In July, Msgr. Klaus Krämer, president of Missio, the German Catholic mission organization of the Pontifical Mission Societies, visited the New York offices of CNEWA to spend time with an old friend, Msgr. John E. Kozar. Msgr. Krämer himself has a colorful background. He was a lawyer before becoming a priest and served for several years as secretary to Cardinal Walter Kasper, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. (Among other things, Msgr. Krämer is editing the writings of Cardinal Kasper and, while in New York, had pursued meetings with several publishers.) During his visit, Msgr. Krämer sat down for an extended conversation with CNEWA’s multimedia editor, Deacon Greg Kandra.
ONE: What exactly does Missio do?
Msgr. Klaus Krämer: Missio provides pastoral support to the churches of Africa, Asia and Oceania. We mainly support the formation of priests, nuns and laity, though we also promote pastoral infrastructure — building new churches, pastoral centers and so on. We support integral pastoral programs — for example, for helping H.I.V.-positive people, street children and prisoners. We also provide assistance for theologians, training them to serve as teachers for the formation of priests and pastoral workers.
ONE: So you do a lot of educational work and the forming of priests?
Msgr. Klaus Krämer: This is the focus of our work; we invest in people. We invest in people helping people in many ways through pastoral work.
ONE: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing your organization right now?
Msgr. Klaus Krämer: Our society is in transition. Church attendance is falling. The number of people dedicated to the church and the ministry of the church is decreasing, and these are our main donors. This presents a challenge to us.
ONE: Tell me more about Missio. Where does your funding come from? Is it worldwide?
Msgr. Klaus Krämer: Germany is the only source. Some of our funding comes from church collections, but the majority of it is made up of individual contributions from our faithful people. We also get an amount from the bishops’ conference, from German tax money, for the formation of priests and pastoral infrastructure. And for the Holy Childhood Association we have a very successful campaign called the Three Kings. This is the jewel of our funding system because it’s the biggest solidarity action of children for children in the world.
ONE: I’ve heard about Three Kings. Can you describe how it works?
Msgr. Klaus Krämer: About a half a million children in nearly all parishes across Germany take part in this campaign. They go dressed as the Three Kings, complete with the star. They walk through the streets and go door-to-door — singing, writing blessings on doors and collecting donations. These donations go toward helping needy children over the whole world. It’s very well known in Germany, and very popular. The people like it and the children like it. It starts on 1 January and ends on the feast of Epiphany (traditionally 6 January). It’s only a few days, but the last campaign brought in 42 million euros (more than $56 million). It’s quite a lot!
ONE: How long has this been going on?
Msgr. Klaus Krämer: More than 50 years. This singing is a very old tradition, but 50 years ago the director of the Holy Childhood renewed it.
ONE: What are some things you see on the horizon for your organization in the months or years to come?
Msgr. Klaus Krämer: We want to consolidate the work in Germany, so we will be prepared to continue with this important work in an increasingly secular era. This is a challenge, but we are making good progress. And the other side is that we are reinforcing connections with agencies in other countries, to cement an international network of help. It’s more important now to have synergy, to have cooperation on projects and priorities. I think in this way Catholic solidarity can be more effective. It’s a challenge for the times.
ONE: Let’s talk about the secularization you’re seeing in Germany. How is that affecting the work you do? What challenges does that present?
Msgr. Klaus Krämer: Germans are very socially conscious. The older generations who experienced the war and the time after the war are extremely conscious that it is important to help. But the number of people who are close to the church is decreasing. We want to show the people the effects of the pastoral work, of the missionaries, to show them that it makes sense to support this work.
Our work is very impressive to people, and so we want them in touch with the missionaries, so they see for themselves the importance of this work. And once they engage with it, they begin to ask: “What is the reason? What is the motivation behind it?”
ONE: So it’s one way of discovering the church?
Msgr. Klaus Krämer: Yes. I think this is a way to get people in touch with the Gospel. It’s a way of asking and searching for meaning in life and in the world.
Sometimes we have the chance to present some project for funding campaigns in German television. Perhaps this broadcasting is one of the most secular fields in Germany, but the viewers like this, they like to see religious projects presented in this context. This is a very interesting and very encouraging sign.
ONE: It resonates with people.
Msgr. Klaus Krämer: Yes. I think this is the way we have to go. We have a big field to explore, in media.
ONE: What are some of your impressions of the new pope?
Msgr. Klaus Krämer: It was a great joy to learn the new pope comes from Latin America, where we are doing work with other missionary agencies. He can speak authentically about this situation. Of course, all his predecessors supported our work in a marvelous way. But he knows it personally and he knows firsthand the situation of the people in the countries of the south.
Buenos Aires is a very developed city, the most “European” city of Latin America, with many immigrants. But it has many characteristics of a third world country — slums and other difficult social conditions. So you have the whole world in this one city. It’s a very good preparation for a new pope to see all the problems of the world.
ONE: To sum it up: What is the single most important message you would like to send people about the work you do?
Msgr. Klaus Krämer: The message is that the gospel is alive. For me it’s very important that the church is not only a question of life in the parish or life in a country, but it’s part of an international community. This is, I think, like a global village. The Catholic Church is one of the oldest and biggest global players and this connection is something that is very unique.
It’s a challenge for us as Catholics to be in contact and to help Catholics in other parts of the world, but it’s also a source of encouragement in our own faith, that we see how alive the church is in other parts of the world and how they are facing their problems, their challenges. And so we are not only giving, we are also receiving a lot from them. This is important for the life of the church, but it’s also important for the whole world, that we see that we are connected with people in other parts of the world. We are one family.