Christian - Islam dialogue in Berlin

Christian dialogue with Islam sought by new Berlin bishop

By Anli Serfontein
Trier, Germany, 18 May (ENI)--Berlin's newly-elected Protestant bishop says he
hopes to promote dialogue with Muslims at the level of individual parishes
when he takes office later in 2009.

"The most important thing for me has always been to seek personal contact,"
said the Rev. Markus Dröge in an interview with the German Protestant news
agency epd after he was elected on 15 May. Dröge will succeed Bishop Wolfgang
Huber at the head of the Evangelical Church in Berlin, Brandenburg and the
Silesian Oberlausitz.

Dröge beat off two other contenders in the fourth round of voting to clinch
the necessary two-third majority of 82 votes. The other candidates were
Rüdiger Sachau, a former mechanic turned theologian, who withdrew after two
rounds, and Johanna Haberer, a Christian media professor at the University of
Erlangen-Nuremberg, who received 36 votes in the final round.

The new bishop was elected for a 10-year term and he is scheduled to take
office on 14 November, when 67-year-old Huber officially retires after 16
years. The regional Protestant church has 1.14 million members and covers the
German regional states of Berlin and Brandenburg.

As well as his position in Berlin, Huber heads the Evangelical Church in
Germany (EKD), the country's main Protestant umbrella. Huber's successor at
the EKD is due to be elected in October.

Dröge told the regional television news RBB the day after his election that he
intends to take an active part in political debates. He said he sees a key
role of the Evangelical Church as being to engage society and to comment on
socio-political discussions.

Newspapers in Berlin have, however, speculated that in contrast to an often-
controversial Bishop Huber, Dröge will listen more before reacting. The
Berliner Morgenpost wrote that Dröge belongs to the liberal-left tradition of
the Church and with regards to the relationship to Muslims he differs from
Huber, who on several occasions has been seen to stress differences between
Christianity and Islam.

About 6 percent of Berlin's 3.5 million people are Muslim.

Dröge, aged 54, was born in Washington DC as the son of a German diplomat and
he grew up in Bonn, Paris and Brussels. After theological studies, he became a
pastor at Koblenz in western Germany's Rhineland, where he has remained till
his election. Until recently he was seen in Berlin as an unknown figure. He
has been a member of the synod of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland
since 1991 and is a member of its theological committee.

The mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, welcomed Dröge's election. "As a
cosmopolitan pastor he brings qualities with him that will benefit a
cosmopolitan city like Berlin," said Wowereit, who recently clashed with Huber
when the bishop took a strong stance on compulsory religious instruction in
Berlin schools. [476 words]