“He will proclaim the truth to us”

Joachim Cardinal Meisner hopes for Pope Benedict XVI. During his visit to Germany, an unabridged proclamation of the Christian faith and clear announcements for Catholics and Protestants. In the interview, the Archbishop of Cologne also talks about theologian Pope Joseph Ratzinger and about the situation of East German Catholics in the GDR and today.

CBA: Cardinal, you recently experienced the Pope in Spain, as he completed an enormous workload in great heat. The travel program in Germany is also tight. How does he manage it at his age?

Meisner: I do not know that either. I am just always amazed. Probably he also draws strength from the encounter with people. It is a bit of a mystery. After all, he is seven years older than I am, so there is certainly a kind of grace in his office.
CBA: Now he is coming to us soon. It is the first official visit to Germany. What does the pope have to say to the German people??

Meisner: I am curious what he will tell us. For the Pope is the personified Catholic catechism. He will proclaim the truth to us. And the truth has a face, that is Jesus Christ. He will bring this to us in all its depth and breadth and height, as Paul describes it. All people of good will will be moved by this.
CBA: But he does not only meet people of good will in Germany. How will he react?

Meisner: After all, the Pope is not supposed to dilute the message in order to possibly be accepted by those as well. He must proclaim the whole message, just as Jesus did. And this message is true, it is good and it is beautiful. Just to present the beauty of the Gospel is given to this pope, after all.
CBA: Back then, shortly before the conclave, you visited him in Rome and implored him to be ready for the papacy. Have the expectations you placed in him been fulfilled??

Meisner: Yes, completely! He proclaimed faith in Jesus Christ in a way that is surprising. And look at the reactions: The number of pilgrims has increased. And what do the? To the old pope we came to see him. And now we go to Benedict XVI., to hear him. This shows all his strength. Only I must honestly say that I was mistaken in the reaction of the Germans. I did not expect that many would react so negatively. This also affects me personally. The pope is the head of the college of bishops, and whoever strikes the head strikes everyone.
CBA: Which book by Joseph Ratzinger would you recommend to prepare for the papal visit??

Meisner: His "Introduction to Christianity". The book hits the mentality of today's people and leads to the center of the Gospel. And there are answers, which one finds confirmed by the development since the year of publication 1968. I was ordained a priest in 1962, but I only became a bit of a theologian by reading this book.
CBA: And also?

Meisner: Everything he wrote about the liturgy. The Church needs nothing more than to return to the center of the liturgy – in the sense that the liturgy is not made by us, but that our worship is participation in the heavenly liturgy.
CBA: Wouldn't the return to the old liturgy then be more consistent?

Meisner: The crucial point lies elsewhere: the hunger for the old liturgy arose because the new liturgy was often malformed. How many people tell me that they always have to get angry about self-dramatizations in church services and go to church with trepidation.
CBA: Back to the journey. Pope visits two rather poor dioceses, Berlin and Erfurt. Will the rich archdiocese of Cologne help a little financially??

Meisner: These are such prejudices. The church tax revenues in Erfurt and Berlin have increased. These are no longer poor dioceses, and we are not the big, rich diocese. We are the largest diocese in terms of numbers and therefore we have the most extensive budget. But I don't think Cologne will have to do anything extra for this visit.
CBA: Berlin and Erfurt are dioceses of a Catholic minority. What does the Pope's visit mean for the Catholics there??

Meisner: We Catholics in GDR socialism had only the Pope to thank for our inner freedom. The state secretary for church affairs, Klaus Gysi, the old Gysi, often told me when I had again been – as he thought – cheeky: "With you four percent Hanseln we would have been finished long ago, if behind you would not stand the white man in Rome and thus almost a billion Catholics."And when now the Pope, the head of the worldwide Church, comes to such a small flock, it is a tremendous revaluation. I often told the Pope about the Eichsfeld, where I had been chaplain. And he said: I want to visit these faithful Catholics and make an extra visit there, because they had a particularly hard time under socialism.
CBA: A main focus of this trip will be the meeting with the representatives of the Protestant churches. What do you expect from it?

Meisner: This point of the program has been extended by the Pope himself. This shows that he is not, as is often said, seeking understanding only with the Eastern Churches. The meetings in Erfurt will certainly improve the climate. But of course he must stick to the truth. He will not back away from the declaration "Dominus Iesus" from 2000, where he emphasized the uniqueness of the Catholic Church. And after everything where Protestants have left us alone lately – on abortion, on PGD, on the problem of same-sex partnerships – he will also have to tell them: Keep the faith also in the Christian doctrine of life, do not go everywhere with the spirit of the times!
CBA: Will the Pope also comment on the dialogue process of the Catholic Church during the trip?

Meisner: He is very well informed about the developments in Germany. And that is why he does not rely on alleged secret papers about alleged church splits. But he prays daily, like every priest: "Keep us from confusion and sin!" And the confusion of spirits is a real danger. The dialogue process must bring about what the Holy Father also has constantly in mind: To update the faith, not cheapen it, to say it in a language that people understand. If the church, like the pope, is all ears for God and equally all ears for the people, there will be no confusion.

The interview was conducted by Ludwig Ring-Eifel (Editor-in-Chief KNA)

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