The Kohlhagen - a place of faith and encounter
Father Siegfried Modenbach and Father Jürgen Heite accompany people on their journey of life and faith
The pilgrimage church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on the so-called “Cölsche Heck”, is located in a border area: between the Protestant Siegerland and the Catholic Sauerland, between Low German language influences and the Franconian language. The two Pallottine Fathers, Siegfried Modenbach and Jürgen Heite, are also border crossers. As pilgrimage counsellors, spiritual directors and conference leaders, they meet people in borderline situations in their search for faith and offer inner reflection. And they find that Kohlhagen is flourishing as a place of faith.
Almost three years ago, on 4 July 2021, the two priests inaugurated the spiritual centre and pilgrim pastoral in Kohlhagen. For the two Pallottines, who had previously worked in Dortmund, it made sense to stay in the Archdiocese of Paderborn. After all, the Pallottines had a branch in nearby Olpe for a long time, which was only completely dissolved in 2017.
High on the mountain
If you want to meet the two Pallottines, you have to go up the mountain. “It’s a bit out of the way,” says Father Juergen Heite. “But it’s very attractive. In 2023, more than 3100 visitors came to the Kohlhagen for about 100 events. There are also people who just want to light a candle or seek silence, says Father Modenbach.
The work of the two priests rests on three pillars, as Father Heite explains: on the one hand, the spiritual accompaniment of people, the work with groups on retreat days, in lectures or courses, and the care of the pilgrimage church with the old vesper picture, the Pietà. These areas also overlap when, for example, a group of pilgrims come to the Pilgrims’ Hall for coffee and cake afterwards and would like to hear a talk.
Father Modenbach emphasises that no matter how people come to Kohlhagen and what their intentions are, it is always about encounter. Because this encounter is real, there are many “repeat offenders” who come again and again. And for this meeting of people it is important to offer an open atmosphere, adds Father Heite. After all, there are often many rules and norms in the Church. “In contrast, as Pallottines we say: people are our point of reference, precisely in the situation in which they find themselves”. The two Pallottines from Olpe have taken this call to openness with them to the mountain. “People sometimes travel 30 kilometres to celebrate Mass with us,” says Father Modenbach.
People are uncertain about their faith
What are the problems that bring people to the Kohlhagen? It is often the experience that they have become insecure in their own faith, says Father Heite. Many of their acquaintances no longer have anything to do with religion, so they can no longer talk to each other. “And then questions and doubts creep in. In addition, church structures are crumbling, and all this makes people lonely and insecure in their own faith.
The questions then become: “How can faith help me in times of crisis? How can I find guidance in the Bible?” says Father Modenbach. And so the journey up the mountain takes on a role of its own. “When we go up there, we gain distance,” says Father Modenbach, emphasising that for him the church is a place that creates community and meaning, where all questions can be discussed.
But in order to talk about everything, you need someone to talk to. And that someone is Father Jürgen Heite and Father Siegfried Modenbach. Even if they don’t always have time right away, you can talk to them briefly and make an appointment. “And sometimes those five minutes are enough,” says Father Heite.
Is there a wish for the near future? After a moment’s reflection, Father Heite says: “I hope we don’t end up in a complaining mode, when people are complaining everywhere else. My wish is that we remain constructive, even when the world is destructive. And that we don’t remain alone at a time when society is drifting apart”. Ultimately, this is “what we want to convey,” adds Father Modenbach. The Kohlhagen should be a place where the joy of faith is conveyed and a religiousness that touches people in their questions of life.
Report: Alexander Schweda
Photos: Kohlhagen Spiritual Centre
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