Karl Cardinal Lehmann Karl Cardinal Lehmann
Bishop of Mainz, Germany
Cardinal Priest of San Leone I
May 16, 1936
Feb 21, 2001
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English God’s light leads to true justice, German cardinal says
Jun 05, 2006
Catholics and other Christians need God's light to lead them to a new justice, the head of the German bishops' conference said at the closing service of the biennial assembly of the nation's Catholics.

SAARBRUCKEN, Germany (CNS, 5/30/2006) – "We must heal ourselves of the false promise that we can realize complete justice in a secular society," said Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz, bishops' conference head. To reach this state, "we must come before the presence of God. He must always purify our perception and our desire from the ground up."

"Justice in the Sight of God" was the theme of the May 24-28 assembly, or Katholikentag, which attracted some 40,000 people to Saarbrucken, a city on the French border. The Central Committee of German Catholics and the host Diocese of Trier organized about 1,000 events: The green program booklet had 575 pages, and 1,500 volunteers wore green scarves to make it easier for participants to spot them.

At the opening service in front of the city's castle, Pope Benedict XVI's message, read by Archbishop Erwin Josef Ender, apostolic nuncio to Germany, referred to St. Ambrose, born in Trier, who maintained that "the foundation of justice is faith." Pope Benedict called on Christians to contribute to justice in the world but said lay Christians would only be able to offer their specific skills and knowledge "if they avoid everything which might obscure the clarity of the Christian witness."

In a wide range of talks and discussions, prominent figures from Germany and Europe spoke about their sense of justice -- in the church, in the state, in Europe and in the wider world.

Bishop Reinhard Marx of Trier said the issue of justice was not one that could be dealt with by Catholics alone.

"We have a responsibility for society, which is waiting for answers from us," he said, adding that the approach offered by Catholic social teaching "was, is and will provide a significant orientation for political activity."

German President Horst Koehler, a Lutheran and former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, discussed how to deal with world poverty with Pascal Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organization, and Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Lutheran, discussed her ideas on Europe with young people and surprised listeners with the passion of her support for the European ideal and for the introduction of a reference to God in the preamble of any new European constitution.

Europe was a central theme of this Katholikentag. Saarbrucken's position on the edge of Germany meant there were many visitors from just over the border, especially from Luxembourg and France. Parts of the closing service were held in French, several French-speaking bishops led events, and a number of nearby foreign dioceses had booths in the Hall of the Dioceses. Several events dealt with cross-border issues, and a cross-border pilgrimage route included sites of German-French enmity that had turned into symbols of reconciliation.

Justice in the church produced some of the most heated debates. Cardinal Lehmann participated in a panel discussion on sexual justice in the church with a number of outspoken supporters of women's ordination. He defended the church's record in improving the position of women in church structures, noting that he had appointed a woman as head of the pastoral care office in his Diocese of Mainz.

Addressing panelist Sabine Demel, professor of church law at the University of Regensburg, he said her appointment would not have been possible in previous years.

But Demel asked, "What role does a person's sex play in vocation?"

"I'm sick to the back teeth," responded Cardinal Lehmann, "at always having to talk about the priesthood in this issue." He said he wanted the contribution of women in other roles properly recognized.

Following the debate, a nun who identified herself as Dominican Sister Klarisse of Frankfurt said that Cardinal Lehmann and the other male member of the panel had "simply repeated well-known positions. They just don't want to give up their power." But by denying women equality, "the church does itself out of a richness," she said.

Anna Grashake, 16, traveled to the Katholikentag with 14 members of her parish from Geldern. On the first day, she said she planned to spend time in the youth center.

"I'm most interested in issues of equal rights, about one's relationship to one's body and about the death sentence," she said.

The assembly featured special programs on Muslim-Christian and Jewish-Christian dialogue and, for the first time, an Orthodox schoolhouse, in which people could meet and talk to members of the Orthodox Church and attend talks on various aspects of Orthodox belief and practice.

The Katholikentag offered a wide variety of church services, from one directed at those who are divorced and separated to a Mass with liturgical dance elements to an ecumenical youth service featuring folk-rock music. Many of the services featured the issue of justice. The youth service, for example, included young people acting out situations in which people felt they were unjustly treated.

The assembly attracted critical Catholics, too. The lay movement We Are Church was featured in at least two events in the official program, as well as one event outside the official agenda.

The Katholikentag was held as Germany discussed the future of its social security and health systems, as well as immigration and its role in a globalized world.

"We have raised public awareness of the issue of justice as a challenge for society," Hans Joachim Meyer, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics, said at the end of the event.
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