As in many dioceses, the Archdiocese of Cologne has suspended all church services because of the coronavirus pandemic. "It's all pretty jarring," says cathedral chaplain Dominik Meiering. But the crisis also holds opportunities.
Interviewer: It is a special Sunday. The church bells will no longer be ringing until Good Friday to invite people to worship. Not only in the archdiocese of Cologne, but also in other dioceses. What do you do with those who are still standing in front of the churches today because they haven't heard about it yet??
Canon Dominik Meiering: We will be here in downtown Cologne with the chaplains at the churches at service times to welcome those who come and inform them about what has happened since yesterday. After the press conference of the city yesterday, it was clear that all public events in the city of Cologne will be canceled.
The dean of the city, Kleine, the dean of the cathedral, Bachner, and the vicar general, Hofmann, sat down together and thought about whether it would not make sense to do the same for the entire archdiocese. The archbishop agreed, of course, because this is also his personal concern. It's also the church's shared responsibility.
And with that it is clear: Today there are no more services in our churches in the archdiocese. I myself have a small chapel at home and will celebrate Holy Mass privately, but I will include all those who would have liked to come to Mass in my thoughts and prayers.
Interviewer: Christians are obliged to work on Sundays. Explain briefly: what is Sunday duty then?
Meiering: Well, it is intended that we go to church on Sundays – for our own sanctification and strengthening in faith, but also as a sign of fellowship and joy for others. It is a "duty" in "quotation marks", a moral duty in the sense of "It is good for me and for the other that we do not have the faith only as an idea in our heads, but that we really live it also in the execution of worship."
Of course, in such a situation, one can ask the question: What comes first – the right to bodily integrity, or just to practice religion in church and worship together? I think the first and most important thing, of course, is that people are healthy. And if such a pandemic is on the way, then something must be done.
I was convinced that if we do nothing today, in two weeks there will not be enough hospital beds available. I was touched by that, because it's a responsibility that we have as churches and as believers. Even if it feels quite strange at first to celebrate church services on the radio or on television.
Interviewer: Is celebrating on the Internet an alternative??
Meiering: Absolutely! I think we don't have to give up our faith, on the contrary. What you are doing here on the radio is great. The Mass from the Cathedral will now be transmitted and will take place in the Marian Chapel. There's only one organist and one sexton, or something like that. I have never experienced anything like this before, but that is the way it is. And I think so, you can then also gather at home in front of the TV, this site.Turn on DE, Bible TV or EWTN streaming and join in the worship service and also take spiritual communion.
We know that we are connected with many thousands of people who are doing exactly the same thing. Going to church once, lighting a candle, I don't think is wrong either. Of course, the elderly or those who are particularly vulnerable should stay nicely at home. But there is also the substitutionary praying of others for those who cannot go outside the door at that moment.
Interviewer: our site expands its offer. We are now also broadcasting in the evening at 18.30 o'clock the devotion from the Marienkapelle in the Cologne cathedral. What other precautions are being taken in the Archdiocese of Cologne??
Meiering: Well, we have already said a few days ago, we have to stop all meetings in our parishes, all meetings of the groups, committees and associations – about as long as now the schools are suspended. This concerns many areas: Children's groups, youth groups, old people's groups, choirs, the whole First Communion preparation. That shakes everything up quite a bit. And of course we are also asking ourselves with the pastoral team here in downtown Cologne: What will this do to our congregations??
But I think it needs calm and trust. Trust above all in the state authorities and in those responsible in our archdiocese. Each of us knows things better. It's like soccer. There are so and so many soccer coaches who know exactly what should have been done or should be done here. I think it is important that there are people who have responsibility, who do not only look at the individual, but at the whole. And even though we may not understand or be able to personally assess things, we have to trust that these people are doing it well.
We also need trust in humanity, that we look out for each other and realize where someone needs help, where someone is perhaps not well, where I could help someone by doing errands, whom could I call?. I think it's a bit like an unintentional retreat. My everyday life is interrupted and I become someone completely different – forced to do so. What does that mean for me and my everyday life? We have to develop trust in ourselves and in our fellow human beings – and of course trust in God. We can do that through prayer.
This basic trust in those responsible, in humanity, in God – perhaps we can learn this existentially anew in these days.
Interviewer: How do you deal with this as a pastoral team? Is there a need for more discussion among the community members??
Meiering: We'll see about that now. We noticed yesterday that the phone, WhatsApp and all social media were running hot. People have all kinds of questions. That keeps us on our toes. It starts in the kindergarten with the kindergarten mother and ends in the old people's home with the question, how is it now with the communion of the sick?? It really does affect the whole lifespan – to the point of thinking, how do we now organize the burial in the cemetery when the exequies – the masses beforehand in the church – no longer take place.
There are lots of things to organize and plan now. Life seems to be at a standstill, but in the hearts of the people it is of course totally agitated. We want to deal with this now calmly with the pastors and try to be with the people. I believe that the most important thing now is to take a serious and good look at all the many questions, concerns and needs and to talk about them with each other. Sharing that with each other and working through it as we can. We are capable of acting in many things. We act to the best of our conscience and knowledge, which is imperfect. But to share that with each other, that's already worth a lot.
Interviewer: Many bars and restaurants remain closed or have certain requirements they must adhere to. Will Cologne Cathedral also close in the foreseeable future?
Meiering: We do not intend to do that. The cathedral is not so high on the danger scale. It's a big space that continues to be well ventilated. If there are no shared services in the next few days and weeks, it's fine to go there on your own. It's almost like being out in the fresh air.
But we will of course monitor the situation closely. This affects all our church houses, institutions and churches. And then we will look closely at what is to be done. We realize that the situation can sometimes change within a few hours. Yesterday I wrote three messages to my staff, each with a different content, because the factual situation has changed again and again. But I think now we have a status to go on with for the next days. And then it will be seen what happens next.
The interview was conducted by Katharina Geiger.