A directive by Cologne's Roman Catholic Cardinal Joachim Meisner for Catholic school teachers in the region to stop participating in multi-religious events has triggered a heated debate on religious dialog in Germany.
While German politicians across party lines have criticized the cardinal, the North Rhine-Westphalia education ministry has said it respects the directive, pointing out that multi-religious events are always a voluntary part of the school year. Religious education is a part of the German school curriculum.
However, Lale Akgün, the Social Democratic parliamentary group's Islam commissioner, has called on all teachers to ignore Meisner's directive, saying it comes as a slap in the face to all those who are working for integration and who are trying to create a dialog between the religions.
Akgün pointed to Pope Benedict XVI's recent visit to Turkey, where, she said, the pontiff presented himself as a builder of bridges and made a huge effort toward better understanding between Christianity and Islam. Meisner, the German politician warned, is thwarting the signals the pope sent in Turkey.
Differences should not lead to a ban
Mounir Azzaoui, spokesman for the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, said the council is opposed to mixing Christian and Muslim religious services, but that "We don't believe all inter-religious events should be banned."
The Central Council of Jews in Germany also reacted to the cardinal's remarks. Spokesman Michael Fürst told German television that it wasn't easy for Jews to pray with Christians either. "We pray to one God," Fürst said, "but we don't pray to the holy trinity ... there are differences in opinion."
And these differences between the religions should not be blurred, Cologne's Vicar-General Dominik Schwaderlapp said in Meisner's defense on Thursday. He said the Catholic Church is open to encounters with other religions, but not to holding joint religious services in schools.
Green party politician Reiner Priggen called on Cardinal Meisner to go ahead and throw out the Shrine of the Three Kings, a reliquary said to hold some of the remains of the Three Wise Men which is housed in Cologne Cathedral. The Three Magi are believed to have been Persian astrologers.
In a newspaper editorial Friday, Cologne's Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger commented that Cardinal Meisner deals with Christianity like a landlord who bolts the door as soon as the bell rings -- without first checking who's outside.
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