29 May 2017, The Tablet

Berlin Protestant church day celebrating 500th anniversary of the Reformation attracts thousands

Former US President Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and the Archbishop of Canterbury debated current social and political issues

This years’s Protestant 'Kirchentag', a bi-annual church festival which alternates with the Catholic 'Katholikentag', attracted over 140,000 guests from all over the world to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

For four days from 24 - 28 May, the Kirchentag was one of the highlights of the Reformation Jubilee. Prominent religious leaders, politicians, economists and other well-known personalities, including former US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Muhammad el-Tayyeb, spoke on and debated current social and political issues and thousands worshipped together and attended the many concerts and cultural events. Most of the prominent speakers deplored the recent terrorist attack in Manchester.

Standing in front of the famous Brandenburg Gate - which was cut off from West Berlin by the Berlin Wall during the 40-year Cold War and became the best known symbol of a divided Germany - Barack Obama called out to the crowds, “ In this new world we live in, we can’t isolate ourselves, we can’t hide behind a wall.”

It was imperative to “push back against those trends that would violate human rights or suppress democracy or restrict individual freedoms of conscience”, he underlined during a 90-minute discussion on democracy and global responsibility together with Merkel on the opening day.

Strongly supported by Obama, Merkel defended her asylum policy. Pointing to the “dilemma” of the gulf between Christian compassion and Realpolitik , she once again underlined the importance of welcoming those in real need of protection but rejecting those who did not conform to asylum conditions.

Addressing the Kirchentag on the opening day, Archbishop Justin Welby, the first Anglican archishop to do so, spoke of the terrorist attacks in Berlin before Christmas and the recent attack in Manchester. “We pray, we mourn, we lament, we cry out, we protest, he said.  

Shattered by news of the attack on Coptic Christians south of Cairo, Grand Imam el-Tayyeb of Al Azhar warned against fundamentalist terrorism. Islamist terrorists were not Muslims as genuine believers could not carry out terrorist attacks, he emphasised.

The Kirchentag ended at Wittenberg. After holding a “Night of Lights” on the Elbe meadows organised by the Taizé Community, thousands gathered for the festive service at noon on Sunday. The sermon was held by the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba. “The Reformation which Luther initiated was more than a theological watershed. It was defining moment in our sociological and political evolution... interpreted in today’s context, it can become our guide, our inspirational GPS”.

PICTURE: Former US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a panel discussion about democracy at the Protestant Kirchentag (Church Day) in Berlin, Germany on 25 May

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