Cologne Archbishop Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki is a champion of the church’s commitment to refugees – even in the face of opposition. This Tuesday he has now been Archbishop of Cologne for two years.
After his interlude as archbishop of Berlin, he returned to the Rhineland in 2014. In his city of Cologne, where he was not only born and raised, but also served as auxiliary bishop before his appointment to Berlin. Two years ago, on 20. September 2014, he was inaugurated as archbishop of Cologne.
Already at the civic festival after his inauguration, the sympathy of the people of Cologne was clearly felt. And he held the first press conference in his home parish in Cologne-Mulheim. In his tenure so far, too, almost everything seems to have gone smoothly. Woelki receives praise for his leadership above all from the laity, which is anything but a matter of course. But he also has a good connection to the press. A local tabloid newspaper ran the headline: "The Cologne Francis". And characterized him strikingly with three sentences: "He is not only listened to by Catholics. – He loves and lives modesty. – Woelki speaks clear words."
Inspired by Rupert Neudeck in her work for refugees
His resolute commitment to refugees is particularly striking – and he not only speaks plainly, but also sends out clear signals. Last year, for example, he chose the figurehead of Cologne Cathedral, the "fat Pitter," to speak to the 23.000 bells campaign to remember every single refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. And on Corpus Christi, Woelki celebrated Mass at a refugee boat converted into an altar, which now serves as a protest sign in the cathedral.
In this strong commitment, the Cologne archbishop was also influenced and inspired by Rupert Neudeck. Woelki called the human rights activist, who died in May, a "faithful friend," even if it was more of a ministerial friendship. He preached the sermon at the funeral Mass, highlighting the life’s work of the founder of Cap Anamur, who saved thousands of Vietnamese refugees from drowning in the China Sea in 1979. Terms like "maybe," "let’s see," or "don’t go" were foreign words to him. In an emotional voice, he called for Neudeck’s mission to continue after his death: "Rest in peace now, we will take over."
The cardinal puts his finger in the wound
And Cardinal Woelki takes over. More and more often, he puts his finger on the wound, admonishes social grievances and fights for the Christian perspective on the ies of the day. He promotes the integration of immigrants and Muslims and loses critical words about the "so-called Alternative for Germany". The whole thing he makes quite media-effective. For the website of the political magazine "Stern" he writes a column. On our site he expresses himself every Sunday with his own "word of the bishop. He denounces euthanasia and abortion as well as the supply of weapons, the gap between rich and poor, the lack of commitment to climate protection and corruption in soccer.
He opposes cheap textiles and pure capitalism and calls for donations for beggars, even if they only buy the next bottle for it. Popular messages are not all that and not infrequently he experiences headwind, especially in the social networks. Woelki, whose parents come from Ermland (East Prussia), grew up himself as a child of refugees in the Bruder Klaus settlement in Cologne-Mulheim.
Climate in youth favored priestly vocation
Above all, families with many children found a home here, and dedicated chaplains determined the daily routine. "If you wanted to play soccer or table tennis, you had to go to the Catholic youth," Woelki said. In the petty bourgeois milieu, however, everyone got their place, he emphasizes, and "many priestly vocations came out of the Brother Claus settlement". His theological studies in Bonn and Freiburg and his decision to become a priest were like walking on a prepared path.
The priestly ordination in 1985 was followed by the chaplaincy in Neuss and Ratingen, which he describes as a "wonderful time with people in search of God".
Setting the course in the archdiocese
To be on the way together – this applies to Woelki above all also in the leadership of the largest diocese in Germany. In Cologne, the cardinal has set a new course: His office as well as two main departments lead women. To establish a "participatory style of leadership," he introduced the Diocesan Pastoral Council, in which lay people have a say alongside clerics.
The cardinal expects more from them, especially in view of the decreasing number of priests. Instead of closing down local churches, lay people should fix it there. "Parish life does not only take place where the priest is," Woelki emphasizes and urges an interaction "at eye level" between full-time and voluntary workers. At the same time, the fan of the 1. FC Koln also emphasizes team spirit in the church: "A team can only be successful if it stands together, if everyone presses and even the defenders move forward."
At the 1. He has been a member of the FC for a long time and is always spotted in the stands at home games, if his busy schedule allows it. Then he also kicks the ball himself on the stadium lawns. Woelki is also close to the people when it comes to the other passion of the Rhinelanders: carnival. He gladly took over the tradition of his predecessor Cardinal Meisner to celebrate the opening of the carnival season together with the carnivalists with a church service. His sermons there are considered one of the highlights of the Cologne church year. Even – or precisely because – he sometimes reads the riot act to the jocks. But: "D’r leeve Jott es ja nit esu!"
For the Jecken he turns himself also sometimes on the head and quotes the "family tree" of the "Black Fooss". And also with the prince proclamation he found the correct tone: Dialect connects. In the popular Mitspielkonzerte with the "Hohnern" in the cathedral he participates gladly.