Protestants disappointed by pope's outreach in Germany

23rd September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Disappointed German Protestants said Pope Benedict XVI had failed to match a conciliatory message Friday with concrete action to bridge the 500-year-old rift between them.

The 84-year-old head of the Roman Catholic Church, on the second leg of a tour of his German homeland focused on bridging the gulf between religious faiths, led historic prayers with Protestant leaders in a show of greater Christian unity.

He said the different wings of the Church should "keep in view just how much we have in common, not losing sight of it amid the pressure towards secularisation -- everything that makes us Christian in the first place and continues to be our gift and our task".

But he said bluntly that hopes he would make a specific gesture toward ecumenism, or reconciliation within the Church, such as easing restrictions on Protestant spouses of Catholics taking joint communion, had been misplaced.

"Prior to the popes visit there was some talk of an 'ecumenical gift' which was expected from this visit," German-born Benedict said.

"There is no need for me to specify the gifts mentioned in this context. Here I would only say that this reflects a political misreading of faith and of ecumenism."

The prayer service was held at Erfurt's Augustinian monastery where Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, trained as a priest before his 1517 schism with Rome led to the enduring split in western Christianity.

The head of the Lutheran Church, Nikolaus Schneider, who had met with Benedict earlier in the day, said he was pleased by the "brotherly atmosphere" of the talks, adding "we really listened to each other".

Schneider said he had not expected the pope to arrive with a "contract" on new communion rules but that he had conveyed the message that Lutherans were not satisfied with the status quo.

"Our hearts are burning for more and that could be sensed today," he said.

Premier Christine Lieberknecht of Thuringia, the state playing host the pope Friday, said many had yearned for more from his stay.

"I understand those who hoped for more and are now disappointed," she told the local press, although she said she had seen progress in the visit.

Welcoming Benedict Thursday, President Christian Wulff stressed that Christians should strive for more mutual tolerance.

"I'm convinced that we need an explanation for what divides us, not what unites us," said Wulff, who called for more understanding from the Vatican for Catholics like himself who had divorced and remarried.

The monastery where Benedict, Schneider and 20 other religious leaders met is a hallowed site for Protestants as the place Luther studied in 1505, some 12 years before his split with Rome unleashed the Reformation in Europe.

The Erfurt region was also home to one of the largest and most resilient Catholic communities in communist East Germany, which was officially hostile to organised religion, before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

Christians in Germany are neatly divided between Catholics and Lutherans, with a growing trend toward secularisation sparking crises in both Churches.

The pope arrived in Berlin at the start of a four-day tour of his native country, striking a conciliatory tone with protesters, Jewish leaders and Church members alienated by the recent paedophile priest scandals.

On Friday he called for "fruitful collaboration" with Muslims.

"We believers have a special contribution to make towards building a better world," he told representatives of Germany's four-million-strong Islamic community in Berlin, in a meeting Muslim leaders called "beneficial".

"If our actions are to be effective, we need to grow in dialogue and mutual esteem," added the pope in his address at the apostolic nunciature, the Vatican embassy, which is located in a largely Muslim neighbourhood of the capital.

On his last trip to his native land, in 2006, the pope offended Muslims by appearing to link Islam with violence in a speech at his former university in Regensburg, southern Germany.

The next stop on the papal tour is the predominantly Catholic city of Freiburg, in the southwest, where he will address an estimated total of 260,000 people in his mother tongue before his visit ends Sunday.

© 2011 AFP

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