FaithWorld

German film explores Muslims struggling with life in West

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Burhan Qurbani at the Berlinale International Film Festival, 17 Feb 2010/Tobias Schwarz

German-Afghan director Burhan Qurbani shines the spotlight on the difficulties facing young Muslims in the western world in his first feature film “Shahada”, set in multicultural Berlin. The film, which won applause at its screening at the Berlin film festival on Wednesday, is about the intertwining tales of three young German-born Muslims struggling to reconcile their family faith and traditions with a modern, Western lifestyle.

“My motivation was to get the audience to look at the film and connect with this religion that is all around them,” said Qurbani, born in Germany of Afghan parents. “I hope the film will get the public to talk, to debate.”

“Shahada” is part of a recent wave of critically acclaimed German movies challenging cultural stereotypes and exploring the difficulties facing the so-called second generation of immigrant communities.

Read the whole story here.

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Can we expect Freudian slips when Benedict meets Irish bishops?

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This week's cover of the German newsweekly Der Spiegel -- the title says "The sanctimonious ones -- the Catholic Church and sex"

If there ever were a time for Pope Benedict to commit a Freudian slip that we could all understand, it would be in his meetings next week with Irish bishops to discuss the clerical sex abuse scandals that have shaken the Emerald Isle.

It’s not hard to imagine him meeting the Hibernian hierarchy behind closed Vatican doors and occasionally referring to the scandals “in Germany” rather than “in Ireland.” If he does, the Irish bishops will certainly forgive him. Enough has been happening in his fatherland recently to distract him from the uproar about the recent reports of clergy excesses in Ireland.

Sexual abuse charges at Jesuit schools shock Germany

Germany’s leading Jesuit official has apologised for a growing number of sexual abuse cases at Jesuit high schools that have come to light recently. School officials there had failed to respond properly when they first heard of the allegations years ago, Father Stefan Dartmann, the head of Germany’s Jesuit order, said.

Dartmann said he knew of 25 former pupils who said they had been abused at presitgious Jesuit schools between 1975 and 1984 — 20 at the  Canisius Kolleg in Berlin, 3 at the  Hamburger St. Ansgar Schule in Hamburg and 2 at the Kolleg St. Blasien in St. Blasien in the Black Forest.
Berlin's Jesuit Canisius Kolleg

Berlin's Jesuit Canisius Kolleg

German media reported the first cases last week but the number of alleged victims has been growing and the possibility of a wider scandal looms.  “I’m worried that a storm is going to break out now,” said the former director of Kolleg St. Blasien, Father Hans Joachim Martin.

from Global News Journal:

Modern form of bank robbery?

Germany has signalled it is ready to pay a thief who stole secret bank data in Switzerland in order to collect a small fortune in taxes and fines for tax evasion. According to media reports, the data may relate to money held by 1,500 Germans dodging taxes by hiding their money in Swiss bank accounts.
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But is it right for a state based on the rule of law to pay for stolen data? Is it a question of the ends justifying the means (exitus acta probat)? Or is it simply a modern form of bank robbery, like a Swiss lawmaker called it so colorfully on Tuesday?

It's a question that has caused a stir on both sides of the German-Swiss border. Do two wrongs make a right? Can stolen data be used as evidence in court? Or is acceptable for a state to reward a thief in the pursuit of the greater good of fighting tax evasion -- seen as a more serious crime?

Germans understandably have a deep suspicion about invasion of privacy after their ominous past experience with the Nazi's Gestapo and the East German Stasi security police.  And Switzerland has historical hang ups about about Germany. There have been spirited debates on the moral pros and cons of the latest immoral offer for days.

Teach Islam at German universities – academic council report

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Humboldt University in Berlin, 8 Jan 2010/Friedrich Petersdorff

Germany should set up centres for Islamic studies at two or three state universities to educate Muslim scholars, teachers and pastoral workers for its large Muslim minority, an academic advisory council has said. The Council on Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat) said the lack of such institutes at universities, which already teach Christian and Jewish theology, “does not do justice to the importance of the largest non-Christian faith community in Germany.”

Muslim organisations should join advisory boards to help develop Islam institutes and choose faculty members and all main Muslim views in Germany should be represented, it said in a report (here in German) on Monday.

“For me, this is part of a modern integration policy,” Education Minister Annette Schavan told Deutschlandfunk radio in Berlin. “The main question will be who the partner is in developing this.”

Thundering sermons produce surprising results in Germany’s Afghanistan debate

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Bishop Margot Kässmann

Thundering sermons can produce some surprising results in Germany these days.

Bishop Margot Kässmann, the new head of Germay’s main association of Protestant churches (EKD — Evangelical Church in Germany), reaped a tirade of criticism from politicians after she denounced Germany’s military mission in a New Year’s sermon at the Berlin Cathedral, the city’s huge monument to Prussian Protestantism. A church leader calls for peace — that’s not news. Politicians supporting soldiers at the front — that’s not a headline either.

But then came a few interesting twists.  Instead of simply fueling the polemics, Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg — surprise #1 — invited her to meet and exchange views. At the meeting in Berlin on Monday, he  — surprise #2 — invited Kässmann to visit the troops in Afghanistan soon. According to the Rheinische Post newspaper, they — surprise #3 — agreed to set up a “regular dialogue between the churches and the Bundeswehr (armed forces).” Anyone who has been following Kässmann, the 51-year-old Lutheran bishop of Hannover elected last October as Germany’s top Protestant leader (and the first woman to hold the post), would say the only non-surprise in all this was that she accepted the invitation to Afghanistan. She is not someone to run away from challenges. guttenberg

German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg visits German troops in Kunduz, 13 Nov 2009/Michael Kappeler

The Swiss minaret ban and other trends for Islam in Europe

minarets-trainSwitzerland’s vote to ban minarets on mosques there raises the question of whether anything similar might happen elsewhere in Europe. Researching this for an analysis of the vote today, I found experts distinguished between actually banning an Islamic symbol such as the minaret and using the minaret example to fan voters’ fears and boost a (usually far-right) party’s chances at the polls. It seems Switzerland’s trademark direct democracy system makes it possibly the only country in Europe where both seem possible right now. (Photo: Vote “yes” posters in Zurich’s main train station, 26 Oct 2009/Arnd Wiegmann)

This distinction could become more important in coming months as far-right parties, as they are expected to do, try to exploit the minaret ban to rally support for their anti-immigration policies. The Swiss far right has already suggested going for a ban of full facial veils (aka burqas and niqabs) next. Marine Le Pen, deputy leader of France’s National Front, has called for a referendum in France not only on minarets, but also on immigration and a wide array of other issues linked to Muslims. Filip Dewinter, head of Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, said he wanted to change zoning laws there to ban buildings that damage the cultural identity of the surrounding neighbourhood”. It remains to be seen how far they can get with these demands.

At the same time, the consensus reaction from politicians and the press across Europe today was critical of the Swiss vote. Most of the excited calls for more action come from fringe parties the majority parties keep at a distance (except the Northern League, which is part of Silvio Berlusconi’s government in Italy). Referendums are not as easy to stage in other European countries and are even banned in Germany, where the up-and-coming team of Hitler andGoebbels used them before 1933 to rally support for the Nazi Party.

Russian Orthodox wants joint traditional front with Catholics


(Video: Archbishop Hilarion holds a news conference in French during his Paris visit, 13 Nov 2009/courtesy of Orthodoxie.com)

Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, the Russian Orthodox Church’s top official for relations with other churches, has been busy this past week putting his revived church’s stamp on the world Christian scene. Over the weekend, he urged Catholics and Orthodox to join forces to defend their traditional version of Christianity. His comments, made during a visit to Paris to inaugurate his Church’s first seminary outside of Russia, come only days after positive remarks he made last week about how the Vatican and Moscow were slowly moving towards a meeting between Moscow’s Patriarch Kirill and Pope Benedict. Also last week, Hilarion indicated the Russian Orthodox might end their ecumenical dialogue with Lutherans after Germany’s Protestants elected a divorced woman, Bishop Margot Kässmann, as the new head of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). After all this, he planned to take off for a visit to China. russian-church-in-paris (Photo: Saint Seraphin Russian Orthodox Church (Ecumenical Patriarchate) in a courtyard in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, 27 Sept 2009/Tom Heneghan)

At his news conference, the 43-year-old archbishop said the Catholic and Orthodox churches were “already working together in many areas. Their views are almost identical in matters of doctrine and social ethics. They could show all these values in secular society, nationally or internationally, for example regarding the concept of family, environment, economy, education etc.. Orthodox and Catholics should find a common language and speak with one voice to defend the values that derive from their faith. They could also work effectively in many areas of social and charitable work. This testimony and cooperation, I am sure, could help us take a different approach to the theological issues that divide us. They could make the question of unity more interesting to a wider audience, which is little concerned with theological issues such as the Filioque or primacy issues, but sensitive to questions that concern everyday life. I had the honour to raise these issues with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI last September, during my visit to Rome.”

He also evoked this theme at the opening of the Russian Orthodox seminary in a former 17th-century Catholic convent in Epinay-sous-Sénart outside of Paris. “The opening of an Orthodox seminary of the Moscow Patriarchate in Paris is an unprecedented event,” he said. “The seminary is called among other things to become an important center of rapprochement between traditional Christian Churches in Europe … The primary task of Paris Seminary is to offer high-quality theological education. The seminary is also to become a link between the Russian Orthodox Church and Christians in France.”

How East Germany’s communists misunderstood its Protestants

schroederAnniversaries are a time to look back at how the world was before the historic event being commemorated. During a recent trip to Berlin in advance of today’s 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall, I asked the former East German theologian and politician Richard Schröder for his recollections of the life as a Protestant pastor before the country fell apart. He zeroed in on a fascinating aspect of the Communists’ anti-religion policy I’d never heard about before. (Photo: Richard Schröder, 21 Oct 2009/Tom Heneghan)

“The Communists who took over in 1945 were trained in Russia,” he told me at his home in a southern suburb of Berlin. “Their model was the Russian Orthodox Church, which focuses heavily on the liturgy. By contrast, Protestant churches have always been a wide field that included Bible study and other discussion groups. All the charity work of the Protestant churches, like their hospitals, were started by what you might call grass roots movements of congregation members. They were not started by the churches themselves. But the Communists always tried to handle us as if we were Russian Orthodox.”

One way to do this was to demand the churches register in advance any meeting except their Sunday church services and the internal sessions of the church leadership. Officials were especially suspicious of the churches’ youth activities, such as camping trips that included Bible study sessions. The churches refused to agree because this would have been a way to block such activities without banning them outright — all they would have to do was fail to issue permission for the meeting. “The state made a second effort to impose this registration, but the churches decided to pay all the fines and not register the meetings. They got away with it. When the officials noticed the churches always paid the 500 mark fine but kept on holding their meetings, they stopped imposing the fine. It took a long time for the Communists to understand that the Protestant churches are a different version of Christianity than the strongly liturgical Orthodox Church.”

Some east German Protestants feel overlooked as Wall recalled

thomaskircheAs Germany celebrates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, some Protestants feel the crucial role their church played in shepharding the democracy movement to success is quietly being overlooked. This seems strange to someone like myself who reported on those events back then. Any reporter in Berlin in the tense weeks before Nov. 9, 1989 knew the Protestant (mostly Lutheran) churches sheltered dissidents and was working for reform. But the idea that this was fading from public view came up during my recent visit to Leipzig when, at an organ recital in Johann Sebastian Bach‘s St. Thomas Church (Thomaskirche), the pastor mentioned the point in a sermon. (Photo: St. Thomas Church in Leipzig with Bach statue, 17 Oct 2009/Tom Heneghan)

When I later went up to Berlin, I ran the idea past a leading east German Protestant theologian and a pastor and two parish council members from the Gethsemane Church (Gethsemanekirche). That church in eastern Berlin was one of the most active centres of protest in the tense months before demonstrators forced open the Wall on Nov. 9, 1989. They all agreed.

The many anniversary celebrations, documentaries and discussions now underway across Germany seem to focus mostly on how fearless street protesters and astute politicians pulled off the “peaceful revolution” that ended communism. Films and photos of dissidents packed into the Gethsemane Church in East Berlin or Leipzig’s St. Nicholas Church (Nikolaikirche), the leading houses of worship that sheltered them until the Wall opened , are among the trademark images.  But those crowded “peace prayer” evenings were only the tip of the iceberg of behind-the-scenes work by pastors and lay people who considered it their Christian duty to promote civil rights and human dignity in a rigid communist society.