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Germany: 60th anniversary of Essen Diocese. Ministry and interreligious dialogue. But number of Catholics down

The Diocese of Essen, the smallest of the 27 German Dioceses in terms of surface area, turns 60 today. Established by Pope Pius XII on 23 February 1957, it extends over much of the Ruhr coalfield and industrial area and was created by merging parts of the Archdioceses of Cologne and Paderborn and the Diocese of Münster. Among its inhabitants, there was a very high proportion of Catholics, 1.4 million faithful at that time: many of them were migrants from southern Europe and Poland working in the coalmines and steal plants of the region. The first bishop was Mgr. Franz Hengsbach, who held the Chair of Essen dedicated to Saints Cosmas and Damian for 33 years. The subsequent crisis in the mining and metals industry has led the Church to become a point of reference for the many workers who lost their jobs. The current bishop, Mgr. Franz-Josef Overbeck, leads a diocese with 791,000 Catholics, representing 32% of the total population, that is, just over half the number of the faithful recorded in 1957. The then 259 parishes are now down to 43, and the diocese is also about to sell other disused worship places. Mgr. Overbeck has given new impetus to his pastoral ministry, which includes culture and interreligious dialogue, and continuous efforts to tackle the problems of the Ruhr: unemployment and difficulties in the integration of foreigners.

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