“Pope's visit unlikely in 2017”

Pope Francis meets Thuringia's minister president Bodo Ramelow © Osservatore Romano / Handout

Stimulated conversation © Osservatore Romano / Handout

After yesterday's cancellation due to illness, the time had come on Friday: Thuringia's Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow was received in audience by Pope Francis. The greatest wish of the left-wing politician, however, could probably not be fulfilled.

Thuringia's Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow does not expect Pope Francis to come to Germany for the Reformation anniversary in 2017. During his audience with Francis at the Vatican on Friday, the pope received his invitation politely, "but rather with a wink," Ramelow said after the meeting. Accordingly, the Pope definitively ruled out a visit this year, citing his busy schedule. But the pope hoped that Christians in Germany would send a strong message about their shared human values, said Ramelow, who is an avowed Protestant.

Francis has already been invited to visit Germany by German President Joachim Gauck, German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and prime ministers of other German states. A week ago, the chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, told journalists that a visit by the head of the church was no longer an ie for the time being. At the same time, he stressed that this does not mean that the project of the Pope's visit will not be pursued in principle.

Praise for German refugee policy

Ramelow's audience with Francis had originally been scheduled for Thursday, but was postponed due to the pope's illness. During the meeting, which lasted about 30 minutes, he also spoke with the Pope about the de-Christianization of the former GDR by the communist rulers, Ramelow said. As a left-wing politician, he said, he felt a special responsibility to ensure that the SED regime's repressive measures against the churches were not forgotten. The pope, he said, encouraged healing the wounds of the past.

According to Ramelow, one of the most important topics of the discussion was how Germans deal with refugees. He also spoke with Vatican Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin about the ie on Thursday, he told Vatican Radio. What Ramelow sensed from his interlocutors in this regard: "A great appreciation for what Mrs. Merkel has paraphrased with the phrase 'We can do it'. I also made it clear in the conversation that we as the state government in Thuringia would take up the phrase and say: we'll make sure we get there! Every day we provide solutions. The delegation that accompanied me consists of responsible people who are directly involved in refugee work; I also met Eichsfeld District Administrator Dr. (Werner) Henning, who is a CDU member and, as a Catholic, bears responsibility in his district. There, too, it becomes clear that the foundation of Christian charity is also lived politically there and that it does not separate us as democrats."

Statue of St. Elizabeth as a gift

However, the prime minister continued, "If we want to succeed, we also need the money to do so, so that we can manage the integration efforts!" That, he said, was his message to Germany's finance minister, Schauble. The "tiresome question of money" must be resolved – in Berlin, of course, not in the Vatican. The first step, however, was "to invite the population to have courage and not fear". "We want to talk to those who have fears – but we don't want to give space to those who stir up fears, and we certainly must not provide a stage for preachers of hate!"He had expressly thanked the Pope for the fact that the lights at Erfurt Cathedral are switched off when the AfD or similar thinkers demonstrate on the Cathedral Hill.

For his visit to Francis, he said he also received a lot of vituperation and "terrible comments" from the left-wing spectrum on his Facebook page. In the meantime, he deletes such remarks immediately, said Ramelow. As a gift, Ramelow presented the pope with a statue of St. Elizabeth (1207-1231) from Thuringia, Hungary. He also gave him a facsimile of the Luther Bible. Ramelow emphasized to the pope that Martin Luther (1483-1546) wrote this translation during his exile at Wartburg Castle in Thuringia in 1521/22 as a Catholic priest.

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