“God does nothing but provide”, was one of Johannes Joachim Degenhardt’s favorite sentences, which is to say: He does not want to interfere in the course of events himself; he creates constellations; time windows open; occasions arise that are waiting to be recognized and used as ideal points of action. The Jewish philosopher Hans Jonas unfolded a similar thought in his speech about “The Concept of God after Auschwitz”: God forgoes the power of interfering in the course of events; he does not respond “with a strong hand and outstretched arm”, but “with the insistently-wordless courtship of his unfulfilled goal”.
Johannes Joachim Degenhardt was the best man at the wedding of Dr. Herbert Wallbrecher, the friend from his youth, with Gertraud Weiß in 1949; later he became the archbishop of Paderborn; in 1978 he was the bishop who, together with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, recognized the Integrated Community as a part of the Church.
In the spring of 1968 the Integrated Community, whose existence is significantly owed to the initiative of Herbert and Gertraud Wallbrecher, was reported on for the first time by the KNA, the catholic news agency, with an article titled “Avant-Garde or Sect?”. It was not so easy to put into words what had developed there in the twenty years since the end of the war and the catastrophe of the Shoah. At the beginning of the 70s the humanist and agnostic Gerhard Szczesny came in closer contact with the community and a friendly relationship developed. After the first meeting he noted in surprise: “It was the first time that I ever really felt at ease, that is to say unselfconscious and normal, in a community of people, who explicitly want to be understood as Christians.” At a later occasion he said: “Everything is so different here: I can’t imagine that the Catholic Church can accept you as a part of herself.” The same sentiment was expressed by Jewish friends, religious and secular kibbutzniks, with whom the community had been cultivating an active exchange since the mid 80s and later within the context of the Urfeld Circle.
The year 1985 marked a cesura. Gertraud Wallbrecher’s cause reached the center of the Church: For the first time a larger group of the community travelled to Rome for Pentecost. The occasion was Archbishop Friedrich Wetter’s anointment to cardinal, the successor of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in Munich; earlier Joseph Ratzinger had been called to Rome in 1981; for all members of the community the feast of Pentecost 1985 was like the arrival in ‘Rome’. In her Letter to the Eternal City Hedvig Fornander, a converted protestant from Sweden and a poetess of the community with powerful and visually stunning eloquence, specified the rather vague state of mind of many community members as follows:
“We seek the middle and the heart of the world,
that which binds us to what is binding, the norm,
the indispensable that does not come from ourselves,
the larger community,
the necessary outside of our state of mind.”
In celebration of the final recognition as a part of the Church, which Cardinal Friedrich Wetter pronounced in a mass in Rome in St. Paul Outside the Walls a few months later, Joseph Ratzinger expressed his joy that “you have now so visibly been granted integration into the Church of all places and all times”. When Gertraud Wallbrecher returned from her second trip to Israel a few months later she said: “We celebrated the feast in Rome as a celebration of the recognition of the will of God. Now we are challenged for the reality of this recognition and confronted with the fact that it is about the one, single People of God. During this visit to Israel I have experienced the painful history of the Jews up until the holocaust as our history. It is terrible when this is just the history of the Jews and not also of the Christians.”
“God does nothing but provide” and he does not stop “insistently-wordlessly courting his unfulfilled goal”; maybe heaven sometimes has an understanding after all.
Looking back on the turbulent history, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote to Gertraud Wallbrecher on the occasion of her 80th birthday:
“During the difficult time of the Third Reich you looked for the way of faith and after the war you realized that new ways were necessary to answer to our world’s challenges approaching the faith. Thus, slowly, through various sufferings, severances and upheavals, the Integrated Community has grown; within the Community you with your companions try to realize a seminal form of Christian existence within Christianity and the Church. … What I see as essential to your efforts is the fact that you have always stood by Catholicism as the deciding basis for the nature of the Community and thus have always seen the integration into the episcopal constitution of the Church as indispensible. I explicitly wish to thank you for that today.”
As Pope Benedict XVI said in his speech on the feast of Our Lady’s Ascension in Castel Gandolfo, 2011: “The things of God deserve haste. Even further: The only things on earth that deserve haste are those of God because they are urgent for our life.”
The last years of Gertraud Wallbrecher’s “presence in absence” due to old age and sickness were an invitation to all, who had the privilege of her contemporaneity, to assure themselves of the legacy and answer to his insistently-wordless courtship humbly, intelligently, resolutely and with great confidence.