FSSP's Growing Congregation in Cologne
Since the foundation of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) in the Fall of 1988 in Germany, the Fraternity has established numerous houses around the world. With an average age of 38 among its more than 400 priests, this thriving Fraternity is now active in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, México, Netherlands, Nigeria, Austria, Poland, Switzerland and the USA.
by Beverly De Soto
The Fraternity's Maria Hilf (“Mary, Helper”) parish is located in an Cologne urban neighborhood rebuilt after the devastating bombing of World War II. The church building has a stripped-down facade and 1950s modernistic stained glass windows. Only in recent years have confessionals have been added.
Where religion plays virtually no role
Although Cologne is the largest Catholic diocese, the success of Maria Hilf must be understood in the context of a modern German city where religion plays virtually no role in the lives of most inhabitants. Like most German cities, families are small, splintered or failing to form at all in Cologne. Unlike New York, Paris and London, however, which enjoy enthusiastically-supported venues for the Traditional Latin Mass, Cologne did not have a church dedicated to the the TLM until 2004.
Intriguingly, with the support of Una Voce, the Fraternity has been able to build a growing congregation in the last ten years. Dr. Johann von Behr of Una Voce Cologne agreed to talk with Regina Magazine about their experience there.
“From our first year in Maria Hilf, about 10 years ago, we have found a numerous and still growing congregation, especially at our Sunday Masses,” said Dr Von Behr. “Since it was the decision of our archbishop, Joachim Cardinal Meisner, to give us this church with a renting contract of at least 25 years, we did not encounter much resistance from our neighbors.”
Ten years of significant growth
Maria Hilf has experienced significant growth since 2004.
“When we started, our faithful were perhaps 50 parishioners every Sunday, with of course much less during the week,” Dr Von Behr estimates. “Today, we normally have least twice that at each Mass.”
Like many Latin Mass parishes, a dedicated music program has been key to this growth.
“At present we are happy to have three different Gregorian scholas and choirs singing regularly the liturgy on all Sundays and feasts,” said Dr. Von Behr. “One of them is the well-known Schola Cantorum Coloniensis with about 20 singers, founded more than 30 years ago at the Musicological Institute of the Cologne University. The organ music and singing of all liturgical services is conducted by three renowned professional musicians.”
Parish families are keen to have their sons serve as altar servers.
“We have about 6 to 8 altar servers each Sunday, children between the ages of about eight to fifteen years. They are all very enthusiastic and come regularly to assist at the Sunday Masses. Beside them we have another array of four to six adults who are also able to do the altar service.”
Traveling for the Mass
Cologne has a substantial international community, but “the parishioners of our church are nearly exclusively Germans, many of them inhabitants of Cologne, but also many who come from outside Cologne. For a couple of years we had a French family that came every Sunday, with two children who also helped as altar servers.”
Again, like most Latin Mass parishes, the pattern of growth includes attracting young families.
“There are more and more young people and young families that come to Maria Hilf,” according to Dr. Von Behr, “We presume that the word about the Extraordinary Form of the holy Mass is getting around between them after they seem to have turned away from the ordinary form.”
Frequent confessions and religious vocations
The newly-built confessionals at Maria Hilf stand out against the manifest general tendency of Catholics in Germany to avoid this Sacrament.
“The Extraordinary Form of the Mass and Confession belong very close together,” Dr. Von Behr explains. “So we have many opportunities for Confession in our church, which are very well attended. Our parishioners and others often take advantage of the Sacrament.”
Finally, Maria Hilf seems to be following a similar pattern for most TLM parishes of producing religious vocations.
“Personally, I know of one vocation in our parish of a young man who entered into a traditional monastery,” Dr. Von Behr said. “But there may have been more vocations which I am unaware of.”