27 April 2009

Prayers for Peace

If there's one thing that Leipzig is known for in recent times it is the mass demonstrations in October 1989 where the city's citizens defied the threat of a massacre by government forces and went on the streets to call for change.
The weekly demonstrations had a regular rhythm - every Monday at 5pm, because they followed the weekly prayers for peace at Leipzig's Nikolaikirche - in early 1989 it was a couple of dozen people who went out on the street after the service to demand change, then it was a few hundred, then a few thousand - until a reputed 70000 people went onto the streets on 9 October, despite official warnings that reserve brigades were being called up, and doctors saying that the hospitals had been told to clear the wards and to make sure they were ready to deal with bullet wounds.
If there was however one reason why the church became the focal point for protest in Leipzig it was the weekly prayers for peace that began on 20 September 1982. They started at a time when Europe faced the deployment of nuclear missiles in West and in East and the growth of an independent peace movement in East Germany. They have been held on Mondays ever since. Today the prayers were led by Leipzig's Pax Christi, which developed out of a grassroots Catholic group that existed already before the peaceful revolution. Today they were remembering the Ecumenical Assembly of 1989, a gathering unique in the history of the GDR that brought together Protestants and Catholics, but also Orthodox, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, Quakers and others, and people from church hierarchies and grassroots groups and that made unprecedented demands for change in the German Democratic Republic - and about which more very soon.
Unlike 20 years ago, when the Nikolaikirche was so full that other churches had to be opened as an overflow, today there were "only" about 50 or 60 people at the prayers. Yet the unbroken weekly rhythm means that the people who were praying today are not only joined in prayer with those at the service itself but all those who have come before and who will come afterwards.

The book cover is from,"Nikolaikirche, montags um fünf. Die politischen Gottesdienste der Wendezeit in Leipzig" ("Mondays, 5 p.m. at the Nikolaikirche: Political worship in Leipzig during the changes") by Hermann Geyer, and published by WBG.


Post a Comment