“Protesting for mercy”

On Friday, Thuringia's Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow will be received by Pope Francis. On our site interview, Ramelow spoke about Francis as a "protesting" pope and the role of the churches in the fight against xenophobia.

Interviewer: You don't meet the pope every day. Now as prime minister you are used to public appearances. Is there a bit of excitement with you, then, anyway?

Bodo Ramelow (Prime Minister of Thuringia, The Left Party): This has been going on for a few days now, that I have a certain nervousness because it is something very special to meet the Pope for once. I have already been to a general audience with Benedict. That was a very impressive and very moving situation. The fact that I can now come to the private audience with Francis makes me really happy.

Interviewer: How will this private audience?

Bodo Ramelow: I will once have half an hour in private with Francis. Then there will be another half hour at which the CDU district administrator from the Eichsfeld district, an employee from the refugee work in Weimar, a representative from the citizens' initiative "Mitmenschlichkeit", the state secretary for European affairs, who is also involved with the preparations for the Reformation Year, and my wife and I will also be there.

Interviewer: What topics do you want to discuss with the pope?

Bodo Ramelow (Prime Minister of Thuringia, The Left Party): We will talk about refugee work, about the challenge on a global scale and address the questions: How do we deal with the world, how do we deal with creation? I will present the pope with a bronze figure of St. Elizabeth, which is very symbolic in this sense. She hits the theme of mercy, which the Holy Father has made the focus of the Holy Year. From the origin she is a Hungarian princess, who worked in Thuringia, on the Wartburg, and then was canonized in Marburg. Consequently, she is a unifying saint figure who has shown through her work that there are no borders. I think it's a very important signal to start a conversation about this. I also have the original facsimile Luther Bible with me. It is the first German Bible written by Martin Luther as a Catholic. He was a Catholic priest who was ordained in the cathedral in Erfurt and who worked in the Catholic Augustinian monastery in Erfurt. In fact, Martin Luther did not want to found a new church. Martin Luther wanted to reform his church, but above all he wanted to bring people closer to the faith again. I think it is worth talking about it in the Reformation year as well.

The Reformation Year 2017 will be a very special event in Thuringia. We invite all people to Thuringia, to Saxony-Anhalt, to Wittenberg and to Berlin. In Thuringia we still have the Achava Festival, which is Hebrew and means brotherhood. This festival is an important part of the Reformation Year. We want religion, religiousness and faith to be talked about more again, especially when people march up who supposedly want to defend the Christian Occident and only engage in xenophobic agitation every day.

Interviewer: You are one of the few left-wing politicians who profess faith. You are Protestant, but say that in a certain sense Pope Francis is also Protestant for you. How is that to be understood?

Bodo Ramelow: I said he is a Protestant, but not Protestant in the sense of Protestant or Lutheran, but Protestant in the sense of "protesting". Someone who does not simply look the other way silently against the conditions in the world or profits from them himself, but who says: This is not possible. We have the world only once, we can deal with it only once. Fraternity, humanity, brotherhood work only if they are in the heart. Francis' statements on mercy are the central theme in his pontificate and that's why I call it "protesting". Just protesting against the ruthlessness and that is why I called him a Protestant. However, I do not want to take him for the Protestant Church, but would rather be pleased if not only Cyril is hit, which was without question a groundbreaking event, but now it should also be about the fact that in the end we also move forward in the direction of the common Lord's Supper as Christians.

Interviewer: Your party caused a stir a few days ago with an election poster featuring the Pope. Why is that? Do you see a greater role for religion in the Left Party than before?

Bodo Ramelow: I think my party in Rhineland-Palatinate was about the quote and Francis actually provides quotes where you realize that what Catholic social ethics and social teaching is about is something that has a common foundation even up to the leftists. The amazement was of course great: How can a left-wing party dare to depict the pope and then add a quote like this.

A week later, Chancellor Kohl was also placarded with a quote in the same way. It is simply worthwhile to talk about the foundations of our society in such a way that they are not appropriated for party politics. But if we want to defend values, then compassion and mercy must be the central values. Our Basic Law, our constitution prescribes this, but the form of cold ruthlessness then sometimes proceeds. Perhaps we in one of the richest countries in the world should think about the fact that sharing must also be part of our canon of values.

The interview was conducted by Milena Furman.

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