CATH NEWS REPORT: Hans-Dieter Udri, 70, is a little shy as he goes up to the man standing in the middle of the church, who has his hands in his pockets, a black hat on his head and a gas mask covering his face, reports Der Spiegel.
"Are you Stefan Strumbel?" asks Udri. Then he begins to talk of the past, when he was still a child, when everyone went to mass on Sundays, young or old. He is a Christian, and, speaking in his Allemannic German dialect, he insists that he is a believer. His gaze wanders up to the church roof. He hardly ever goes to mass anymore.
Udri is one of many Christians in the small town of Goldscheuer who had stayed away from the church for years. Yet he is also one of many who have regained their interest in their village church of late -- people who want to know just what Stumbel is up to here.
The cornerstone of the Mary, Help of Christians Church was laid 50 years ago. Udri was an altar boy when the church was dedicated. But it is remarkable that he can now enter the church this lunchtime at all. The door had been locked for years when there was no mass or other event taking place. But it is also remarkable because, in recent years, hardly anyone came even when the doors were open.
Hundreds of Catholic churches will be threatened by a similar fate over the next few years in Germany as increasing numbers of worshippers stay away, and as the popularity of going to mass falls steadily, even amongst the faithful.Of the approximately 2,200 inhabitants in Goldscheuer, 1,200 are Catholics. On recent Sundays, however, less than 3 percent of the faithful were turning up at mass. Attendance had fallen so low that the archdiocese in Freiburg considered closing the church.