In addition to Cardinal Kurt Koch, Jens-Martin Kruse, the pastor of the German Protestant congregation in Rome, has also received the Federal Cross of Merit for his commitment to ecumenism. This is a special gesture, as he emphasizes.
Interviewer: The laudatory speech calls you an "ambassador of German Protestantism" who provides "invaluable services in ecumenical cooperation". Words of Federal President Gauck are that – even a Protestant pastor. How does your ecumenical work in Rome look like, which is appreciated there?
Jens-Martin Kruse (pastor of the German Protestant congregation in Rome): As an Evangelical Lutheran congregation in Rome, we are of course in a very special situation vis-à-vis the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church. The pope is also the bishop of Rome and therefore there is indeed a common level on which one meets relatively often. As a result, there are many contacts and a great closeness, as well as relations to each other. So it happens that every now and then we as a congregation also have the popes as guests. This is what it was like last November when Pope Francis came to visit. That was a very wonderful and fulfilling meeting. Already before, in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI was. guest and in 1983 Pope John Paul II.
Interviewer: You weren't the only one to receive the Cross of Merit yesterday; Curia Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Unity, was also honored. What has he achieved for ecumenism?
Kruse: Cardinal Koch has been involved in ecumenical dialogue for the Roman Catholic Church for many years as a professor of theology, then as bishop of Basel, and finally for six years in the Vatican in an authoritative position. He is now, so to speak, the supreme promoter of Christian unity on the part of the Roman Catholic Church. He is tirelessly involved in many ecumenical dialogues. As far as our parish and our church are concerned, I myself have experienced him as a very open and very reliable interlocutor who has willingly represented and passed on our concerns. From this point of view, it is very nice that the Federal Republic of Germany has honored him as a Swiss citizen. I think it is a good sign that a Protestant and a Roman Catholic clergyman have been honored.
Interviewer: For us, we talk relatively much about understanding between the denominations and ecumenism. However, the fact that this is also appreciated by politics and that a few days before Reformation Day these two Federal Crosses of Merit go to Rome is already a relatively great gesture, isn't it??
Kruse: This is a very special gesture. I feel the same way. From my point of view, this means that the Federal Republic of Germany says that it is important for the country of the Reformation that there is a lively, innovative and courageous ecumenism in Rome and that impulses for ecumenism also come from Rome. This honor is therefore on the one hand a recognition of what we have been doing here for many, many years. But it is also an encouragement and an obligation to do even more at this point and to strive even more intensively together for more unity among us Christians.
Interviewer: Next Sunday you will have the next opportunity to do so. In your German Protestant Christ Church in Rome, you welcome Cardinal Marx, the president of the German Bishops' Conference. What's behind this visit?
Kruse: This is again a very nice gesture and shows how important our little church here in Rome is for the whole ecumenism. We begin our double anniversary as a congregation this coming Sunday at our Christuskirche with an ecumenical service. Cardinal Marx will give the sermon at this event. As a Protestant congregation in Rome, we are celebrating 200 years of Protestant worship in Rome and at the same time commemorating 500 years of the beginnings of the Reformation. Cardinal Marx let us invite him and was willing to come from Munich especially for this, to celebrate this special year in this special and important place Rome. Of course, we are very happy about this and it is something very special for our small congregation.
Interviewer: Let me go back to the laudation: It says that you are an interlocutor in the ecumenical dialogue to whom we should listen more often here in Germany. How should we as Christians deal with each other ecumenically??
Kruse: Here in Rome we live ecumenism quite unconcernedly full of trust in God and do what is possible in ecumenism today. I believe that this can also be done in other contexts. You don't have to look first at what might be difficult or where you have concerns and worries, but you should look at how to strengthen your relationship with each other and then continue together on this path. At least that's how we do it in Rome and that's also how many in Germany do it – and that makes me very happy.
The interview was conducted by Renardo Schlegelmilch.