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You Won't Find Wealthy, Materialistic Atheism Here! (Einen Reichen, Materialistischen Atheismus Gibt es Hier Nicht)

An interview with the Bishop of the German-Lutheran Church of Ukraine,
Dr. h.c. Edmund Ratz (Part 1 appeared in Volk auf dem Weg, February, 2001, pages 14-15)

Leh, Michael. "You Won’t Find Wealthy, Materialistic Atheism Here! (Einen Reichen, Materialistischen Atheismus Gibt es Hier Nicht)." Volk auf dem Weg, March 2001, 13-14.

Translation from German to English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado


Michael Leh: What are you able to accomplish in the face of the difficult social conditions of many people? Older people in particular have a difficult life. Also, we are told, there are frequent power outages. How are people going to make it through the winter?

Bishop Ratz: These external factors affect me personally, too. I live in a room at an old sanitarium, and we often experience power outages and lack of hot water. This is common, given the current energy problems. To some degree one simply gets used to all of this. However, it is likely to be much more problematic for people who are older and ailing. Many do have extremely low pensions, in fact, there are few retirees who receive more than 100 marks per month. The minimum is 20 marks, in contrast with costs and prices, which are for the most part not very low. Without additional resources or without being able to live with a family, it is very tough to make ends meet.

For these reasons we have arranged for a winter assistance program in almost all communities. We do receive some aid from Germany in this endeavor. Pensioners in communities where they receive only the minimum receive some food aid, and at times they get their heat paid for. There is an additional diaconate program that pertains to the sick. Here in Odessa, for example, we happen to have a well functioning diaconate team. The community leader is a doctor, and we even have two nurses. Their work receives assistance from Germany, for example, from Rotary Clubs in Ansbach and Neumarkt, which aid this important work with delightful consultation.

Naturally all of these are like a drop in the bucket, given our gigantic societal problems here. We often think about how we might be able to do more, especially with the many homeless, the street kids, and prostitution. For some problems, expending money would help, but more important is the need for qualified aid personnel, and there is a real lack of those. But we continue to think about how we could get something done in this aspect as well.

Michael Leh: There are some plans to establish the area around the ruins of St. Paul's Church as a German-Bavarian Center, and it would include the evangelical Church. What do you think about that?

Bishop Ratz: About six or seven years ago the city returned to us the area with the so-called pastors house and the burned-out St. Paul's Church. We expected to be able to use these for the church community. Of course, the current community is not comparable to that before WW I. At that time, the church community included 8000 members, now we have about 400. So we
certainly do not need a church seating 1200 to 1500. Even if we were able to renovated it, it would not quite fit our purposes. In the so-called pastors house, a large building, we have been able to accommodate most of our church and diaconate departments, and also a center for health assistance and guidance plus a space for divine services. In reality the only sensible use
of this area is in conjunction with others. Thus the idea to expand and build upon the partnership with the Bavarian House which we already enjoy, thereby including a church, social work, cultural work, and economic assistance. The various partners have met this idea thus far with not
entirely minor agreement. An important milestone was the visit by the official from the German Federal Republic responsible for repatriates [Aussiedler], Jochen Welt. In May we spoke to him about our ideas and plans, and he expressed himself favorably toward them.

Michael Leh: In Germany there is relatively little reporting on Ukraine. It is almost a "white spot" in the consciousness of people hereabouts, even in school texts. What can be done about that?

Bishop Ratz: First, I can only acknowledge what you are saying. I myself, in conjunction with the Lutheran World Federation, had traveled to many countries, Russia among them, and even Siberia, but never the Ukraine. The various stations of my own professional correspond to the same situation. I think a good way [to change this] would be increased exchange and expansion
of partnerships, perhaps in the manner of sister city partnerships such as Kiev and Munich, Odessa and Regensburg, or Charkov and Nuremberg.

As far as possible we are searching for partners for our own church communities. The media can help in this by reporting all kinds of information on, say, the occasion of visits to each other. Perhaps that is the best way. I don't know how to proceed in any other manner. Newspapers
should, of course, report regularly about the Ukraine, so that there is not only a negative image of a country in permanent chaos, but rather more comprehensive reporting about a country with its own history and its own characteristics. This would, of course, pertain to such things as climatic aspects, the Karpathian regions in the West, or the Black Sea coastal area and Crimea. Much of this is only partially part of current Germany's awareness.

Michael Leh: In Germany today, even the "Black Sea Germans" and their history seem hardly to be known anymore. How much knowledge and interest is there in Odessa concerning the significant historical German contribution in this region?

Bishop Ratz: In the attempt to reestablish a specifically Ukrainian identity -- a large task since the switch from Communism and Soviet rule -- connections to our history are being to be made as well. In my opinion, the coexistence of multiple ethnic people in this region can only be a plus.
Germans did not come here as intruders or interlopers, no, they were present at the very beginning of the settling of the area. This country was for the most part completely devoid of human residents when, under Katherine II, it was conquered from the Turks. Germans were definitely an important factor in Odessa. A sign of this is that our church property lies in the very center of the city.

Contribution by Germans is certainly present in historical consciousness, and during the current search for an Ukrainian identity it may become emphasized more strongly than in earlier times and circumstances. During Soviet times, ethnical identity was actually more of a negative factor. Presently it seems to be becoming more of positive value. Also, we must again get used to living together, in such a way that the differing ethnic groupings do not isolate themselves, but add their ethnic wealth to that of a common concept. Our church community is intent upon making our own contributions to these endeavors.

Appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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