things differently; we didn't have to bemoan declining numbers but could rather rejoice in growing interest."

The next German Catholic Congress is due to be held in the city of Münster in 2018.

ss/jr (KNA, dpa)