“A bishop who radiates joy”

Since Sunday afternoon the diocese of Fulda has again a new bishop. At 49, Michael Gerber is the youngest local Catholic bishop in Germany. He could be in office in Fulda for several decades now.

It is the decisive moment of the ceremony: When Michael Gerber sits down on the bishop's chair for the first time, applause erupts in the packed Fulda Cathedral. With the proverbial "taking possession" of the so-called cathedra, Gerber is in office as the new bishop of the diocese of Fulda. To be present at Gerber's inauguration on this Sunday afternoon, about one thousand people came to the cathedral and, in bright sunshine, several hundred more to the cathedral forecourt, where the event was broadcast on a large screen.

Shaping a culture of humanity

At 49, Gerber is Germany's youngest diocesan bishop. "That was me once – it will pass," said Cardinal Reinhard Marx (65), president of the German Bishops' Conference, in his greeting to laughter from the festive congregation.

In Fulda, Gerber could now be in office for several decades. In his sermon, he called on Christians to shape a worldwide culture of humanity. "Precisely at a time when antagonisms are once again being emphasized more strongly, when those who preach demarcation and erect walls seem to be gaining the upper hand, precisely at this time we are challenged to take on new responsibility for our planet."

Previously a suffragan bishop in Freiburg, Gerber was inaugurated on 13. December 2018 appointed bishop of Fulda by Pope Francis. When Gerber made his first appearance in his future diocese a week later, he was already greeted with unusually loud applause in the cathedral. And at the end surrounded by crowds of people. The fact that he is able to approach different people well was already obvious then.

Marx: liveliness, openness and spiritual depth

Even on Sunday, in view of the 1.92 meter tall, youthfully dynamic bishop, a kind of turning point was perceptible in the cathedral. In his greeting, Cardinal Marx emphasized Gerber's "liveliness", "openness" and "spiritual depth". Gerber is a bishop "who radiates joy," said Marx. Gerber's predecessor Heinz Josef Algermissen (76) was in office for 17 years. He entered the church on 5. June 2018 retirement due to age.

When Michael Gerber got the call a few months ago that he would be the future bishop of Fulda, he was "speechless at first," as he reported to journalists in a rather carefree manner. In his life planning this goal had not been there. "I didn't like leaving Freiburg, but I liked going to Fulda," he said, summing up his mood. Gerber is now the 18. Bishop of the diocese of Fulda, founded in 1752.

Pilgrimage hike before inauguration

On 15. Born in January 1970 in the Black Forest town of Oberkirch, Gerber is considered down-to-earth and close to his homeland. He is an enthusiastic cross-country skier, pilgrim and hiker. On the two days before his inauguration, he undertook a pilgrimage walk on a section of the Boniface Route more than 40 kilometers long to Fulda. On Friday, he was joined by 500 fellow marchers, and on Saturday, according to the diocese, on the final leg from Haimbach to Fulda Cathedral, he was accompanied by nearly 1.000 fellow pilgrims accompanied.

Gerber was considered a young ecclesiastical talent at an early age. After studying theology in Freiburg and Rome, he was ordained a priest in 1997. He had many years of experience in Catholic youth work and was a member of the Youth Commission of the German Bishops' Conference. "I'm someone who really enjoys being with young people," Gerber says of himself. He does not want to lose personal contact even as a bishop. He has cited Pope Francis as a role model several times.

Influenced by the Schoenstatt movement

Gerber's faith is also informed by the Schoenstatt Movement, which is characterized by an intense devotion to Mary and community life. And he is a member of the bishops' Commission for Spiritual Vocations and Ecclesial Ministries. On the ies of compulsory celibacy, restriction of power and sexual morality, he has so far taken only a very cautious position. The demand to release priests from the celibate way of life is not heard from him so far.

He told the faithful that in the future, too, "some tensions will not be resolved. There will also be painful decisions, the new bishop said, without specifying this yet. "The future will also be marked by saying goodbye to things we have come to love," Gerber emphasized and received spontaneous applause in the cathedral for a sentence that was said rather in passing: "Some new things simply don't fit into the prefabricated forms."

In his homily, he also addressed the abuse scandal. Pastors guilty of this would have "blanked out or even split off essential dimensions of their existence". They would have inflicted lifelong harm on protectees. To prevent such crimes in the future, the new bishop of Fulda wants priests to be accompanied more strongly, even in difficult life situations, in "networks of companions". He himself, he said, had been involved in a group of priests for many years. "I couldn't go my way like this without these relationships," Gerber said at his inauguration.

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