Cologne: Catholics and Muslims To Co-Operate

Cologne: Catholics and Muslims To Co-Operate

Cologne is home to large number of Christians and Muslims as well as controversial plans to build a mosque that will be Germany's biggest. While some fear an Islamic incursion, other Catholics are donating Sunday's collection to the mosque building project.

If there was a religious conflict in Germany, then it would surely be visible Cologne -- the city is the capital of Germany's religious Turkish population as well as a bastion of Catholicism. Because here, Catholic numbers are dropping and Catholic churches appear to be turning into retirement homes while Muslim numbers are growing and Muslim followers are building one of the largest mosques in the country.

The mosque, which has been a subject of controversy because of its size, will be able to accommodate up to 1,200 worshippers. The Oriental-style building itself, which was designed by a Christian architect, will measure consist of two minarets, each 55 meters (180 feet) high. These will flank a dome that is a stylized version of the globe. It is likely to be Germany's biggest mosque as well as one of the most controversial sacred structures in the country. Protest groups have campaigned against the mosque and controversial Jewish intellectual Ralph Giordano has even described it as a Muslim "colonization of foreign territory."

From the offices of Werner Höbsch, 58, director of the church's department for interreligious dialogue and proclamation you can see the Cologne Cathedral. And with his white beard and blue sweater, Höbsch himself looks a little bit like a sea captain on shore leave. In many ways he is something of a captain -- one who is seeking to chart the course of Christianity through a stormy sea of religious diversity: Höbsch's task is to define how Christians and Muslims can live together in this cathedral city. And in his line of business he has managed to compile some interesting figures. The city is home to 120,000 Muslims and 400,000 Catholics. Last year, 2,500 Catholics left the church, there were 3,588 burials and only 2,965 baptisms. If these trends continue, then by the end of the century, Islam could be the strongest religion in Cologne.

Höbsch, however, does not fear Islam. On the contrary, he believes that Christians could learn a thing or two from Muslims -- for example, reverence and self-assurance in one's own faith. As he sees it, the real adversaries to his faith do not come out of Islam. No, his real adversaries are indifference and lack of belief.


Meurer has produced nativity plays starring only Muslim students and he once sent a samba band to perform at a music festival in the Turkish city of Izmir. "And what did they bring back? Two liters of holy water from Ephesus (editor's note: water from the house in Ephesus where the Virgin Mary supposedly last resided)," he says triumphantly. "Our Catholic kids wouldn't even have thought of doing that."

All by himself, the pastor removed a sign erected in front of his church by Pro Cologne, a group that opposes the mosque project. He was slapped with a €600 ($880) fine for doing so. "Ecumenism (or unity) strengthens religion," he notes. And that is one reason that he is not concerned about the end of Catholicism in the city. "Once upon a time, one in three people here were monks or nuns. That was too much for the rest of the city -- that's why they cheered Napoleon when he marched into the city. And that's just how things go -- sometimes up, sometimes down."

It is this sort of outlook that prompted the pastor to start donating his Sunday collections to the mosque project two years ago. The archdiocese reprimanded him, noting that there were plenty of impoverished Catholic congregations that could use the cash. Then, when the Muslim writer Navid Kermani received his quarter of the Hessian Culture Award worth around €10,000 (around $14,300) at the end of November, he donated the money to Father Meurer's congregation.

In his acceptance speech, Kermani quoted from the Koran. " If Allah had willed, He would have made you one nation," Kermanis said. "But that He may (test) you in what has come to you. So strive in a race in good deeds."


Source: Spiegel (English)

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