Parish engages in refugee integration in Halle (WCC news)

Three times a week refugees are invited to Luthergemeinde - or Luther Parish - in central Halle, Germany to visit with parish members. Sometimes they cook and sometimes they just meet to talk and get acquainted. This initiative is a creative effort to integrate some of the 400 refugees that have been placed around the vicinity of the parish.

"Everybody is welcome. As a Christian community it is important for us to reach out to refugees, regardless of their faith. Many of them come from Syria and are Muslims," says Mechthild Lattorff, pastor in the parish.

A challenge she and her colleagues are facing is to engage more volunteers to help.

"We need more volunteers to facilitate encounters between local communities and refugees,” explains Lattorff.

While the members of the parish are mostly elderly people, many of the refugees are young.

Eighteen-year old Abrào Gomes came a year ago from Guinea Bissau after having been on flight through other countries for years. Being without any family or relatives he has now found a home in the Luther Parish, where he has a part-time job as a refugee helper.

Luther Parish has been working ecumenically with the Catholic Church in Halle for a year.

"The refugees do not come to us because of our Christian beliefs, but to get help and get to know the community. The Christian cross is of course always at the center of our work, but our objective is to help, not to impose our religion on other people,” says Lattorff.

Since the days of communist rule, which ended in 1989, social work has undergone dramatic changes. One one hand, churches were much closer to each other during the German Democratic Republic regime and had to work under clandestine conditions providing social support to people who - illegally - wanted to leave the country.

"The churches were a natural centre for opposition. Strong bonds were forged between the churches under such circumstances" says Lattorff.

On the other hand, everything is possible in a free society and today there are more opportunities for churches to engage in social work.

"That has loosened the bonds between churches a bit and the competition among them has increased,” explains Lattorff.

In a region where the only "religion" for 40 years was enforced Marxism, today's Christian population are Christians by choice, rather than by birth as in many other countries.

"That is a very different situation from parishes abroad," Lattorff says.


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