“At eye level instead of from above”

Young people in prayer © Photobaphotoboy (shutterstock)

The Federal Association of Catholic Religious Education Teachers at Grammar Schools wrote an open letter to the German bishops at the beginning of June. People want to be involved in the "synodal way". There has been a movement since then?

CBA: What were the reactions to your letter??

Gabriele Klingberg (chairwoman of the Federal Association of Catholic Religious Education Teachers at High Schools): There have been many reactions, both from some bishops, from the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), especially from colleagues, and in the press. At the beginning of July, we received a promise from the ZdK that we will be involved in the synodal way, that is, we will be represented in the authoritative synodal assembly.

For us it is important that we can make the voice of young people heard there and contribute our experience as teachers of religion. We would also like to address the demands formulated in our letter.

CBA: They see themselves as advocates for young people. Which church topics move the pupils?

Klingberg: This is the understanding of office and the participation of committed women in offices. My students, for example, were very well informed about Maria 2.0 informed. Another big topic is sexual morality. She is also concerned about the church's attitude toward homosexuality – it is not comprehensible to young people.

CBA: In your letter, you criticize a "massive loss of credibility" of the Church, also among young people. What are your reasons for this??
Klingberg: The publication of the abuse study was a decisive point. Young people can't understand how the abuse could happen and why there isn't complete transparency in clearing it up.

On the other hand, the church does not appear self-confident enough to young people. They have a very benevolent attitude toward some church topics; for example, the ideas of social justice anchored in Catholic social teaching have a very positive connotation. This is a program that completely convinces students. They can't understand why the church isn't more active and doesn't bring the topic much more to the public. In their eyes, the Christian message and social teachings could positively influence the world of work.

CBA: At one point in your letter, you nevertheless write that the topic of the church has long since been ticked off for young people because they perceive it as "resistant to change" and "untrustworthy. This is clear …
Klingberg: Quite. Only a very small proportion of schoolchildren are still church-going. Church and its pronouncements, for example on sexual morality, have virtually no relevance to young people's lives anymore. In this respect, there is a great distance to the church, if not an indifference – the topic simply no longer touches them.
CBA: What must church do to reach young people – tomorrow's potential churchgoers?
Klingberg: Spirituality needs to be opened up anew for young people. In addition, we need different language in church services and different forms of worship. The study "Youth – Faith – Religion" by the University of Tubingen has shown how important religion and faith are for students – but just not the church. Church is perceived positively where young people experience community.

I believe that we have to start at these levels and find new ways of language and forms. When we go to Taize with young people, for example, I am deeply impressed by the spiritual aspects I discover in them.

CBA: What kind of spirituality appeals to young people, for example in Taize??
Klingberg: It's the sense of community, the silence, and in Taize, of course, very strongly the songs. One experiences there that students get into conversation about the big questions of life and about faith with others and feel taken very seriously. This begs the question: where do such places exist in our church??
KNA: Many church representatives and bishops say the transmission of faith is quite important. Isn't that a skewed perception? What role do topics such as sacraments and ordination still play for adolescents??
Klingberg: You can get into good and heated discussions about celibacy. Sacraments touch young people when I, as a religion teacher, succeed in connecting them to their lives, such as the sacrament of marriage. Faithfulness is a very important value for many. I can't just deal with the subject of sacraments theologically; I have to succeed in establishing a connection with the living world. This works well with the sacrament of marriage or confirmation, where it is a matter of conscious decision. Questions about the meaning of life or what comes after death are also good starting points.
CBA: They say that students are touched by religious ies, but at the same time the church no longer matters to most of them. What is the role of religious education??
Klingberg: It imparts knowledge in its religious studies part – about one's own religion, theological positions, other religions.

The lessons want to make them capable of language and dialogue and support them in their personality development and in finding their identity. It is wonderful if I can convince and inspire students through my personal example that the Christian faith is something very positive for a successful life.

But that is not the first goal of religious education; we are not a recruiting company. Religious education is a regular subject in the school curriculum with an educational mission – and not catechesis.

CBA: Nevertheless, it offers a chance to bring young people into contact with church once again …
Klingberg: In any case. So also school pastoral is a very profitable field. It offers a space of experience for young people, where they can experience church in a positive way. Before the summer vacations, for example, I prepared a service with students; it was very important to them to set such an accent at the end of their school years.

And they wanted – I'll say it a bit pathetically now – to go on with their lives with God's blessing. These are highlights. Or also when students get in touch later and thank God for the impetus they received in class.

Religious education is also so effective for religious self-discovery because the personal relationship between teachers and students is so important and can achieve a great deal.

CBA: That is perhaps also something that young people miss with seemingly aloof dignitaries who first want to tell them how faith works …
Klingberg: I think we have to get away from an instructional logic. This also applies to the synodal path: meeting at eye level instead of from above. I know that this is also a concern for many bishops. We have to find a new, understandable language. Church positions must be rethought and translated into today's living conditions and then represented and lived out. The synodal path must produce concrete results; words and speeches alone will not convince.

This is also the view of the Commission for Education and Schools of the Bishops' Conference, where I am an advisory member. They are aware that changes are needed so that young people can stay in the church and become involved in it.

The interview was conducted by Angelika Praub.

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