Friday, June 03, 2005
To Cardinal Sterzinsky (Kimberley E. Koehler Freitag)
Kimberley E. Koehler Freitag
618 Yellowstone Drive, Elgin, IL 60123, U.S.A.
(847) 741-4162, firstname.lastname@example.org
May 2, 2005
Dear Cardinal Sterzinsky,
I am writing to express my deep sadness and concern with regard to your decision to close and de-consecrate All Saints Community Chapel (the former American Community Chapel, ACC) at Hüttenweg 46, in Berlin. I lived in Berlin with my husband, Bob, and our daughter, Caroline, from 1986 to 1988 and again from 1993 to 1996. We were employed by the John F. Kennedy German-American School in Zehlendorf and were integral members of the All Saints parish family.
Despite my efforts to learn German by taking classes at the “Hard Knocks” Schule in Nollendorf Platz and a college course in Berlin, my second language skills are very basic. When I attended church in German, for example, at St. Otto’s in Zehlendorf, I was largely lost as I could not understand the readings, homily, or participate in responses or songs. All I could do was to pray by myself silently in English and then go to Communion. Due to my limited language skills, I could not truly be a part of the worshipping community. Quite frankly, Cardinal Sterzinsky, it seemed pointless to go to mass when I was more of a spectator than a real parish member. I seriously considered simply joining the thousands of Catholics who have quit going to mass and left the Church. All of that changed when I was able to worship at All Saints, particularly when the chapel moved from the authority of the U.S. military to the Archdiocese of Berlin after the decommissioning of the Berlin Brigade and departure of U.S. forces from the city.
At All Saints my entire family became involved in parish life. Bob served as a lector and I as a Eucharistic Minister. Caroline, who was in elementary school at that time, handed out psalm books and worship materials as people entered the chapel. The three of us organized the parish’s hospitality activities after Mass. I also served as a member of the parish council. This type of family involvement in the church continued when we returned to the U.S. We are now involved in liturgical and marriage preparation ministry in our parish, St. Charles Borromeo in Hampshire, Illinois. We are active in Marriage Encounter and Cursillo, and Bob has served on our parish council and worked in Catholics Returning Home ministry to invite people estranged from the church back into the community. Thus, All Saints became a vital lifeline and instrument for me and my family not only to continue to engage in the Church but to become very active members and grow in our faith.
Let me share with you the type of genuine Christian community I experienced at All Saints Catholic Church. All Saints is a truly catholic – universal and international – community. Catholics from the entire world – British, Irish, Americans, Africans, Asians and English-speaking Germans – join together to praise, thank, and worship God and to share fellowship after Mass. People from all parts of the city come by car, bike, bus, or U-Bahn to be part of the All Saints community. All people are welcome, and we have the opportunity to bridge cultural gaps united by our faith. After Mass, we gather in the fellowship hall to enjoy refreshments and each other’s company. Conversations range from the light and personal – sharing stories of family and the events of the week – to serious discussions of faith and political matters from an international perspective. The “regulars”, that is, Berliners, both German and expatriate, are joined by visitors to the city, folks on business or vacation, who are eager to be part of the community, for a single Sunday, for a month, for a year, or for whatever their time in Berlin happens to be. Jesus’ command to go out to all nations and spread the Gospel is alive in the All Saints Catholic Community.
I do not know, dear Cardinal, if you have had the opportunity to live outside of your homeland. During my time abroad, I had many wonderful opportunities, yet I still experienced homesickness, culture shock, and deep feelings of being a “stranger in a strange land”. At times, I fear, I was starting to slip into depression. These feelings of alienation were mitigated by being able to join with other English-speaking Catholics in Berlin in a warm, welcoming, worship family at All Saints Church. All Saints Church was a place in which I felt accepted and at home. Not only was this parish community a place in which I could attend and participate in Mass, it was an environment in which my faith was strengthened and nurtured. Had it not been for All Saints, I might well have left the Church forever.
Whenever I talk to ex-Catholics, people who have dropped out of the Church, I hear the same theme couched in different stories. That theme is one of alienation. My husband, a psychologist by profession, always says, “The Catholic Church has the best theology but has bad psychology.” What he means is that people are turned off to the Church because of bad personal experiences, not because of some deep-seated disagreement with theology. Furthermore, theological correctness is not enough to keep people engaged in the Church. All Saints Catholic Community not only offers its members and visitors sound theology and worship but also good psychology, that is, a true community of love and welcoming that keep people engaged and committed to their faith and fellow Catholics. Please, Cardinal Sterzinsky, I respectfully ask – no, I beg – you to reconsider your decision and to allow All Saints Church to continue operating as the vibrant community and beacon of excellence in parish life that it is.