FRANKFURT, Germany — Germany’s Third Ecumenical Convention concluded in Frankfurt May 16 with an open-air church service on the bank of the River Main. With the city’s skyline of office towers providing the backdrop, some 400 people attended the service, including German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
But Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg, head of the Catholic bishops’ commission on ecumenical relations, told the website katholisch.de that he could not see that the convention gave a particular boost to ecumenism.
In terms of language and visually, the meeting “largely took place in an internal church bubble” and was thus unlikely to have reached nonbelievers or people who were distanced from the churches, the German Catholic news agency KNA said May 17, reporting on his remarks. “Nevertheless, I am impressed that the meeting could take place at all at this difficult time and apparently did reach a large number of people.”
The convention, or kirchentag, wrapped up three days of events in which approximately 160,000 people, mostly via video conferencing, participated in discussions, Bible readings, worship services and other events exploring theological and social issues. Protestants and Catholics called for the church to work for justice in society and the church.
Feige was critical of the “ecumenically sensitive services” that took place during the convention. He said the issue of shared Communion was “extremely complex and emotionally charged.” This made it all the more important to move forward carefully, he said.
KNA reported that at the convention’s four central services, it was left up to visitors’ consciences whether they wanted to participate in Communion or in the Lord’s Supper of the other denomination. At the Catholic service in Frankfurt cathedral, Bettina Limperg, Protestant president of the kirchentag, received Communion. Thomas Sternberg, Catholic president of the kirchentag, took part in the Lord’s Supper at the Protestant service.
In Rome, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former president of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, called the eucharistic sharing a “provocation.” He told the German news agency DPA that no individual can declare “the contrasts between Protestant and Catholic creeds to be beside the point or ignore them.”
Sternberg said he had often taken part in the Lord’s Supper before, just that this was the first time he had done so publicly, KNA reported. To him, it was decisive that Christ himself had made the invitation, he said.
Limperg said she felt no difference between the Lord’s Supper and the Eucharist. She said she had attended the Eucharist after first exploring her own conscience, KNA reported.