Monks and Nuns from Münster go to Berlin

Retreat in an emergency accommodation for homeless people in Kreuzberg – two women and five men from Münster got involved in this modern adventure. The church group of Berlin „Religious Sisters and Brothers Against Exclusion“ had invited. Sister Petra Maria Tollkötter is reporting about this religious retreat in an unusual environment.

Berlin-Kreuzberg, Görlitzer Park. „We have waited for you“, two slightly drunk homeless people merrily welcomed me. They offered beer to me and a place on the park bench. We got into talking, talked about this and that, no world-moving things. Nevertheless this level is suddenly there, completely easy, uncomplicated and genuine. These two from the Görlitzer Park had no longer stress to leave a good impression. They talked in the way they had learned: straight out, honestly, directly – and helped me to do it also, until there was no longer anything to lose.

Ten days we slept in an emergency accommodation for homeless people. Each evening we met and exchanged our experiences. Starting point was the Bible story of the burning thorn shrub: God opened Moses‘ eyes for his living presence in a dry, fruitless, stinging, and apparently useless thorn shrub. He declared this place as „holy ground“, and asked Moses to take off his shoes: to make himself smaller, to give up „foot security“, to feel the real ground. And to look at the reality that surrounds me, and to notice what is moving in me.

Our hosts had listed so-called „holy places“ for us in Kreuzberg, places where people live who are excluded from our society: streetwalker, jail-birds, social and labour office, soup kitchen, and drug emporium. To approach these people, to feel what is moving in me, and to bring it in connection with my „knowledge“ as Christian: God is present in all these human beings. For each of us a different place became the „holy place“. My mind was in those days very much occupied with the question how Jesus could get so intensively contact with people, although he was nevertheless so different from them. That means for me: Where does the level of contact with homeless persons lie, on which we overcome the ditch that lies apparently so naturally between us? Where is the level of ‚being with each other‘, beyond all the boundaries and barriers that people erect between themselves?

With those questions I set out on the way through Kreuzberg. Once before the St Hedwig Cathedral a beggar-woman invited me with a small gesture to set me to her on the ground. We changed a few words; gloss came into her otherwise so expressionless eyes. The contact was there. Then she forced eleven pennies into my hand: Would I get her a coffee probably? She did not know me, and after a few minutes she entrusted to me a part of their small fortune. That touched me deeply. Not I had to give something to these people, but they made presents to me – quietly, inconspicuously and unobtrusively.

These and many other encounters with the „poor“, the excluded people were very moving. Just in their inconspicuousness and simplicity they became for me the „burning thorn shrub“. It is an enormous difference whether I „know“ that God is present in each human being, or I f e e l , s e e, and e x p e r i e n c e it suddenly tangible. I can know as much as possible about the consistency of wine – which wine really is I will only know if I taste it. By ten days „heart training“, as I call the retreat on the street gladly, my perspective, and the view of homeless persons and people living at the margins of society changed generally. In addition they helped me to solidarity beyond my vocational role – a solidarity that has become more awake for situations where people are excluded.

Published in the Münster Street Newspaper „Outside!“ 10/2001