Gertraud Wallbrecher (1923–2016) with Pope Benedict XVI, February 23, 2006 (Fotografia Felici)

 

“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.

 

Read more in Theologica 3 – English Edition: ‘Teologa’ del popolo di Dio. Gertraud Wallbrecher (1923–2016)

Dr. Herbert Wallbrecher (on the right) with Cardinal Johannes Joachim Degenhardt

 

What is a layperson? According to common parlance and understanding it is someone who depends on experts. If he wants to invest his wealth, he looks for an investment adviser; if he wants to build a house, he engages an architect. The predominant majority of Church members are lay people. Can the above also apply to them as lay people in the Church?

As an expert in theology, the then 36-year-old Professor Joseph Ratzinger took part in the Second Vatican Council and gave an account of what was negotiated there on the subject of “laity”: “What was noticeable was that in spite of every effort no one was able to give a positive definition of the laity. One has grown used to seeing the layman in antithesis to the priest and religious, as the person who is neither of the two.” Within the demand for office and ordination this understanding has remained prevalent until today.

Karl Barth, one of the most renowned protestant theologians, was invited to the Council to Rome as a guest, but was only able to come, as he called it, ad limina apostolorum to the doorstep of the apostles, to Peter and Paul, in 1967. He brought critical questions along with him, among others about the decree on the mission of the laity: “Why is the lay apostolate not based on the Church’s definition as polulos (laos) Dei [people of God], but instead on the reference to its contemporary necessity?”

Herbert Wallbrecher (*1922 †1997), like both his older brothers and Johannes Joachim Degenhardt, whom he was closely connected with in the catholic youth movement, considered joining the Jesuits. When his brothers did not return from the war and his parents’ insurance and tax office fell to him. After the end of the Nazi dictatorship and the catastrophe of the Shoah, it was impossible for him to go back to the way life used to be before 1933 as if nothing had happened, which many tried to do. But how to be a Christian now? In this time of questions, that worried him as well as many of his contemporaries, he, now a lawyer and working as an entrepreneur, met Gertraud Weiß from Munich, a psychology student and national head of the Heliand, who had the same question. They met, in Munich they attended a production of Paul Claudel’s “The Satin Slipper” at the newly reopened Kammerspiele; in the afterword, which Hans Urs von Balthasar added to his translation of the play, they found a clearer phrasing of what their question was: “How is it possible to live completely in the world and completely in God?”

Twenty years later the Integrated Community presented itself to the public as the fruit of this initial constellation; another ten years later she was recognized as an “Apostolic Community in the spirit of the decree Apostolicam actuositatem No. 18 and 19 of the Second Vatican Council” by the archbishops of Paderborn and Munich and Freising, the cardinals Johannes Joachim Degenhardt and Joseph Ratzinger. In the decree it says, i. a.: “Maintaining the proper relationship to Church authorities, the laity have the right to found and control such associations and to join those already existing. The group apostolate of Christian believers happily corresponds to a human and Christian need. Among these associations, those which promote and encourage closer unity between the concrete life of the members and their faith must be given primary consideration.“

Dr. Herbert Wallbrecher with his wife Gertraud – are they perhaps representatives of the modern laity of the Church, whom the fathers of Vatican II hoped for?

Archbischop Dr. Josef Stimpfle (1916–1996), Foto 1989 St. Ulrich Walchensee

 

For the homily he usually had a seat placed in front of the altar for him, as also during the festive mass he celebrated on Easter Monday 1995 in St. Ulrich in Walchensee with the parish and the Catholic Integrated Community. Unforgettable his words:

“On the Third Day the Lord rose from the dead. We now celebrate this Easter immediately before the dawn of the Third Day. The first millennium was the millennium of the proclamation of the Crucified and Risen One. Then came the second millennium; that is where the dispersion and division began. Now we are standing at the end of this second millennium. It is a kairos, a breathtaking hour, where, in spite of all the darkness and all the suffering of humanity and also a lot of strife within the Church herself, the Third Day is coming. It is the day of victory of the risen Lord. It is the day that wants to transform humanity again and bring about a change, as it happened during the Easter night two thousand years ago.”

Once, two members of the CIC drove to Fulda. The bishop’s conference was in session there and we wanted to put forth a request to him. In the cloister we looked for a niche. The throng of bishops and auxiliary bishops passed by. Short silence. Then a step rang out like of a farmer who walks across the cobbled yard, heavy, deliberate, not hurried, certain. It was he. That is what he was like. A man expecting, turned towards the expected and actively awakening pleasure to arrive, not just in his diocese.

In 1963, having been ordained a bishop at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council through Paul VI., he already proved his understanding of the approaching renewed view of the Church, also of his office, with his motto “for the journeying People of God” (Plebi Dei peregrinanti). His care for the entire Church became known worldwide. He traveled to the third world, even to countries under communist rule. With the organization “Church in Need” he did not only bring financial help to the bishops, priests and faithful, but especially encouragement and strong signs of solidarity.

In 1968 he traveled to Israel with the chairman of the Jewish community of Augsburg, Julius Spokojny. On the occasion of the consecration of the small synagogue in Augsburg in 1963 he had assured him: “Within the Catholic scope I will advocate the acceptance of the model about the Catholic Church’s relationships with the Jewish people and about the freedom of conscience prepared at the Second Vatican Council.” He welcomed new initiatives and charisms.

For a long time nobody realized what a bishop the Catholic Integrated Community had in him. Already since 1953 the CIC, their members mostly part of the Munich diocese, had been residing in the diocese of Augsburg with their house in Urfeld; that was a privilege and granted protection and safeguard. When he first came there on a visit in 1987, he surprised with a modified quote from the First Book of Samuel during a toast: “We didn’t go out to look for donkeys, and yet found a kingdom!” He entrusted the CIC’s community of priests with two parishes. He showed what is possible for a bishop when he ordained a construction engineer, a member of the CIC, as a priest with regard to his involvement in Tanzania.

How did the people in his hometown Maihingen talk about their great son? “He is one of us — and yet completely different”, that is how his nephew passed it on. “He had a lot of faith and went beyond boundaries”, a Ugandan priest said, in whose diocese the bishop had a cathedral built.

Dr. Annemarie Berkenheier (1919–2010), Foto October 2008

 

Conspicuous indicators of her upper-class catholic background were pieces of furniture of such dimensions that they would not have fit in any normal apartment; a meter-sized baroque sculpture of the woman in the Apocalypse; particularly: a portrait of her father, a doctor also known as doctor of the poor in Munich – looking out through the heavy frame, bearded and serious –, that she took with her to her first office in Schiller Street near central station. There she continued the treatment of fractures she had learnt from her father: without operation. Many patients came to her for that reason, especially from rural areas. Some stayed the night, paid in kind. One patient left her a car that would not drive, which she did not realize because she never owned a drivers’ license.

A conscious and loyal companion from the first hour on. She took on young doctors in her office and continued it with them as a joint practice. There are no great deeds known of her, except that she had a sound sleep in the mornings. She spent her last years in Urfeld by the Walchensee together with her friend Helene von Ungern-Sternberg. Later on she told of a nightly conversation with her:

 

One evening, as I was sitting with Helene in her room before going to bed, we started talking about the future and also about death. And Helene said: You know, I do fear dying a little; I think to myself: If I am expected to and must answer for everything I’ve done, then I don’t know… I didn’t always do everything as I was supposed to. I don’t know what I’m supposed to say and think then.

And then I said: You know, I also think about death. But when I do, I always think of the eternal city that comes down from the heavens, adorned like a bride. When God builds the eternal city, then He’ll sit there at the end of days and look at an enormous pile of stones, all of the people that belong to it; and then, first off, He’ll sort the stones. He looks for the precious stones, the semiprecious stones, then also those with slight marks, traces of damage. He says to himself: That doesn’t matter, we can work them in. Then He looks at the others that may be more damaged and says to Himself: There are so many spots in my city where you can’t see everything, they’ll fit there as well and will be beautiful and shine. And then He selects the blocks of marble, the beautiful ones, the grained ones and the ones that have small flaws, then the bricks – He will sort everything. And when He's done He will have a big pile of stones. He’ll say to himself: Pity, they’re living  stones, but I’ll have to throw them away. Suddenly it occurs to Him: I still have to make the foundation; a city like the one I am building needs a strong, sturdy foundation. Good, He’ll say, that I still have these stones, they will all go into the foundation and then I’ll add a lot of mortar, that will bind them together so that none of them are alone. That will make for a strong foundation, on which I will build my city.

As I was telling of the stones and the sorting, Helene sat there with big, fearful eyes; when I came to the foundation her eyes sparkled and she said: Yes, you’re right: it’s enough for the foundation. And when, at some point, I’m sitting in the foundation, I’ll call out: Annemarie, are you there, too? And then you’ll say: Yes, I’m also here, sitting in the foundation, really close to you. And then we’ll chat for all eternity.

 

Before her last wish was fulfilled, she still wanted to travel to Wladiwostok on the Trans Siberian Train. A beatification process has not been initiated.

 „Come to Africa!“

Picture: Bischop Christopher Mwoleka 1978 in the centre of the KIG: „Come to Africa!“

 

Christopher Mwoleka, 1927–2002, Bischop of the Diocese of Rulenge, Tanzania, 1969–1996

 

“For centuries the life of Christians was divided between this world and the world to come after death. Now the time has come to live the one life, the New Life of man in Christ that begins now and continues after death; we begin eternal life here and now.”

“For centuries the salt stood next to the plate. Now the time has come to scatter the salt on the plate to give flavor to the dish.”

When Christopher Mwoleka was spreading such programmatic theses at the beginning of the 70s – of ten similar ones only two are quoted here – he was known as the “barefoot bishop” and as “Ujamaa-bishop” in Tanzania and beyond, he was much admired and also belittled. In the rhetorical culmination for centuries – now a suspense is depicted that defined his biography, it also characterized the political environment of his country that had only just reached its independence (1961) under President Julius Nyerere, who had been socialized in a catholic environment.

In those days Marxism/Socialism were very popular and undisputed. The pilgrimages – also of German theologians – to South America to the basis communities, to Nicaragua began; Che Guevara, Mao and Ho Chi Minh were icons revered worldwide. The men of the “Prague Spring” (1968) still strove for a “socialism with a human face”. Not until 1974, when Alexander Solschenizyn’s  Archipel Gulag was publicized, did a critical assessment slowly begin.

Julius Nyerere was very abreast of contemporary developments when three years after Tanganyika and Zanzibar came together to form the United Republic of Tanzania, he laid down a kind of African Socialism in the Arusha Deklaration (1967) as a path to the construction of a state system (building of the nation): Ujamaa. It was also inspired by Christianity and built on the basis of African traditions (community). He decreed Kiswahili the common language of the over one hundred tribes, who each had their own language; he tried to mitigate the traditional tribalism. He succeeded in pacifying the country. Nyerere preferred Latin American missionaries to European ones. Dom Helger Camara’s manifest “Gospel and Revolution” was circulated by him. Christopher Mwoleka, bishop of Rulenge since 1969, saw an ideational and practical connection in the idea of Ujamaa (Christian ideas realized by Tanzanian way: work together, live together). As a bishop he regularly helped with the work in the Ujamaa-village Nyabihanga, went out on the field barefoot and shared in the life of the villagers.

“Ujamaa-Bishop” and “barefoot bishop” is only half the story. People who went to Nyabihanga with him reported he had yet another name for this Ujamaa-village: Rivo Troto, the name of a deserted shed in the plain near Assisi, where Francis and his companions first found shelter. Ujamaa was his motivation for keeping alive the question of the genuine foundation and form of Christian life beyond the socialist approach. Francis of Assisi offered a reference point, as did theology. Oftentimes he repeated: God’s nature is sharing. He was significantly involved in developing the pastoral concept of the Small Christian Communities that today is realized in all Tanzanian dioceses as subdivision of the parishes.

With this horizon of experiences and questions he encountered the Catholic Integrated Community in 1977. The encounter led to a shared history, finally to a Catholic Integrated Community in Tanzania – one more place where one can strive for the form of Christianity beyond the borders of continents and cultures in his spirit and encourage each other in this endeavor.

Foto: Walther Cohen (1928–1959)

 

In 1905 Rabbi Leo Baeck published a book “The Essence of Judaism” – a reply to “The Essence of Christianity” (1901) by the most renowned protestant theologian at the time, Adolf von Harnack. In it he wrote “This is what the Jew should be like as a Jew: the great non-conformist in history”.

It is unlikely that Walther Cohen’s father had read Leo Baeck. On his desk in the upper-class house, a death mask of Goethe stood next to a statue of Voltaire. When he wanted to read the bible Rudolf, Walther’s younger brother, was recommended the Ilias by his father. The family was positioned through the last name Cohen, although they were saved from the worst. The father was a half-Jew, as they used to say at that time, and married to a Quaker; in 1933 he joined the Quakers to provide for the prisoners in Dachau with their effective network and, if possible, buy their freedom. He refused to emigrate to Switzerland.

When Walther was twelve, he and his brother wanted to cheer up the Jews who had been herded together in the detention center in Berg am Laim in 1940. They collected tree frogs and brought them to them. At home on the coatrack his brother Rudolf’s Hitler Youth uniform and his jacket with the Yellow Star hung next to each other. In the spring of 1945 Walther picked up freed concentration camp prisoners with his handcart and brought them to his mother, who was a doctor. Later on he turns into a cat burglar well known throughout town and to the police, breaks into villas, takes fur coats and other useful things to pass them on to his clochards. One time he leaves a note: “A very interested person was here, who allowed himself to take a cookie.” Homeless had access to his garden room day and night and could always find hot soup and bread. He worked as a bookbinder, a book restaurateur. At the insistence of his wife, whom he married shortly before his death, he finally began training to become a catechist.

At 16 he was baptized. The priest and theologian Dr. Alois Goergen, his religion teacher, had encouraged him. Later he joined the group around Dr. Goergen known as the “Goergen Circle” in Munich. According to his brother’s words it was here that Walther first saw a “chance of life” in a group “that aims for an almost virginal purity in everything. His hate, contempt, ridicule turned into adoration for Christianity and especially for Mr. Goergen.” But his urge to put anyone and everyone to the test and to discern what is real about them, whether their life corresponds with their words – even with the most beautiful theology – brought him new disappointments. He died at 31, in some ways not unsimilar to Joseph Roth.

He introduced unheard of things to the group: Martin Buber’s Chassidic stories, especially “Jesus was a Jew and not a Christian”. In 1954, ten years before the Second Vatican Council rephrased the relationship of Christianity and Judaism in Nostra Aetate, he presented a kind of Israel-first-manifesto, starting with the sentence:

“As it has pleased God to reveal himself to the Jews, but not to the Greeks, the Romans or any other people …”

His short presence was like the flare of a comet that brought a “land” to light, which for many was a terra incognita: Christianity as the teaching of differentiation within the school of Israel and the Old Testament. .

 

Walther Cohen's complete Text

Foto: Hedvig Fornander (1937–1989)

 

In celebration of her confirmation on May 1, 1981, through Cardinal Johannes Joachim Degenhardt in Paderborn, Hedvig Fornander, musician and lyricist, described her path up to that point. From 1962 on, she had been a founding member of the group from which the Catholic Integrated Community grew in 1968.

 

Born in Sweden I got to know Christianity in the local protestant-Lutheran Church. As my parents increasingly lost their faith and growing up I did not find a place anywhere where I could live the faith, the question of faith turned into a nagging problem for me. For a long time I experienced the world as completely ‘autonomous’, but I could not ‘rest’ on that. Everywhere I saw traces of something that should be real and I should commit myself to as well, but an impenetrable wall made it impossible to experience this reality and respond to it.

At twenty-two, after I had begun studying linguistics and later music, I came to Germany. Why? To me Germany was the land of music and the country where Martin Luther was born. Here I began searching, driven by rootlessness in every way, and – it was 1962 – I got to know the former “Goergen Circle”, from which later on the Catholic Integrated Community evolved. Here, for the first time, I found a place where even I could learn faith. In 1966 I converted to the Catholic faith; in the following year I completed my music studies.

I had now found my ‘new family’ and my home here in Munich; meaning, I found the Church, the place that was an unknown island to me, a locked gate, as it may generally be for most people in my home country.

I clearly realized again how real this estrangement within my home country has already become during my trip there in fall one and a half years ago when I visited Stockholm. I was walking through the streets not far from central station. A woman had taken up her post in the pedestrian area. Dolled up, already older, with bright red hair, she blaringly sang songs of the sweet Jesus and the jeweled gates of heaven into the loudspeaker in a Swedish-American way, accompanied by an electronic organ she played herself. The people strolled by – and maybe they were not even offended by the degrading ugliness of the performance, by the selling off of the name of Christ. Because – that is what it seems like to me – where the faith is no longer experienced as a reality, where the ‘world’ governs itself; also where the sense that it is something worth protecting, that something like a highest beauty exists, disappears more and more.

Today I know about the reality of the Church and how faith is actively passed on from person to person. I have been allowed to learn what tradition is. That there is a ‘community of faithful’ for me today, an entire people, whom I can actually embrace with my pride and my love, and where the meaning of the word ‘faith’ transforms itself into something very palpable, that is completely unfathomable to me.

 

 

A poem by Hedvig Fornander

 

Without joy,

with worry the world greets you,

advancing time.

 

But we were called away from fear,

we, who live in the time of wonders.

 

 

 

More poems by Hedvig Forndander:

 

 

It is not important

that you searched

or that you didn’t search at all.

Cause for trembling is what you found.

 

Thus, the globe is not globe

but place of discovery.

 

Not the oil billionaires are to be envied

but solely the shepherds.

 

 

* * *

 

 

The letter with the unheard-of new message

came in an envelope without address

 

some said:

this is not meant for us

 

we then opened the letter

nobody wanted

 

 

* * *                         

 

 

at the meeting of blow drier

rush hour traffic

tooth ache

there is not much one can do

 

at the meeting of petroleum

eggs

sawdust

there will be no cake

 

at the meeting of you, you and me

– not much in it

we however were called together

 

 

                

* * *

 

 

What was left

was used

everything that was there

not even the best

 

now it was called

sourdough

 

                

* * *

 

 

At first we came along with full sails

with waving flags, with heavy luggage –

You let us shrink.

 

Maybe at the end of each of us

only a grain will be left –

a grain of wheat

that falls to the ground.