Katholikentag: the long history of the German faith festival

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The 102nd edition of Catholic Days (Katholikentag) opens in the German city of Stuttgart on Wednesday, kicking off a five-day celebration marking a tradition unique in Germany and beyond, and providing cultural impact and positive ecclesial on society.

By Stefan von Kempis

Catholic days are usually held every two years in alternate cities. It is one of the largest and most important social events in Germany and Europe. Catholic Days can be compared to World Youth Days by the festive atmosphere they create.

Katholikentag has a history that dates back over 170 years. They offer an expression of the strength and secular responsibility of the laity of the Catholic Church in Germany.

The founding moment of the current Katholikentag dates back to the “General Assembly of Catholic Associations in Germany”, which took place in Mainz in 1848. That same year, the German parliament met for the first time in St. Paul’s Church in Frankfurt. In a sense, the birth of the Catholic Days is therefore linked to the beginnings of democracy in Germany.

This feast of faith was originally organized by the “Pious Society for Religious Liberty”, which over the course of history became the “Central Committee of German Catholics”. During the “Kulturkampf” under Bismarck at the end of the 19and century, the secular body opposed the government, ensured the survival of the Catholic Church in the German Reich and defended Catholic ties with Rome against fierce opposition from the regime.

German Faith Day

Many Catholic days have become important points of reference for Catholic self-affirmation in the 20and the society of the century too. It is therefore not surprising that the Katholikentag could not be organized during the First World War and during the Third Reich.

the Katholikentag model also set a precedent, because even today the Protestant Church in Germany regularly organizes a “Kirchentag” – and recently there have also been ” Kirchentags.” The third and most recent took place last year in Frankfurt, but mostly online due to the pandemic.

Today the Catholic tags are several things in one: a celebration of faith, a place for the exchange of ideas and contacts and a forum for debates that have an impact on German society. Political and religious leaders from Germany and abroad regularly attend the five-day event, and the Pope usually sends a message of greeting for the opening of the events. The Days end on Sunday with a solemn mass.

In Stuttgart, the motto of Katholikentag 2022 is “sharing life”. The organizers expect around 20,000 participants. The last major event brought together 80,000 people in Münster in 2018. As usual, Vatican News – Vatican Radio will be present with its own stand on the “Church Mile”.

Interview with Marc Frings, General Secretary of the Central Committee of German Catholics, on the Katholikentage by Gudrun Sailer of Vatican News

Q: Katholikentage – literally: Catholic Days – have existed in Germany for almost 175 years. How do you briefly explain what it is to someone who has never been there?

Yes, indeed, we are returning to a very long tradition. We started in 1848. But in a nutshell, I would say a Katholikentag today is a five-day event that brings together several thousand participants to discuss political, ecclesiastical and social issues with experts, and to celebrate faith and culture and together come and stand on the trends and visions vis-à-vis a vis-à-vis the current developments that we face in the world, not only within the Church, but also outside.

Q: The Katholikentag is mainly organized and supported by lay people. How does this shape the character of this event?

If we go back to the story, I must add that at the beginning the bishops were even excluded, so it was a 100% lay event. But today, we associate each time with the host diocese. It is therefore a matter of close cooperation between the Central Committee of German Catholics and the German bishops here in Germany. It is very important to say that this is a bottom-up process.

This means that the entire program and we are talking about 1,500 events, round tables, workshops, cultural activities, is prepared and animated by volunteers, mainly from Catholic civil society. And that means no one can complain about the program because it represents 100% the current priorities of civil society representatives from both the Catholic Church, but also from our ecumenical friends, experts, think tanks , political parties, etc.





Marc Frings, General Secretary of the Central Committee of German Catholics

Q: Katholikentage to be open to ecumenism. How important are these topics at the level Katholikentag?

I think it’s an obvious trend that German Catholic conventions, but also Protestant conventions are coming together. We are now more motivated by ecumenism today. I can say that we organize almost 150 workshops, panels, services which mainly deal with the ecumenical situation in Germany.

And I think it also has a very practical dimension, given that most marriages in Germany today bring together partners of different faiths. So I think it’s important that we take not only a theological point of view, which is very academic, but also a practical point of view, because the ecumenical life is something that goes very deep into the private life of Christians in Germany.

Q: Why does the Katholikentag always, and even more so this time, offer events on current socially relevant and political topics?

Historically speaking, that’s where we come from. Secular people in Germany have always wanted to enter the public arena with all their political convictions, ideas, concepts. This is where the Katholikentag the movement is coming.

Our self-proclaimed understanding to this day is that we are not limited to church-related debates, but want to change the world and our environment accordingly, and so we translate our faith into action. And the Katholikentag perhaps the most visible tool we use for this. We, as the Central Committee of German Catholics, also carry out political lobbying work in Berlin, where our office is also located.

But it is important that we not only discuss issues related to the Church, but that we discuss, for example, climate change, post-colonialism, the war in Ukraine, the post-war situation in Afghanistan. So global topics as well as social dimensions, debates that only take place in Germany. It is something that we want to give in our opinions. And I think this is the added value of the work of the Central Committee of German Catholics here in Germany.

Q: What does the Katholikentag have in the life of faith of Germans today?

It is still very important, certainly, especially for those who are organized in associations and unions and who play a significant role in the daily life of the Catholic Church. But we also have to deal with changing patterns.

The majority of Germans, the majority of people living in Germany to be exact, no longer belong to one of the two great churches in Germany. This means that we also have to adapt to a new reality, that we have to better defend and explain what we do, why we do it.

Q: In what sense does the Katholikentag can it be considered a religious event, a celebration of the Catholic religion?

It is certainly a very important pillar of every Katholikentag. Each Catholic convention consists of many services, great celebrations that will take place publicly. We want to show our faith and conviction. And all of this is taking place outside of the usual boundaries in which we celebrate our Catholic, our Christian faith every day. And I think it’s also important to discuss these issues not only within worship, but also in special workshops that take place.

As you know, we are currently on the synodal path which has also discussed the idea of ​​a future Catholic Church. And that is why it is also important to have every two years such a Katholikentag where the faith lives must also be examined in order to see where the spiritual dimension of German Catholics is also heading.

Q: How many guests are you expecting and what makes Katholikentag special this time?

This is the first post COVID Katholikentag. So far, few public events have taken place in Germany. But we are still expecting more than 20,000 participants who will join us from Wednesday to Sunday in Stuttgart.

When you ask me for specific topics, I would certainly say that from the Church’s point of view, we will discuss the German synodal path intensively. We still have a year ahead of us. The synodal path was designed to deal with the concrete consequences of the numerous cases of sexual abuse that took place within the framework of the German Catholic Church. But we are also discussing the situation in Ukraine. We offer a variety of workshops and panels that shed light on the trends and consequences of the corona pandemic, in particular with regard to domestic violence, the situation of single households.

But the added value, I think, of the program is the wide variety which also includes events for toddlers, for children, for young people, for students, for the LGBTQ community, for couples, for singles. We also have a very broad social arena where people will definitely find support.

And I think that’s also very important: it’s a very interactive event. We also have digital formats for those who cannot reach us directly in Stuttgart. They can follow us on Livestream, they can interact with us. And I think that makes it very unique and special and I hope many of you will visit southern Germany.

Listen to the interview of Marc Frings by Gudrun Sailer

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