“Many say that this history (of Christianity in your country) is now coming to an end. I say to you: This history of Christianity in your country shall now begin anew, and it shall begin anew through you, through your testimony formed in the spirit of St. Boniface!”
-Saint Pope John Paul II, address in his visit to Fulda, Germany 11/18/1980
Jacqueline Marie | Jan.12, 2023
Seven years ago, the prompt “Would you also like to purchase this book: Divine Renovation: from a maintenance to a missional parish ?”, popped up on Father Bernhard Hesse’s computer. Curious, the Bavarian priest added the book to his Amazon shopping cart.
But the Holy Spirit was leading Father Hesse on a much larger mission than an addition to his bookshelf.
Father Hesse was starting in a new parish following a 22-year placement, and he was looking for resources to direct him towards parish renewal. After reading Father James’ book in 2016, he saw that there was an upcoming DR Conference in Halifax, Canada. Unbeknownst to him, a handful of other Germans were also attending – a welcome surprise, as in the past he had attended missional conferences (like Alpha) as the only German priest among thousands of participants.
He left the DR 2016 Conference with a firm belief that God was leading renewal in the Church. Father Hesse wanted Germany to be part of it.
Alexander Castell, Alpha Germany, admits that for many years he was known in his family for his anti-Catholic views. Coming from a family that has been Lutheran since the 1500’s, his roots go deep. But his heart opened (partly when his own daughter became Catholic) and he came to desire renewal and mission in all churches.
But while Alpha Germany was running in some Catholic churches it was difficult to gain ground. The movement for evangelization wouldn’t grow.
Final Mass at the Conference in Fulda at Dom zu Fulda, 2019
In 2018, Johannes Hartl, a Catholic Theologian, and founder of the Prayer House in the diocese of Augsburg, Germany, asked Father James Mallon to speak at Mehr. A conference with 12,000 people in attendance.
Alexander Castell was there too, running an Alpha booth. Beforehand, Alexander showed Father James an intro-to-Alpha kit that they were passing out. Father James brought the box on stage with him as part of his keynote. Father James invited the conference audience, “If you want to do something, if you want to bless your church, run Alpha.” Alexander states, “When he speaks, the hearts of the people open.” After the message, the Alpha booth was flooded with people wanting to bring Alpha back to their parish.
For the DR 2018 Conference, Father Hesse returned to Halifax – this time with 70 Germans, half of whom were priests. He invited Alexander Castell to be part of this cohort to represent Alpha Germany.
Alexander relates, “So it was there in Halifax that we decided…that we would organize a conference in Germany with Divine Renovation.” The resulting two-day conference in Fulda, Germany had 700 people, of which 130 were priests. The movement was growing.
By the spring of 2021, DR discerned that Deutschsprachiger Raum (Germany, Austria, Switzerland – German Speaking Countries) would be the next region established within the ministry, with the goal to accompany priests in their own context as they intentionally pursue renewal. Then in April of 2021, Ferdinand Degenfeld was placed as the Regional Coordinator.
On September 13th of 2022, the papers were signed and the statutes of association passed for DR to become an association (Gemeinnütziger e.V.) in Germany. The following month, Divine Renovation Deutschland e.V. was officially confirmed as a charity.
This region is unique in its challenges but identical to the global Church in its need for parish renewal. Deutschsprachiger Raum is a region where a movement towards mission is grassroots – priests and laity who are hungry for God to move in His Church. Stories are emerging of the Holy Spirit capturing the hearts of those who are willing to be used for the renewal of the Church.
People like Father Hesse – who now has hundreds of parishioners who travel in to his parish by train just for Sunday Mass, where parishioners come around the clock for adoration and where maintenance is a thing of the past. For Father Hesse’s parish mission is both the present and the future. Many others throughout the region are being inspired, connected and equipped through DR in group coaching, webinars, and conferences.
Regional Coordinator Ferdinand Degenfeld, says the vision is “to see parishes being really effective in changing lives, by bringing people all over our countries to the transformative experience of Jesus’ love. I want to see priests and their teams confidently and joyfully living their calling, empowering the baptized and spreading the fire from parish to parish, so that they become beacons of light in our towns and cities. Parishes are called to become the backbone of the Church once more!”
Subscribe to our German-language newsletter to get the latest updates from your region.