By OSV News
ST. LOUIS (OSV News) — Addressing a room crowded with several hundred university students, Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau, Germany, discussed a wide range of topics with attendees during an open question-and-answer session held during the SEEK24 conference in St. Louis.
Bishop Oster, who studied to be a journalist before pursuing his priestly vocation, confidently engaged the students, who listened to his replies with rapt attention.
A member of the Salesians of Don Bosco religious community, Bishop Oster is known for his attention to young people. He hosts formation talks for the young adults of his diocese twice a month, called “Believe and Pray” and occasionally heads to a pub for drinks with them afterward.
The bishop spoke of SEEK24 as a sign of hope. “In my country, you could hardly imagine that there would be a Catholic event like this to attract so many young people who are seekers of Christ, of the life of faith.”
The bishop spoke of the need for a renewal of the church in Germany, noting in particular the need to renew education, theologians, priests and people who work for the church. “The more liberal society gets. . . the more the church tends to adapt to that.”
According to Bishop Oster, 5% of Catholics in Germany attend Sunday Mass, with most attendees over age 70. Despite the fact that the church in Germany sponsors many social institutions, like Caritas, and employs some 800,000 people, very few of those people participate in the church’s sacramental life, said the bishop. “At some point it will lead to a kind of breakdown or collapse of the system,” he warned.
“Whenever you try to do something about the new evangelization, for example, inviting FOCUS missionaries or another community, or doing something about prayer, the opposition comes from the inside, not the outside, because people are not used to that,” the bishop said. “Every fruit that you would bring in the new evangelization or to bring people to Christ comes from prayer.”
According to FOCUS, which stands for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, 188 international attendees came to the St. Louis conference. Twenty-five of those students came from Passau. Father Peter Kunz, who was attending SEEK for the second time, praised the conference, saying, “The speakers, the Masses, the time for prayer. . . it’s having a big impact on all of us.”
He also expressed gratitude for FOCUS missionaries assisting his outreach to students. “They bring the spirit of outreach that’s very important for us in Germany because we forgot how to go out and invite people to these wonderful, great gifts we have: the Mass, the sacraments, a prayer life and the Bible,” he told OSV News.
Peter Naumann, a third-year economics student at the University of Passau, came because FOCUS missionaries invited him. He’s a member of a Bible study organized by missionaries, where he has found rich friendships.
For him, the missionaries show him how it’s possible to evangelize. “I want to see revival,” he said. “Not just in Passau, but in all of Bavaria, Germany and Europe.” Throughout the conference, Naumann was struck by the Christian joy he saw and said he was anxious to share it. “It starts with me giving testimony,” he said, “sharing what I’ve experienced here and how I’ve encountered the Lord.”
Theresa Osterkorn has just finished her studies in business administration at the University of Munich. She came to St. Louis because she was amazed at the experiences others had at SEEK. “Last evening, I went to confession and there was a queue with thousands of people,” Osterkorn enthusiastically shared. “The atmosphere in the hall was just amazing.”
“Seeing that the church here in the U.S. is so vibrant and young, and people are going full in. . . that’s very encouraging and I will remember that,” she said.
When asked how students should navigate tensions facing the church in Germany and elsewhere today, the bishop said, “The answer to everything is Christ.” But he insisted it’s not easy to find that answer alone. “Look for companions,” Bishop Oster encouraged his hearers. “The more you are in a group, and the more you deepen your faith and the more you feel or somehow sense and believe in the presence of Christ, the more you overcome fear.”
“We tend to hate the inner-church opponent, the conservative hates the liberal and the other way around … but we should also try to presuppose that other who thinks differently from you also wants something good,” he advised.
The bishop said the best way to support evangelization in Europe is to start prayer movements. “There are many people that don’t understand what I want to do in my diocese,” the bishop said. But he expressed gratitude for those, especially young people, who tell him that they support him. “Renewal of prayer life is the first condition of renewal of the church in general,” the bishop said to applause from his listeners.
“Getting FOCUS missionaries in my diocese is a great help, it’s a sign of hope,” he said. “You make visible that things can change and they can grow.”