The Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch is the new Official heading the Vatican Office for Ecumenism. A discussion about Christian in the Holy Land, Minarets in Europe and the current Islam-Debate.
Rome (kath.net/DieWelt) As the successor of the Curial Cardinal, Walter Kasper, the former Basel Archbishop Kurt Koch will become the next President for the Papal Adviser for the Promotion of the Unity of Christians -- a kind of "ecumenical minister" of the Vatican. Koch was born in 1950 in Emmenbrucke in the Canton of Luzern. As his first challenge was a two week Synod in the Vatican on the situation of Christians in the Middle East. Paul Badde of Die Welt interviewed him.
Die Welt Hardly in office, you were confronted with the extremely difficult Middle East Summit. How would you describe your idea of the situation?
Koch: There are two realities. First, the various churches of the Middle East came together in order to advise and find new ways into the future. The second was just as important and pressing: That the diversity of the churches are brought to the consciousness of the public. If Christianity in the Holy Land is only stones and buildings, memorial sites and no more people, then a basic value has gone lost. The Middle East without the churches would be a horrible historical occurrence. That the whole Universal Church is concerned about this event and must stay in solidarity, is a very high and important value.
Die Welt You are not just threatened by external enemies. Are your conflicts not only conflicts between each other -- which have been taking place for more than a 1000 years?
Koch: It was very clear at the Synod, that communal is important to pursue and note, that one can only be strong together. Surely there are many open questions, and naturally you can't always discuss them in every detail, where many of the problems are subsumed. Really what is needed is a strong will to forge a common way to the future.
Die Welt Now there are only above all the various Catholic Church coming together. Isn't the greatest problem in the Middle East the conflict with the Greek Orthodox Church, who consider the Catholics only as heretics? Or is there a substantial movement from the leadership since the visit of Paul VI to Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem in 1964?
Koch: This movement was a tremendous start, which has proven fruitful in a decade-long discussion. None the less, the dialog since the year 2000 because of various problems has been broken again. Really it is Pope Benedict XVI within the last four months by his own decision, to get this discussion back on its feet. It is clear that we will need more time than previously planned.
Die Welt Which role does the separated Jerusalem have in the Drama of Christendom?
Koch: Jerusalem is a completely accurate picture for the real situation, was we have it today, with the various religions and above all even the various churches, their various liturgies. The conflicts over the precise location where one can celebrate, is however a good example of how things shouldn't go in the future with the progress of this divisiveness in Christianity. In so far as a visit to Jerusalem is always very beautiful,, because one comes back to the origins, but it's also sad, because one sees the concrete situation.
Die Welt Is Jerusalem not also a picture of "Many dwellings in the house of the Father"? [what a dumb question]
Surely the diversity is not in itself bad. This was shown even in the Synod in its many colors, where everyone is astonished, how very diverse the Catholic Church is. That is the greater kingdom. But only if one considers the other side and looks together for a common way into the future. The diversity and multiplicity is good in itself, when correlation leads to enrichment. Right in Jerusalem there is for this reason still a drama playing itself out.
That is namely the greatest division that we have, the division between Synagogue and Church.
Die Welt: What do you mean?
Koch: Because Jerusalem today has become the precise model of division, in the level that even appears between Christianity and Judaism. St Paul had hoped that this division would be put aside and we could really come to unity, therefore to a Church of Jews and Gentiles as the true people of God. That is the great hope, but Paul had in any case had it. For that reason we must continue to nourish it.
DIE WELT Only Paul was himself a Jew and was much closer to the Synagogue
Koch: That's right, even in his journey he stayed close to the Synagogue and preached to the Jews, but first he went to the Gentiles. In the Letter to the Romans he had later exactly described why some went their own way from the Gospel. That he understood the deeper significance of the rejection by the majority of the Jews that the message of Jesus must be brought firstly to the whole world. It is the great secret, that Israel remain the chosen people, but still await the Messiah. That is the greatest question with which they are concerned.
DIE WELT Can you describe other questions in the foreground? In the "Short Story of the Anti-Christ" by Vladimir Soloviev which was written a century before, which predicted the end of the World in Jerusalem. Recently the monks here in Rome from the Holy Land said that the next fearful conflict in the Middle East is expected either before or after Christmas. Were such fears expressed in the Synod?
Koch: One such advent of such an event is not known to me and so I can't substantiate it. But one can be certain, that this conflict is ongoing and will come to a head. That is realistic enough. What other such concrete notions come to mind, if anything, everyone is cautious.
DIE WELT In Switzerland we've experienced the conflict over minarets. What would you say to the Germans in their recent Islam-debate?
Koch: I have the general impression that the politicians have fearfully underestimated the problem with Islam in Europe. In Switzerland we have for example a Court of Religion with Jews, Muslims and Christians and we want the National Court sensitized at an early stage toward Problems, which were the subject of the Minarets. The National Courts had solved this problem simply by referring it to building rights. Therefore it was not discernible which anxieties should have been attached to the Minaret Question. These anxieties, however, had to be taken into consideration, which responsible politics does.
DIE WELT: And what would you advise Germans, who want to be taken seriously, which have had in their midst a large Islamic Community for a long time?
Koch: Firstly, that one has to open ones' eyes and see reality, that there are substantial differences between religions, which also reflect culture and not to wipe it from the table. A natural difference is naturally that Christianity had to learn in its long history, that only the consequent separation of State and of Religion of Church has its assigned and adequate area in society. There is still a much greater trouble spot buried there.
DIE WELT: Can Europe's Christians learn something from those of the Middle East?
Koch: Absolutely yes to the last question, quite a lot. From them they could learn a model, how one can co-exist with Muslims. How one can lead a dialogue with them. There they have a very leading edge of experience from their history. And that can help us. They cultivate contacts. If one doesn't learn this, then there remain only anxieties.