Angela Merkel has called into question the Christian faith of her critics as she defended herself over her decision to relax immigration rules in Germany over recent weeks.
Senior members of the sister party to Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats party - the Bavarian-based Christian Social Union - have labelled the large influx of refugees a political mistake that is in danger of overwhelming the country.
In the first weekend since Germany allowed refugees that had fleed through Hungary to Austria to walk in numbers through its borders, 20,000 arrived in Munich seeking asylum, while last Saturday alone a further 10,000 arrived by train.
Many locals warmly welcomed the first refugees as they arrived at Munich train station, but now the Bavarian state capital authorities are saying that they are stretched past their limits as migrants continue to arrive.
At least 175,000 are thought to have made it to Hungary from Syria so far this year.
Horst Seehofer, head of the CSU, told German magazine Der Spiegel that the decision to open the borders was a mistake and that he sees no “possibility of putting the stopper back in the bottle”.
Other senior members of his party expressed a wide range of concerns: from a worry that the new mostly-Muslim arrivals may be offended by the influx of drinkers to the city during Oktoberfest, to a growing fear among the local population of Islamisation.
In a thinly-veiled counter to her critics Mrs Merkel said that instead of fearing taking in Muslim refugees would lead to the Islamisation, German Christians should confess and practise their faith.
Migrants begin the walk that ultimately ended in Munich Photo: CNS
“Fear is always a bad counsellor,” Mrs Merkel recalled when asked at a discussion on the refugee problem how she intended to protect Europe and German culture from Islamisation. Greater devotion to their own Christian faith might help those German Christians who so feared Islamisation, she suggested.
Her remarks greatly impressed senior Christians in Germany and abroad. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna who immediately reported what she had said in his weekly column in the Vienna free paper Heute, said: “Today I will let the German Chancellor have a say. Her reply to a worrying question is really noteworthy.”
“Let’s have the courage to state that we are Christian and not be afraid to enter into a dialogue,” Mrs Merkel said and recalled that 50m Germans - 61 per cent of the German population - were Christian. In everyday life that meant “keeping up our tradition of going to church and being well-versed in the Bible”, she said.
German Christians knew very little about their faith. “If you were to get people to write an essay on the meaning of Pentecost, you would soon see that people’s knowledge of Christianity leaves much to be desired,” she added.
This morning the German chancellor reinstated temporary border controls with Austria as she admitted that the country was stretched to the limit.
German vice-chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel also announced that it is expecting to take in 1 million refugees this year, 200,000 more than earlier predictions.