Church leaders call for Germany to play a more aggresive role in world affairs

Lutheran Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm and Cardinal Reinhard Marx signal support for German military intervention abroad.

Bishop Dr. Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chair of the German  Bishops’ Conference, have issued the following statement to mark the end of World War II 70 years ago:

 

“On 8 May 1945 there was a ceasefire in Europe. After almost six years of war came the unconditional capitulation of National Socialist Germany, that had unleashed this war. Europe lay in ruins, millions of people had been killed, shamefully treated and displaced.

When thinking back at this today we are thankful that a new stable, peaceful and democratic order in Europe has grown out of the external ruins and the internal disruptions after the total collapse. Contrary to what one might expect, former opponents reached out to the German people. This outstretched hand made it much easier for Germany to honestly confess its guilt for the criminal war of annihilation and extermination. The recognition of guilt and responsibility for many millions of fallen soldiers, killed civilians, people subject to persecution and bondage and, above all, for the unimaginable atrocity of the Shoah, has today become an immutable part of the political identity of our country. We commemorate the victims of war, wrong-doing and violence with deep emotion. Still today, the victims and their history remain present and call us to account.

It is very painful to recognise the guilt of Christians and churches, both through their actions and through their silence. The division between perpetrators and victims ran right through the churches. We remember with great gratitude the courageous witnesses who rose up against wrong-doing and barbarism. Yet we also confess that the churches did not resist these wrongs clearly enough and that many Christians willingly succumbed to the inhumane ideology of National Socialism and the resultant criminal actions.

It took a long time for Germany to want to recognise 8 May 1945 not just as a day of defeat but as a ‘day of liberation’. When in 1985 then federal president Richard von Weizsäcker used this phrase in his famous speech marking the 40th anniversary of the end of the war it triggered heated debates. Today we can see things more clearly. For Germany, 8 May marked the gift of an undeserved fresh start. But for many it also meant fleeing, displacement and German division owing to the confrontation of the eastern and western blocs. It did not lead to freedom for all people in Germany and Europe, and it also brought a lack of freedom to other systems, although these cannot, of course, be compared to National Socialism. This too is part of the trail of violence following the war unleashed by Germany.

The process of European unification was, and is, a real and indispensable response to these experiences. We are grateful for what has been achieved this way. But peace and prosperity do not prevail all over Europe. Violence and war also exist on our continent, and have not yet been overcome, contrary to other hopes. With great concern we follow the tensions in the Balkans, Bosnia and Kosovo. In the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea we note the way borders are being changed again by armed force, with people being forced to flee and being killed. We see that peace and freedom in Europe is an ongoing challenge. European unity is a necessary precondition for this, particularly in the way it has been taken forward in the European Union.

Looking back to the end of the war – with the millions who were uprooted and forced to flee – makes us doubly aware today of the hardship and distress of refugees seeking a place to survive in Europe. It is intolerable for us that thousands are losing their lives on the borders of Europe. That is quite unacceptable!

In the immediate neighbourhood of Europe, in the Middle East and in North Africa, states are breaking apart, human rights are being trampled underfoot. Murder, torture and violence are the order of the day. Many Christians are falling victim to religious persecution. Shaped by the experiences of the world wars, Europe today bears responsibility as a power for peace. In Syria, in Iraq, in Libya and elsewhere, Germany and Europe need to make a vigorous contribution to finding credible political solutions and a just peace order.

For our churches we believe and confess together in ecumenical bonds, in the words of the Apostle Paul: ‘Christ is our peace’ (Ephesians 2:14). The love of God for us overcomes hatred and opens space for peace. At a time in which the voices of hate and violence are being raised again, we remember the historical experiences of Europe, the war, destruction and guilt and also the new beginning, forgiveness and reconciliation. We ask Christians, those with responsibility in politics and society, and all people of good will to follow the path of peace and justice in their prayers and actions.”

Hanover, 6 May 2015

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