Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Stranger in a strange land

When Pope Benedict XVI lands in Cologne for World Youth Day, he will be arriving in a country that has become foreign to him. The churches are empty, the politicians are non-believers and the people in the east are complete strangers to God. And now organizers of the biggest religious festival of the post-war era plan to turn it into a launching pad for a new religious awareness.

Read the complete article WANTED: PIOUS PEOPLE: When the German Pope Returns Home, He'll Find an Un-Christian Land from Spiegel Online.

This article is chockful of depressing factoids. Let's take a look...

Two-thirds of young people say that it's cool to believe in something.

Only 32 percent of Germans surveyed said that they had great or very great confidence in the church.

Pope Benedict XVI fares only slightly better than the church as a whole, with an approval rating of 36 percent. But he isn't especially popular among 18 to 29-year-olds, who are even less likely to express confidence in the pope than the general population.

Just under two-thirds of Catholics -- and less than half of all Protestants -- believe in life after death, a central tenet of Christianity.

Twenty-seven percent of the faithful say that God is not all-powerful, a concept that also deeply contradicts Christian teachings.

In the East, the pope would find cities and villages filled with nonbelievers, places where only one in three people believes in God.

In 1992 there were still 19,266 Catholic priests. In 2004, this number had shrunk to 326. In the whole of Germany, 210 trainee priests were accepted into seminary last year.

Every 75 seconds, a Christian leaves the church. In 2003, 180,000 Protestants left the church. Only 60,000 joined.

According to the report, the number of Catholics has decreased every year since 1974. The latest figures for 2003 show that around 65,000 more Catholics were buried as were baptized.

This meant in 2003 there was a "decision to join negative," as they put it in the report, of 117,000. Fewer Catholics were baptized in 2003 than at any time since 1960. There were exactly 205,904 Catholic baptisms in 2003. That's 3.5 percent lower than the previous years and 31 percent lower than in 1990. In other words, Catholics are dying out.

And finally:

The Germans have irrevocably moved into a post-religious world. They would like to believe. They suspect that it might help and therefore they respect anyone who is able to believe. But they themselves, for the most part, can't do it anymore. They read Peter Hahne, because Ratzinger is too hard for them. They still say "the pope is right, that's how it should be." But if a politician starts seriously talking about God, they roll their eyes and change the channel.

The pilgrimage paths on Our Lady's field will be deconstructed in an environmentally sound fashion. The components are biodegradable. Only the 3,000 chalices made by ThyssenKrupp pose a slight problem. They have been built to last an eternity and cannot be recycled. And very soon there will no use for them in this country. Only the papal hill will remain. It will be a reminder of an unreal event. Something which is almost impossible to believe.

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