Social as a basic mission

The diocese of Essen celebrated its 50th anniversary on Sunday with an open-air service in the city center of the Ruhr metropolis. More than 8.000 faithful took part in the celebrations. In his sermon, Bishop Felix Genn thanked the men and women who, over the past 50 years, "have worked as Catholic Christians for life here on the ground". Genn also addressed the latest abuse case in the diocese.

The Catholic Church in the Ruhr region wants to continue to be close to the people as a social diocese. "This remains a basic mission in a region that continues to be marked by many social problems," Genn said. The bishop appealed to the participants in the service at the Burgplatz in Essen to also see themselves as a powerful mass. "What we are witnessing today is a tremendous Sunday demonstration of the people of God."Together with others, the Catholic Church will therefore always stand up for the protection of Sunday. "We do not want to be enslaved by the logic of the market and the power of consumption." Life is far more than agitation and operation, he said. Genn called on the young people to make themselves available to the Church of Essen as priests or members of religious orders. The bishop also commented on the abuse case in his diocese that came to light last week. The "deep shame" can only be endured in the firm belief that God provides healing and forgiveness. The public prosecutor's office had ied a warrant for the arrest of a priest from Bottrop. According to authorities, the 66-year-old is suspected of having committed at least 15 acts of sexual abuse against a now 26-year-old in 1994 and 1995. Catholics from almost all parishes of the Ruhr bishopric between Duisburg and the Sauerland took part in the open-air service. Many groups had made the pilgrimage to Essen on foot or by bicycle. From Gelsenkirchen parishioners came with chartered streetcars. After the service, the Diocesan Day program included a coffee reception for all guests. The coffee table across Essen's city center was for about 6.000 people covered. The celebrations had begun on Saturday with a church service and a ceremony. Representatives from church and politics encouraged Catholics to structural reforms. The celebrations in Essen are held under the motto "Life in awakening".The president of the German Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, called for active shaping of the upheaval at a service in the packed Essen Cathedral. "Those who anxiously want to hold on to everything are gambling away the future."The church in Germany faces great challenges, Zollitsch said in his sermon. As examples, he cited declining church membership, demographic change, religious indifference and a new militant atheism. "We have to watch how values that have supported our society up to now are in danger of breaking down and disappearing."The diocese of Essen was particularly affected by the upheaval due to the death of the coal mines, the steel crisis and emigration. "This change will continue, we must adjust to it soberly and objectively." Bishop Felix Genn of Essen recalled the concern of Pope Pius XII during the subsequent ceremonial act. 50 years ago to establish "for the welfare of the people a new diocese" on the Ruhr, Emscher and Lenne rivers. The church in the Ruhr region wants to continue to fulfill this task in the future. Since 2003, the diocese has been carrying out a structural reform that is nearing completion; in the process, the 259 parishes will be merged into 43 large associations. In front of 250 invited guests in the Essen Philharmonic Hall, Genn referred to the practiced unity of the church and the people shaped by its work in the Ruhr region. The Ruhr bishopric has always been a "church with a social factor". In the future, too, it will remain their mission to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to people "regardless of whether they have changed in the course of time". This is especially true at a time when religion is once again attracting general interest. Genn called for more courage to be a Christian. "Even if the number of Christians continues to decline, we should confidently show: We are Christians," Genn emphasized on Saturday evening.North Rhine-Westphalia's Minister President Jurgen Ruttgers (CDU) called on Catholics in the Ruhr bishopric to work for society. They are needed so that "the spirit of a humane society can continue to fall on fertile ground". Already in the past they had shown that they "do not consume, but create foundations of our polity". Ruttgers thanked Genn for the work done in the transformation of the diocese. "You have taken on this enormous task for the Ruhr bishopric."The president of the Protestant Church in the Rhineland, Nikolaus Schneider, expressed the desire for closer cooperation between the denominations on the ground. In the face of shrinking membership and dwindling resources, Protestant and Catholic congregations should take on more joint tasks. Today there are already areas where the non-denominational are in the majority. "Let us together try to remain visibly present here as a church," said the President. The anniversary celebrations were attended by representatives from politics, society, business and sports, including Norbert Lammert, President of the German Bundestag. Among the 20 or so German bishops were the deputy chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Aachen's Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff, Hamburg's Archbishop Werner Thissen and Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabruck. Also represented was the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Germany and Exarch of Central Europe, Augoustinos Lambardakis. From abroad came Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun from Hong Kong and the Archbishop of Katowice, Damian Zimon. Other participants included the President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Hans Joachim Meyer, and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation, Berthold Beitz.

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