Students gather in Holy Land for Christian unity

During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, a group of young people in their 20s actively participated in various ecumenical prayer services in the Holy Land.

Feb 10, 2024

(CNA photo/Marinella Bandini)

By Marinella Bandini
During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, a group of young people in their 20s actively participated in various ecumenical prayer services in the Holy Land.

They were German-speaking theology students enrolled in the annual programme of ecumenical studies (called “Studienjahr”), which has been offered for 50 years at the Benedictine Abbey of the Dormition in Jerusalem.

Daniel Kargm, 21, was one of these students who had come to live an immersive experience in the interfaith environment of the Holy Land. Hailing from a small village near Augsburg, Kargm said, “I grew up in a very traditional Catholic family. Faith has always been very important to me. At 17, after graduating, I decided to enter the seminary to become a priest.”

After a rigorous selection process, Kargm was admitted to the Studienjahr. “I wanted to apply to this programme because I’m interested in the Old Testament, in the Holy Land, and in the topic of the historical Jesus of Nazareth,” he said.

In these months, Kargm has not only connected with his fellow budding theologians but also immersed himself in the richness of Christian and religious traditions of the Holy Land. He attends the Arabic-speaking Catholic community, plays the organ at the Lutheran church, prays with the monks of the Dormition Abbey, and participates in liturgies of the Eastern Christian churches. The students engage with colleagues and professors from local universities — both Israeli and Palestinian.

“I thought Judaism would have been a big topic for me, but in fact, Islam is now a very big question mark. I know many Muslim people who have a deep spiritual life and rich spiritual history. [I am asking] questions like, ‘Which religion is the truth?’ and ‘How can truth and faith be in more than one religion?’” said Kargm.

He continued: “I began to wonder what it means to belong to a religion and, in fact, what a religion is. I’m planning my life, thinking of becoming a priest, and these kinds of questions are very present within me.” One of Kargm’s closest friends in the student residence is a Protestant young man. Both of them are big fans of the German soccer team Bayern Munich, which brought them together from the very beginning.

For the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, on January 25 the students of the Studienjahr enlivened the prayer in the Upper Room — which is just a few metres from the Dormition Abbey and where Jesus is believed to have shared the Last Supper with His apostles before His passion — with song and music. Passed down through the generations, the room has been incorporated into the Jewish complex of the “Tomb of David” and is available for Christian use only a few days a year.

“Music is a very good approach to ecumenism because it is universal: Everybody can relate to it and the feeling that the music conveys brings us all together,” Johanna Wirth, a member of the choir of students, said after the ecumenical prayer, adding: “In this room, listening to the same music or singing the same songs brings us together.”

Wirth, a Lutheran, attends the Studienjahr programme. She said that being in contact with different Christian and religious traditions in Jerusalem “challenges me, because I have to go out of my comfort zone and question my own faith, because it is questioned by others — by their traditions, by their prayers ... In the end, all that makes me go back to my own tradition even more than before: I learn to appreciate what I have in my own tradition and I also gain a lot of positive things from other traditions and religions.” --CNA

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