‘Where God is, there is the future’
Fr. Inf. Ireneusz Skubiś talks to Fr. Msgr Stanislaw Budyń – the rector of the Polish Mission in Germany
Fr. Ireneusz Skubiś: - What is the Germans’ attitude while awaiting Pope Benedict XVI who is their compatriot?
Fr. Satnisław Budyń: - First we must realize what the situation of the Catholic Church in Germany is. Namely 1/3 of population are Catholics, 1/3 are Evangelicals and, after the Reunification of Germany, 1/3 do not belong to any church or belong to different sects. In connection with the visit of Benedict XVI we can meet different opinions: flattering, joyful, expressing much hope but also critical, extreme, opposite. As the Episcopate Conference of Germany emphasizes, the Holy Father comes to all the people of good will, but, first of all, he wants to strengthen His brothers in the faith. He refers to John Paul II who did so, as well.
Can we compare Poles and the Germans in terms of their hospitality towards the Popes?
The Holy Father, John Paul II was in Germany three times: in 1980, 1987 and 1996. Each if those Pope’s pilgrimages had a different character then. John Paul II went to Germany as the sixth pope in history (the last one was 700 years before). He went there for a certain purpose – he wanted to awaken the spirit of ecumenism in Germany, the need for conversations in Germany. He emphasized that he was coming to Luther’s country and that he was glad to be there. His first visit was accepted really positively. In 1987 John Paul II deepened his ideas and then he began to proclaim the first Blessed. He showed that there were also saints in the country where there had been hatred and destruction of the human being. In 1996 he arrived in a specific political situation, after the Unification of Germany and he expressed his joy that Europe had been united without any bloodshed, that Poland was free and Germany united and that he had a possibility to walk through Brandenburg Gate with Chancellor Kohl. He could be described as the Pope of Europe Unification. That was John Paul’s II vision. Benedict XVI has already been to Germany twice. He went to Cologne just after John Paul’s II death but that visit was very short and it concerned only one event (the World Youth Day – editor red). It was not treated as a nation-wide visit. During his second visit to Bavaria, the Holy Father was somehow thought to have come to his family as Bavarians like emphasizing their independence. So it was not an official visit to Germany either. Only the third present visit of Benedict XVI is universal. It is somehow addressed to the whole German nation. It is worth citing the words of Fr. Hans Langendorf, a secretary of the Episcopate Conference of Germany, that Pope’s visit has got three basic purposes: political, ecclesiastical – Catholic and ecumenical. In the consciousness of Germans there is a kind of ultramontanism, that is, what happens over the mountains and what refers to Rome. Consequently, the attitude towards popes was characterized by a certain reserve, a kind of reservation. The Germans were shouting: we are the Church. Whereas the question is often asked now: Are we still the Church? Of course, it is about the Catholic Church.
Do those who evaluate Benedict XVI think about doctrinal, ideological or political matters?
All the matters – as it has been emphasized in the statement made by the Episcopate Conference of Germany. The Holy Father’s visit has got a political meaning. Therefore there was a lot of opposition to a possible speech made by Benedict XVI to all members of the German Parliament – in Bundestag. Despite everything the Parliament is of great importance in Germany; the Pope will meet with those who are responsible for the constitution, and those who lay down the law and decide on what will happen in the country. Therefore, the Church pays much attention to this meeting. It is about the Pope’s possibility to speak to all the parties which are the representatives of the German government so that all the parties would hear it. The Pope will certainly stress on the importance of the Holy See because he comes as the Head of Vatican; a religious community which has got over a milliard of its believers; the Church which defends human rights and says about the ethos of freedom and values playing an important role in Germany. He will also emphasize the importance of religiousness in the public life; he will also speak about the relations between the Church and the State. This division is very visible in Germany but it doesn’t lead to drastic tensions, it is proceeding very mildly. The evidence for that is the church tax – the state collects money and gives it to the Church and people working in the Church. The cooperation and harmony are very visible in this area. The Pope will certainly want to emphasize the importance of the Catholic faith, free expression of religious beliefs. It is proved by a constant debate in Europe concerning the place of the cross and burqas (the clothes worn by Muslim women). The Pope’s presence in Bundestag will be very important. In Fryburg he will speak about the importance of Germnay in upbringing and education of man, responsibility for children and the youth, responsibility for culture and history for consciousness in a wide ethical sense, then about demands in medicine and politics and what attitude will be taken by the Church in these matters. The Church in Germany has experienced a difficult moment of spiritual accusations about sexual abuse. It concerns about 300 cases during 60 years, that is, nearly 1% of all known abuses – incidentally, where is 99%? But the crisis appeared and the trust towards the Church was lost. It is proved by withdrawal of 180000 believers from the Catholic Church during last year. So, the Church must ask a question how to renew the spirit of faith, how to motivate people so that churches and various charismatic groups would live; and, finally, ecumenism. In John Paul’s II times there was a great development of ecumenism but now it seems to ‘have fallen asleep’. However, it is known that any religious groups referring to ecumenism were connected with the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith which was under the responsibility of Cardinal Ratzinger, today’s Benedict XVI and he would like to enliven further talks on the importance of Eucharist, the meaning of the Church, etc.
What, in your opinion, causes the distance towards the person of Benedict XVI in Germany?
First of all, these are different kinds of anti-religious movements such as humanists, left-wings parties, the ‘Greens’ party. At the moment they are causing a lot of anti-Pope commotion. For example, it is known that in Berlin radical ideas are allowed to be expressed and that they cannot be realized near Bundestag where the Holy Father will be speaking but a few kilometres further as nothing can happen on the routes which the Pope will be passing. It seems that a big distance towards the Pope will be seen only in Berlin where in the diocese and the city there is nearly 3% of Catholics and only they are accepting the Pope as the Head of the Catholic Church. As I have mentioned, ultramontanism and the syndrome of Rome proves that the distance towards the Pope is strong in Germany.
Won’t the Polish balance it?
We have about 150000 of Poles living in Germany legally or illegally, without any registration and those who commute to work here. They account for a significant number and they will surely take part in the meeting with the Pope. We must remember that the Holy Father will spend the night near the Basilica of Saint John the Baptist (PMK church) – in the Apostolic Nunciature. These buildings are adjacent and the nuncio comes to the Holy masses and devotions very often. It is a great joy and privilege for us that he is near us. Poles will surely try to exist and show their presence but we are only guests, not in the foreground. Of course, all Polish Catholic Missions are trying to participate in the meetings with the Holy Father: in Berlin, Erfurt – where the Pope will be celebrating vespers in the afternoons, in Freiburg – all the Missions have booked their places.
In Poland Benedict XVI is perceived very warmly and cordially. What, do you think, does he owe so much sympathy to?
Surely, he owes so much sympathy to his unity with John Paul II and their cooperation for many years. As we know, he has always appreciated Poles as well. He emphasized our religiousness and faith and it is good that to he tries to speak Polish to us. It means a lot not only to Poles in their Homeland but also all of us who live in a religious spirit and are associated with the Holy See. But in Poland we have never had such an anti-papal attitude which was marked in the history of Germany. Papacy in the history of Poland has always played an important role. Benedict XVI also mentions it in his statements.
What do Catholics and all German believers expect from Benedict’s XVI visit in their country?
They surely expect new impulses, religious revival, perhaps more appearance of religious groups, so that the teaching of the Church would be accepted as it is and sacramental life would revive.... people who practise their faith, strongly emphasize that a new impulse is needed, something which would wake especially young families, young married couples and move those who are responsible for matters in Bishops’ curia. 80-90% secular people work there and the Pope purposes to make them understand that it is not only their place of work but their responsibility for the Church, the religious spirit; therefore, what is created on paper would revive. The motto of the Holy Father’s visit is: ‘Where God is, there is the future’. The Pope speaks about God but he also cares about the future of the Church in Germany.
Are the voices of criticism a creation of media manipulation?
Media give the same time to those who criticise the Holy Father’s visit as to the positive right opinions. The proportions are blurred here. Moreover, the German press is looking for sensation. It is known that there is no sensation in the program of the Pope’s visit. However, what has been thought against the Pope sells well. We have seen it in Madrid and, probably, the same thing is going to happen in Germany. There is an important role of the ecclesiastical media here, so that what is said by Benedict XVI will widespread the most. At the moment, the biggest accusations are high costs connected with the Holy Father’s visit. It is estimated that it will be about 30 million euro. Statistically, it is no more than 1 euro per a Catholic in Germany. So it is not a particular charge for the Church budget. I have read recently that a member of The Greens’ Party of Turkish origin was speculating how much good could be done for starving countries. But this man forgets that the Church in Germany is the biggest sponsor of any humanitarian actions at present, like help for not only Christian but also Islamic or Buddhist communities (for example Bangladesh). In this respect the German Church does really a lot. So, these opinions are only looking for accusations to do harm.
How the Polish community living in Germany is preparing for the meeting with the Holy Father Benedict XVI?
We and deans have decided that, first of all, people from Eastern Germany will go to Berlin, missions situated 200 km away will go to Erfurt, that is, from Hannover through Norymberg and Southern Badenia –Wirtembergia and Central Germany will be in Fryburg. We all have submitted applications, got tickets and about 50-100 people from each mission are going, except for those travelling by their own cars. It is a direct participation in the ceremonies. We are preparing for them in such a way that there are prayers in the missions – we have edited a special prayer and we pray for this intention with every missionary. In our newspaper ‘Our Word’ we have published a detailed program of the Pope’s pilgrimage. We are also waiting for information from the Episcopate Conference of Germany on the transmission of the meetings with the Holy Father by German TV stations; it will give a possibility of watching them at home by those who cannot come. We also know that the Television ‘Trwam’ and Radio Maryja will be present at the meetings with the Holy Father. Everybody who has a possibility of connecting through satellite will be able to participate in the meetings. We also send our tips to people how to participate in the meetings with the Pope.
You are very active and warmly open, as it can be seen, to the Holy Father’s arrival. Benedict XVI will surely be glad about your presence.
We will give a Polish accent for sure and we will answer the Holy Father with our cordiality because he deserves it. He always notices Poles who are from Germany and is willing to talk to us. We feel his directness and close friendship. It gives us a lot and raises our spirit.
We can say that Benedict XVI is also a Polish Pope.
He is indeed, maybe because of the fact that he comes from Bavaria where religiousness is stronger and Catholicism is more alive. I would say that he has got a Polish soul - and he experiences Catholicism in the same way as we do, as well as his faith in Jesus Christ and devotion to God’s Mother. We have much in common.
(The interview took place before Benedict’s XVI pilgrimage to Germany in September 2011)