Germany Rediscovers Religion

Berlin, Germany - Some 400,000 people flocked to the city of Hanover Wednesday for the opening of the 30th annual German Protestant Convention -- a record number that reflects a renewed national interest in religious values.

Despite the current turmoil in Berlin with the upcoming early elections, many of the country's leading politicians are present at the meeting, including Chancellor Schröder, SPD Chairman Franz Müntefering and opposition leader Angela Merkel -- all acutely aware that every public appearance now has immediate repercussions for the campaign.

Featuring over 2,500 talks on topics ranging from globalization and social equality to spirituality and faith, this year's convention has made it its mission to blaze a trail for values designed to kick-start change in Germany.

"The Protestant Church is based on values with a future," said the bishop of Hanover, Margot Kässmann. "Schröder, (President Horst) Köhler and Merkel have one thing in common - they are all Protestant. (The convention) gives them a platform to discuss the best way forward for our country."

At the opening ceremony, Köhler said the event could help Germans gather strength for the social changes headed their way, while Convention President Eckardt Nagel proposed the event "take a stand against society's current depression and pessimism."

The Protestant Kirchentag takes place in Hanover from May 25 - May 29, 2005 . It's theme is

One of the most striking aspects of this year's gathering is the large number of young participants. They said they're here to meet people and enjoy the convention's various side events.

The increased presence of the younger generation at this year's Protestant Convention could be part of a wider trend. Recently, the Church has observed an upsurge in religious fervor across society, most notably in the eastern states, where religion took a back seat during communist times.

"We've noticed that a certain religious inclination is finding far greater expression these days than in previous years," said Heike Krohn from the Berlin and Brandenburg Lutheran Church in an interview with the Berliner Morgenpost daily.

"There's been a conspicuous rise in interest," she said, pointing out that the Church has been welcoming a surprising number of new members.

But even more people are leaving it. In 2003, some 1,424 people joined the Church, compared to 11,232 who turned their back on it. Even so, the situation's not as bad as it looks. 11 years previously, 43,508 people became lapsed Christians.

The Catholic Church is witnessing a similar trend. In the years following the fall of the Berlin wall, it saw the number of Church-leavers fall from 14,500 in 1990 to 3000 in 2002.

"A lot of religious communities are asking themselves what Christianity really means," Stefan Förner, spokesman with the Berlin Archbishopric, told the Morgenpost. One factor, he said, is the recent appointment of Pope Benedict XVI. "There was a rise of re-entries and conversions in the period just before and after his election."