Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the event “Rome in Berlin”: 100 years of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Germany

30.06.2021 - Speech

Cardinal Secretary of State Parolin, Your Eminences,
Cardinals and bishops – of course, I’m especially delighted to see a former representative of “my” bishopric Trier here – Bishop Bätzing (President of the German Bishops’ Conference, former Vicar General in Trier), – it is lovely to see you again,
Ladies and gentlemen,

“Rome in Berlin” – that is the title you, Archbishop Eterović, have given to this anniversary celebration.

And for that reason I would first like to take the opportunity once again to welcome our Roman guest here to Berlin. It means a great deal to us – and I am speaking here not only for myself but also for the Federal Government – and no doubt the Chancellor has already said to you herself: We are delighted that you have come to this anniversary celebration today.

And this despite the fact that the anniversary itself certainly needs some explanation.

After all, compared to the more than a thousand years of religious, political and human ties between “the Germans” and the Holy See, which go back to a point much further than the emergence of a German sense of national identity, let alone a German state, the last one hundred years seem a very short time.

By saying this, I don’t want to encourage anyone to start looking for archaeological evidence in the sandy soil of Berlin and Brandenburg.

There, unlike in some cities in south-western Germany, you would be more likely to hit upon the remains of a Slavic hillfort than traces of Rome.

In the first instance, I’m not thinking of the stone testimonies of Catholicism, which, following the Reformation, were naturally less prevalent in so‑called “Prussian Rome” than elsewhere in our country.

Ladies and gentlemen,
no, the traces of Rome in Berlin are probably more of a metaphysical nature. But no less profound, for all that.

It was good to gain a sense of this when a few weeks ago I had the great honour and privilege to meet Pope Francis for an audience in Rome. We talked about the values and goals that Germany, Europe and the Holy See share in this often divided world. Above all the quest for peace, which is more than the mere absence of war and violence.

The pursuit of this peace, as Psalm 34 puts it, really ought to be a characteristic of our country and its politics – especially given the dark chapters of our past.

I thanked the Pope for his visit to Iraq, the impact of which in the Shiite world can hardly be valued highly enough. We, too, are striving for peace in our work in the region – at the moment primarily in the nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna. And I believe that this example shows very well how we are all pursuing peace – each with our own means and resources.

Cardinal Secretary of State, I would like to see the same for Lebanon, where stability and cohesion across all faiths is a matter close to your heart and to the hearts of all of us. Only this morning, I welcomed the Lebanese Foreign Minister to discuss with her what contribution we could make in this area.

And I could cite many other examples where the voice of the Holy See is particularly needed and also heard.

In Africa, where Vatican diplomacy is playing a valuable mediatory role in Mozambique and South Sudan, for example.

Or in Latin America, where the suffering of the people in Venezuela, for example, but also the destruction of democracy in Nicaragua is a source of great concern to us all.

Often it is Catholic organisations such as Caritas, the Malteser or MISEREOR which alleviate humanitarian need in these countries and build development opportunities.

The drama of the pandemic has once again shown us very clearly the huge responsibility shouldered by the Church here – sometimes for the healthcare systems of entire countries.

And last but not least, the protection of our key life resources – the fight against climate change – also belongs at the heart of peace policy.

“Laudato Si”, Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter on the climate, opened eyes and ears throughout the world. And we will need a catalyst of this kind this year, too, at the climate conference in Glasgow, if we don’t want to leave anyone behind on the way to a climate-neutral world, which particularly safeguards the survival of the most vulnerable.

Here more than almost anywhere else we see how right Pope Paul VI was when he wrote, “If you want peace, work for justice.”

This statement applies to countries.

As a Christian and a Catholic, I hope and trust, however, that it will also be heard everywhere within my Church.

For only justice is capable of hopefully, someday, healing the deep wounds that people have suffered as a result of sexual abuse. And only justice and transparency will foster the growth of new confidence in the Church, which – as I experience time and again on my travels – is needed all over the world.

I am therefore all the more grateful to those who are negotiating the stony path of investigation and Reform.

The resignation letter from “my” former bishop in Trier, Cardinal Marx, really profoundly impressed me. At the same time, I am thankful that he will remain active in the Catholic Church in Germany and in the world, as someone who seeks the power for renewal. And who finds it through dialogue with all parts of the Church.

Or to put it another way, I would like to see a Church that gets involved in the world. Because its voice, its pastoral care and its good works are needed.

But that depends on the Church finding the strength to open up to the world without reservation.

This is exemplified by the recent publication of the papers on the pontificate of Pius XII, who was a central figure in our relations for decades – as Nuncio in Munich and Berlin and later as Cardinal Secretary of State and Pope.

This is exemplified, Bishop Bätzing, by the fact that in Beate Gilles the Bishops’ Conference has appointed a woman to the post of General Secretary for the first time.

And last but not least, this is exemplified in this wonderful building, the Nunciature.

When, following the Government’s relocation to Berlin, the question of where the new representation in Berlin should be was raised, the Holy See very deliberately decided against using the old plot of land in the embassy district near the Tiergarten park. Instead it moved here, to Neukölln.

At the vibrant heart of the city. Where poor and rich, various cultures and religions rub shoulders on a daily basis.

Nuncio, the fact that here of all places a piece of Rome has been built in Berlin has something almost prophetic when we look at the pontificate of Pope Francis and his understanding of a passionate and compassionate Church in the truest sense of the word.

This is the church that the world values and needs.

These are the traces of Rome that today, here in Berlin, we want to redefine.

And these are the traces that will speak to people’s hearts.

Thank you very much.


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