Recalling the end of World War II on Victory in Europe Day today, the German Churches have issued a call “to resist hatred and to advocate for justice and reconciliation”.
– Catholic Bishops’ president admits “complete moral bankruptcy of Germany” in conflict
As German Catholic news agency KNA reported, an ecumenical service in Berlin’s Protestant Cathedral Friday remembered the “millions of people who were murdered in the National Socialists’ concentration camps and extermination camps: Jews, Sinti and Roma, political opponents”, in the words of German Catholic Bishops’ President Bishop Georg Bätzing.
Along with President of the Protestant Church in Germany, Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm; cathedral pastor Petra Zimmermann; Jewish cantor Avitall Gerstetter, and Chairman of the Working Group of Christian Churches in Germany, Orthodox archpriest Radu Constantin Miron, Bätzing presided over a service which due to the coronavirus pandemic took place without a physical congregation but which was broadcast live on national television.
Lamenting the 50 million dead in Europe alone during World War II, Bätzing, the Bishop of Limburg, admitted that the conflict had demonstrated the “complete moral bankruptcy of Germany”.
The prelate urged citizens not to take peace for granted, but instead to work for harmony, since reconciliation needs people “who carry a hope inside because they are convinced they are not alone but rather that God himself, his spirit, is with them”.
The lessons of World War II are especially important today, Bätzing insisted, in the face of conflicts in places like the Middle East or Ukraine or the drama of the migrants who drown while crossing the Mediterranean.
– Protestant Church head: “Against any forgetting we say: Yes, we became guilty”
For his part, Bishop Bedford-Strohm acknowledged German responsibility for the war, and insisted: “Against any forgetting and against any relativising we say: Yes, we became guilty”.
“We plunged all of Europe and large parts of the world into misery”, the Lutheran bishop admitted.
However, Bedford-Strohm celebrated that German culpability for the Holocaust had not resulted in the country’s eternal rejection.
“Our erstwhile enemies approached us again. They have become friends”, the bishop said, adding that he was grateful “that many of our Jewish brethren remained, that many returned to the country which had inflicted such incomprehensible things on them and reached out their hands in reconciliation”.
– Lessons for today
Also on Friday, Cologne archbishop Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki took to Twitter to encourage Germans to remember their “special responsibility for peace and international understanding”.
“Today I am grateful for the 75 years of peace that have been given to us and at the same time pray for the countless victims of the Nazi regime”, Cardinal Woelki wrote.
For his part, Hamburg archbishop Stefan Hesse said today in a service broadcast from the chapel of his residence that World War II still constitutes a point of reference three-quarters of a century later.
“The memory of the murdered and fallen, of the wounded and traumatised, of the displaced and suffering does not go away – regardless of the time and situation in which we find ourselves as a society”, Archbishop Hesse insisted.
Bishop of Fulda Michael Gerber, meanwhile, urged Europeans to draw on the painful memories of the conflict to work for cohesion on the continent today.
“The great challenges of our time can only be solved in a spirit of partnership and peace”, Bishop Gerber stressed.
Earlier this week, Bishop of Mainz and President of Pax Christi Germany, Peter Kohlgraf, said that the tragedy of World War II must serve as a reminder of the European vocation as “a common peace project” in the face of “strengthening nationalisms”.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the Archbishop of Munich and Freising, added that the conflict is a spur “to look after one another, protect every human life and stand up for peace and justice for all people”.
“Regardless of religion, denomination and gender: We are a human family!”, Cardinal Marx highlighted.
Berlin archbishop Heiner Koch also called for his par, for resistance to nationalisms and authoritarianisms.
The war’s legacy is that “we are obliged to decisively oppose the division of nationalism, ‘ethnic’ thinking and ‘authoritarian rule'”, said the prelate, adding: “We must not remain silent about this, ever”.