Page 4, 23rd May 1952

23rd May 1952
Page 4

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Locations: Berlin, Cologne


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By Dr. J. K. HAM

GERMANY is very much in the news again. but few people realise its strong Catholicity and the problems which face the Church there. Before 1939, only one-third of the German population of the Reich were Catholics; today nearly 22 million of the 48 million Germans in the Western German Federal Republic are Catholics.

These figures already show that the Catholic element in the life of the Western German Federal Republic is stronger than it was in the former Reich.

Now this is only one of the examples which illustrate the change in the position of German Catholicism. There arc, of course, more. One of the significant features after 1945 was the fact that the National Socialism had swept away all Catholic organisations and pushed back all activity outside the church and sacristy.

The result of this persecution was the lack of Catholic organisations in 1945, also the lack of lay leaders who had good experience, and the lack of tradition.

The younger generation, especially, had very little or even no experience of lay activity in Catholic organisations. Though the population turned back to religious life again in the years after the collapse, one could not help feeling that these difficulties hampered the development of Catholic life in public life.

No Catholic dailies

I N some respects these difficulties still exist today. Whereas German Catholics could afford about 100 Catholic papers, some of national standard, like Germania in Berlin, KoIner Volkszeitung in Cologne and Augsburger TuRespost, there is no Catholic daily in Western Germany now. Some, like Deutsche Tagespost in Regensburg. Echo der Zeit in Cologne, Freinkisches VolksbIalt in Witrzburg appear as weeklies or only several times a week, but all efforts to re-establish a Catholic daily for 22 million Catholics failed.

Another significant and very important difference from the prewar situation can be found in the world of labour.

Germany had a strong Christian Trade Union Movement before 1933, with a million members (the Socialists had about five million). Hitler destroyed them both and forced members into „the Nazi Labour Front.

The outstanding leaders of the Catholic Labour Movement died in concentration camps. After 1945. the Christians and Socialist built up a non-denominational unified trade union organisation with about five and a half million, whereas a religious organisation for Catholic workers has only about 300,000 members.

As the a-Christian cultural policy of the trade unions at the moment irritates more and more the Catholic leaders, there is now a definite tension between the mighty German Trade Union Movement and the organisation of the Catholic workers.

Ilonsbed churches

BUT these are not the only

the moment the minds of Catholic leaders in Germany.

There is much to be done. Churches in the bombed cities and towns need repair, which needs enormous sums.

There are fewer vocations than in former years, and the need is much greater because of the losses of theological students during the war. All over Germany the seminaries now get their future priests almost exclusively from families living in the towns. The families of the farmers, which always used to be the source of many vocations, have apparently lost much of the deep religious feeling which distinguished them for centuries. But there are, of course, many good signs. The Catholic Youth Movement, with its 900,000 members, is the strongest in Germany. Catholic monthlies and publishing houses represent a cultural factor of undisputed prestige, even higher than before Hitler. Authors like Romano Guardini, Josef Pieper, Werner Bergengruen and Gertrud win le Fort are not unknown in Great Britain and the rest of Western Europe. The organisation of Catholic intellectuals joined the Pax Romana some years ago and its University Weeks at Bonn attract widespread attention.

Relations with Protestants

ANEW element in Catholic life in Germany is the relationship with the Protestants, which has never before been so good and peaceful.

This resulted from the common experience of anti-Christian persecution during the Hitler regime and led to the Una Sancta talks and movements of Catholics and Protestants which at any rate provicred a deeper knowledge and more just view on their mutual principles and ideas.

Because of this, Catholics and Protestants cart work together in Germany's biggest political party, Dr. Adenauer's Christian-Democrat Union (C.D.U.), though from time to time people like Niembller on the Protestant side and Wirth on the Catholic side attack this cooperation. The Socialists as the second strongest party still believe they can take over the German Government after the elections next year. but the results of the last regional elections in South and South-West Germany give rise to a certain amount of optimism that the C.D.U. will have the lead for another period of four years.

The refugees

IIUT this is another serious problem which has to be dealt with in Western Germany, though it will not be solved for many years —the situation of the Catholic refugees from the East.

About five million of them came without any means to the West, and 90 per cent. had to be directed into Protestant regions, where very few Catholic churches exist and the Catholic 'parish priest has to minister to 10 to 20 villages.

The terrible need of this diaspora, extraordinary indeed in Western Europe, stimulated the Flemish priest, Fr. van Straaten, to organise special help in Belgium and Holland. Twenty travelling missions with a chapel and a public room were sent from the Benelux countries and are going from village to village in the diaspora where there are no churches and are bringing the Mass and the sacraments to the people.

Besides this Belgian Catholics have just presented 70 small cars for the priests in the German diaspora to enable them to cover this vast field of suffering and spiritual need.

As there is no change in the social position of the refugees and even more refugees are streaming in from the Eastern zone at a rate of 200,000 a year, this problem of the refugees will last for a long time yet and demand attention from a religious and social point of view.

The Eastern zone

is, of course, not easy to treat the situation of Catholics in the Eastern zone in a few paragraphs.

Their number is about 2,300,000 and they live in conditions very similar to those of the Third Reich. There are no Catholic papers, no Catholic schools, no Catholic organisations. Religious education and entry into the State schools is as good as impossible.

The activity of the Church is limited to strictly liturgical life and visits. This increases the work of the parish priest to an unbearable extent.

The Church in the Eastern zone of Germany is not directly persecuted, but the heavy pressure and the growing difficulties weaken her strength from day to day.

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