Konigstein conference pinpoints new moods
Catholic Herald Correspondents KONIGSTEIN, W. Germany MORE than 550 delegates from 28 nations and
representing the millions of suffering Christians behind the Iron Curtain, met at this conference centre last week to discuss the responsibilities of Christians in the growth of Communism in the past and present, and to decide what action should be taken for the future.
This was the 13th such Congress to be organised to deal with the problems of distress in the Church of Silence. And there to give their first-hand reports were:
Fr. Werenfried van Straaten, O.Pream., famous "bacon priest" who warned in strongest terms of the dangers of "flirting with 'peace movements'," and emphasised the deadliness of Communism, which, he said, was still "vastly underrated".
Bishop Mueller of Berlin, who was able to claim that the ideological battle being waged in Central Germany is more severe there than in any other Eastern bloc area.
No direct force is being used against the Church, he said, but it is extremely difficult to get permission to build a Catholic church in Eastern Germany except when this is allowed for propaganda purposes; no public announcements may be made by the Church, and the State uses every means of sowing seeds of distrust and disunity within the Church by extending invitations to religious representatives.
Dioceses are divided by the Wall or the Zonal border, making parish work extremely difficult. Bishop Bengsch of Berlin is rarely allowed to visit West Berlin. In fact, said Bishop Mueller, "attempts are being made to organise a climate in which the Church will gradually suffocate."
The build-up of Communism in Central Germany, he said, is a form of contra-church with Communist "retreats", pseudo-sacraments and the formation of socalled socialist brigades in the factories and other workplaces who arc there to introduce ideological education for the employees and their families.
Dr. Ivan Hyrnioch of Munich. giving a survey on the state of the Church in the Ukraine spoke of the fatal synod of 1946, which decreed that the Church was to be amalagamated with the Russian Orthodox Church. The Ukrainian Catholic Church as such was declared illegal and a forbidden community. Any priests who may be free are fully aware of the consequences should they dare to undertake their ministries.
Eighteen groups of refugees. including Protestants and Orthodox, were present along with a number of bishops, priests and representatives of organisations concerned with the problems of the Captive Nations, The share of Christians in the advent of Communism was commented upon by Prelate Dr. Hanssler of Bad Godesberg. There can hardly be talk of a definite guilt, he said; many things arc conditiored historically. No judgment should be given about the responsibility of the Orthodox Church in Russia.
He thought that the generally low standard of education of the Russian priest, his financial dependence in the State and the low regard in which the priesthood was held, and also his absolute trust of the goodness of the Russian people, made the Russian church unprepared and helpless once the Red Revolution had started.
With regard to the Church in the West, the speaker thought that the Church did not recognise the social problems of the industrial revolution and did not grasp them, and certainly did not understand their essence and prepare for solutions in good time.
There were efforts to cope with the problem by the German Bishop Ketteler, by Kolping, and by Ozanam, as well as by others. However, emphasised Dr. Ha.nssler, those who did nothing must he seen as children of their own time, and we should not condemn them. The tragedy remains, there was no discussion between Christianity and Socialism.
Fr. Van Straaten, who spoke for 90 minutes, moved his audience exceedingly with his reports not only of misery behind the Iron Curtain, but with an account of his recent travels through Asia and South America: he spoke of the dire poverty of Korea, of Hong Kong, of India. " If we do not realise that Christ is in every beggar who stands before us, then our lack of love will be the explosive which will exterminate us," he said.
He spoke of the dream palaces and stinking slums of South America, where for the most part the Church is alone in fighting squalor. The solution, he said, does not lie in just providing alms, but to give these people the chance to be trained and educated.
Returning to the problems of those behind the Iron Curtain, Fr. Van Straaten said that the facts contradicted the idea that Godless Communism wants to give the Church its freedom. In reality, he said, religious education is being slowly eradicated, church-going still more severely controlled, and even stronger measures being taken against the practising Catholic.
" It is not a question of how many litres of blood are shed." he said, " but of the systematic throttling of all the essential organs of the Church and the total extinction of every form of religion."
One speaker recalled the story of a ciborium of hosts discovered walled up in a building in Russia. They had, it seems. been there 30 years, and still men and women on their way to work said a prayer when passing the wall, though few would have known what was there.
Prelate Heider of Czechoslovakia reported that although the atmosphere there has altered, there is no practical improvement, Archbishop Beran, although confined, is now allowed to go and see his sister in Pilsen.
Delegates attended a Marienfeier on one of the Congress evenings, and sang hymns in honour of Our Lady, each singing in their own tongue. They also attended celebration of the Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite. The day closed wiih a Holy Hour, during which prayers were said for the persecuted nations. The Our Father was said in each language in turn, and a large lighted candle was brought to the altar. Where there was no national representative, the prayer was said in Latin.
During the conference period. Mr. K. B. Tauber, a member of the All Night Vigil Group, flew in from London and addressed the gathering on the work of the Vigil Group. bringing in an apt reference to the persecution to near annihilation—of the Church in England at the time of the Reformation. The Vigil banner was displayed and a film illustrating the work of the group was shown.
THE Congress resolutions confirmed that :
1. World-wide efforts to relieve tension had led to certain human alleviations for the Church in the East bloc. It is to be welcomed that talks have been held with responsible persons with regard to alleviating the need of the Church of Silence.
Unfortunately, these talks, in most countries, have not been successful in obtaining even the minimum of existence for the Church. Apart from which a great deal of "hushing-up" is done with regard to the persecution to which the Church has been and still is subjected.
2. With regret the Congress had to point out that, in spite of certain alleviations, no change has been observed in Communist aims Communism wants now, as before, the total extermination of all religion.
3. The negligence of Christians in the past, who encouraged the spread of communism, is a challenge to people of the present, to rouse their consciences by constant vigilance and religious strength.
The only way in which Cornmunism can be counteracted is for the West to overcome its materialism, and by the removal of hunger. sickness. poverty and ignorance from the world, perform those works of charity which the Gospel demands.