“Germany is not the navel of the world”

The Synod of Bishops comes to an end after three weeks in Rome. The Bochum theologian Thomas Soding participated as an advisor. On our site interview, he talks about the results of the meeting – and warns against transferring the situation of the German church to the rest of the world.

Interviewer: As the synod draws to a close, what insights and new experiences will the bishops bring with them on Sunday??

Soding: Brimming with new impressions. Such a synod gathers many colleagues from all over the world. And all have contributed their reflections. New evangelization is a topic that has arrived in the church. And this will probably also be the most important task that the bishops from Germany will have to communicate in Germany: that this theme of faith will shake up the Catholic Church a little bit, but also shake it up.
Interviewer: Has there been any progress in the question of how to spread the faith again??

Soding: There is not the big master plan now, you can't expect it from the synod like that. But there are a number of trends. The Catholic Church is reflecting on its own strengths, which include the liturgy, the rediscovery of Bible study and the catechetical programs that exist. These should not be seen only from the point of view of what is not working, but also from the point of view of what is working. The church does not have to be reinvented, but it must be networked in the present. That is the most important thing.
Interviewer: The topic of interreligious dialogue, especially the relationship with Islam, was obviously very dominant. Many local churches around the world are affected by the advance of the Islamic religion. What solutions have been found at the synod??

Soding: It is very important for the situation in Germany to recognize: Secularism, i.e. the disappearance of religion, is not necessarily a worldwide problem. Especially in some Islamic dominated countries there is a "too much" of religion; then when one religion wants to dominate another one. This is often politically very difficult for the Christian communities there, because religious freedom is restricted. There the synod has set clear signs of solidarity, that was very important. But in the end it is about more. Islam is a challenge because it asks us Christians how we feel about confessing the one God. And there we have to communicate the simple answers of the Christian faith even better, also in Germany: God is not lonely, God is not isolated, God is not someone who just makes decisions, but God is love, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Interviewer: There were also critical comments about the synod, for example from Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, who said that the synod was not sufficiently shaped by the personal experiences of the participants. Would you also say that?

Soding: He said this relatively at the beginning, and later many bishops took this demand to heart. The synod was not borne by great tensions because everyone, in their different situations, recognized: We have nothing better than this Gospel, and therefore we must join all forces to make the Church strong and grow again in the situation we find each other in. If one wants to observe this critically, one can say that the opportunities that are currently available have been somewhat less in view than the problems. But I firmly believe that the last phase after the synod – there will be a major post-synodal letter – will be used to work on these shortcomings.
Interviewer: Back to Germany. Here, too, the Church has to struggle with problems. However – so the impression is – the topics, which burn the Catholics in Germany under the nails, are treated in Rome little. What impulses does the synod give for the church in Germany??

Soding: First of all, the synod gives the impulse that Germany is not the navel of the world. Some of the problems that exist in Germany are seen very differently elsewhere. At the same time, problems such as a growing number of divorces and weakening ties to the church are widespread. These problems have been recognized, and the German bishops have also addressed them. For example, a major current challenge is how to better address and appreciate the laity, who in the future will be called upon in a very different way in the parishes; also what theological place they have in the church. That was a strong impulse, which also came from Germany: Look there, and make the people strong, on whom it depends in the end.

The interview was conducted by Tobias Fricke.

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