Catholics all over the world share the same set of core beliefs and practices.
But the ways the faithful actually live out those beliefs and practices differ.
That’s the opinion of the Bishop of Magdeburg, Gerhard Feige, who in a new book addresses the thorny question of Church unity in cultural diversity.
Driving the news
Feige’s new book is entitled Anders katholisch (“Differently Catholic”).
As katholisch.de reports, the bishop’s central idea is that “Catholic is not the same thing always and everywhere: in Italy as in Sweden, in Poland as in Germany, in Papua New Guinea as in the USA, in Bavaria as in Schleswig-Holstein, in the Rhineland as in Saxony-Anhalt”.
For Feige, different countries and communities can be “differently Catholic” by virtue of their unique histories and socio-cultural challenges that distinguish them from other regions.
In his book Feige answers questions such as “How does one recognise Christians?”, “What’s unique about the Church?” or “What do Catholics live for?”
All through the lens of his experience as bishop of Magdeburg, in the former East Germany, one of Germany’s largest dioceses by geographical size but smallest in terms of Catholic population.
“One of our areas of tension is that there are few Catholics scattered across a wide area”, said Feige, reflecting on the fact that the diocese of Magdeburg has just 84,000 Catholics spread over an area of 24,000 square kilometres.
“Undoubtedly, these circumstances affect our self-image, our social role and our practical accomplishments”, said the bishop, admitting that among the people in the region it is seen as “normal” not to belong to any Church.
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For the record
Feige, himself an East German by birth, defends in his book the special identity of the faithful of Magdeburg.
Although Catholics in the region might not be as “traditional” and “folkloristic” as Catholics in other regions in Germany, “we are not less Catholics”, the bishop said.
“The Church is not bound by particular circumstances. It can take root everywhere – even under the most difficult circumstances – and unfold and fulfill its purpose”, added Feige.
Hence the bishop’s call to the Catholics of Magdeburg to be a “creative minority” in society.
And his commitment to give laypeople more and more “responsibility” for parish life.
Not just as stopgap solutions for the shortage of priests, but also in line with the conviction of the Church expressed at the Second Vatican Council.
“That all believers are Church and that Church doesn’t just happen where the priest is”, said Feige.