07 January 2015, The Tablet

German bishops appeal for calm over demos

German bishops have called for an “unemotional, objective” debate on immigration, the growing number of refugees and Islam, in the face of demonstrations that are dividing German society.

The Pegida movement  (“Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Western World”) has held regular Monday marches in Dresden, where it was founded, since October. By Christmas, the Monday evening marches in Dresden had reached 15,000.

While 18,000 marchers, the highest number to date, turned out in Dresden on Monday this week, counter-demonstrations have also gathered momentum. Only 500 Pegida marchers turned up in Cologne on Monday and they soon called off their march when they were faced with over 5,000 who opposed it. Earlier in the week, the dean of Cologne cathedral, Norbert Feldhoff, announced that he had decided to switch off the cathedral floodlighting before the planned Pegida march so that the world famous cathedral could not be used as a backdrop.

“While the right-wing scene in Germany has not grown any smaller, we are really faced with Islamic conquest rhetoric. You only have to look in the internet to realise that. Both sides spur each other on,” the President of the German bishops’ conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, told the KNA agency.

Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke, who is responsible for inter-religious affairs in the German bishops’ conference, warned against branding all Pegida participants racist, and called for an “unemotional, objective” debate.

“Trust can only grow if we talk to one another”, he underlined. The Pegida protests were the tip of a widespread mood in the German population and whoever condemned such fears as racist encouraged the polarisation of society, he said. It was now the task of level-headed forces like the Church to promote dialogue between the different groups in society, Bishop Jaschke emphasised.

Asked for his opinion regarding the Pegida marches, the German nuncio, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, said he thought it important to involve the German public to a greater extent in the discussions concerning refugees. “The cause of the problem is that people all over the world are being persecuted and the majority are Christians. This is a very difficult situation in which we must seek dialogue with Islam”, he told katholisch.de.

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