German president urges society to stand together at pandemic memorial

By Ulrich Steinkohl, dpa

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has called on society in Germany to stand together in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

At a central memorial service in Berlin on Sunday, he remembered the almost 80,000 dead and expressed his deepest sympathy to the relatives.

The pandemic had “inflicted deep wounds and torn holes in a terrible way,” he said.

“We are weary from the burden of the pandemic, and raw from the argument over the right path. That is also why we need a moment of pause, a moment beyond the politics of the day, a moment that allows us to look together at the human tragedy of the pandemic.”

At the same time, according to the prereleased text of his speech, the head of state stressed: “Let us not allow the pandemic, which already forces us to keep a distance as human beings, to also drive us apart as a society!”

The president also planned to highlight those suffering from the long-term effects of the virus, as well as pay tribute to doctors, nurses and other medical staff for their efforts.

The president of the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Georg Baetzing, also called on society to take a moment to pause in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Illness, dying and death cannot be pushed away in this long year, they cut deeply into the lives of many people,” the bishop of Limburg said on Sunday at an ecumenical service at the landmark Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in central Berlin for those who died in the pandemic. “Death and dying have come closer to us than before.”

He said it was right for President Steinmeier to invite people to pause and remember the many dead on this day.

“Like a trauma, the crisis experience of the pandemic period lays on our souls and cries out for healing,” said Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, president of the Council of the official Protestant Church in Germany, at the ecumenical service.

“We will need a lot of time to process this, especially our children, our adolescents, for whom this crisis has the extension of a perceived eternity.”

The bishops referred to the Biblical story of the two disciples who were on the road to Emmaus to mourn the death of Jesus on the cross, who then appeared to them to prove his resurrection.

The Emmaus story gives courage, said Baetzing: “Our dead find their way back to life at the hand of the risen Jesus. And those who mourn will hopefully also be able to find their way to a new joy of life, well accompanied. And we – together and in responsibility for one another – will find our way out of this pandemic. For God goes with us.”

Five bereaved families and the heads of Germany’s state institutions were due to take part in a commemorative event in the early afternoon at the Konzerthaus am Gendarmenmarkt concert hall in the centre of Berlin.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected to attend this event with the federal president, along with the presidents of the upper and lower houses of parliament and the president of the Constitutional Court.

In Germany, 79,914 people had died from Covid-19 as of Sunday, according to figures from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control.

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