“As a Church we have to stand up for those with no lobby”, a German priest advocate for migrant workers has declared.

– Agitating for social justice “the DNA of Christianity”

“Despite all the criticism and questioning of the Church that exists today… solidarity with underprivileged people is something that society still trusts in us and that it also expects from Church people: that they be advocates, that they lobby for those who have no lobby”, Father Peter Kossen told DW in an interview published August 22.

Kossen has been making headlines for his unwavering commitment to migrant workers in slaughterhouses in Germany that have suffered shocking outbreaks of the coronavirus – above all, the priest says, due to the exploitative living and working conditions that those workers are forced to endure.

In May Kossen even went to an abattoir in Coesfeld in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia to protest against what he called the conditions of “modern slavery” at the plant.

In his conversation with DW Saturday, the priest said that kind of action for social justice “is the core of the Church… the DNA of Christianity”.

“The need, the injustice, the social fault lines must be a sting that outrages us full-time members of the Church, but also all Christians. This indignation guides and motivates me… it does not leave me alone”, Kossen explained.

– “As a priest I lead a very bourgeois life, but I try hard to be found on the margins of society”

For his commitment to migrant workers and to the cause of social justice, Father Kossen, 52, was due to be honoured this Sunday with the North Rhine-Westphalian Order of Merit, a decoration he was to receive from state chief minister Armin Laschet.

Kossen said, however, that he doesn’t do what he does in order to be recognised, but rather as a way of placing himself in the tradition of the Judeo-Christian prophets he said have always “pointed out to society that parts of it live at the expense of others”.

In that vein, Kossen revealed that in his ministry he has taken his cue from Pope Francis and his constant plea to the Church: “Go to the margins of society!”

“That is what I am trying to do”, explained the priest.

“I’m more likely to be found on the fringes than among the middle classes. Certainly, I come from this middle class, and the life I lead as a priest is first of all a very bourgeois life. But I try hard to be found there on the fringes and to take sides visibly for the people concerned”, he said.

– “For some people it is a nuisance when a priest calls a spade a spade”

Kossen observed that some people, Catholic or not, in the “bourgeois milieu” of European societies can find even “offensive” his deep commitment as a priest to the human dignity of migrants, on the one hand, and of workers, on the other.

“For some people it is a nuisance as soon as a priest calls a spade a spade and makes it clear where political responsibilities lie. In the classical political classification this is rather left-wing, maybe”, the priest acknowledged.

But political positioning aside, Kossen urged his fellow Catholics to remember the crux of the gospel and the Church’s social teaching, which he summed up thus:

“We have an idea of human dignity, of justice, of solidarity. And we pursue this idea. In some parts of the world it can even bring death to people. But as a Church we have to stand up for those who… are marginalised”.

More on Novena on Father Kossen’s social justice ministry:

German slaughterhouse anti-slavery priest: “Capital has to serve the people and not vice versa!”

German priest blames “slave drivers” for 600 COVID-19 positives in slaughterhouse with 1,000 workers

German Benedictines come to rescue of exploited slaughterhouse workers infected with COVID-19

German priest says “modern slavery” to blame for COVID-19 outbreaks in slaughterhouses


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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.