Although more than 3,000 displays fought for the attention of hundreds of thousands of German Christians for five days, the topic that got the most attention was the clerical sex abuse scandal.
Even Pope Benedict XVI addressed the issue in his message to the second ecumenical "Kirchentag," or church days, in Munich May 12-16.
The Kirchentag focused on the theme of hope, and the pope said that at a time when the world's people are in need of hope, some people are asking if the church really is a place to find it.
"In the past few months, we repeatedly have had to face news that could attempt to remove the joy from the church, news that obscures it as a place of hope," he said.
Using the words of a Bible parable, the pope said that people might be tempted to ask God whether he sowed the seeds of his Gospel in good earth.
"Weeds exist even in the heart of the church and among those whom the Lord has welcomed into his service in a special way. But the light of God has not set, the good grain has not been suffocated by the seed of evil," the pope said.
The church continues to be a place of hope, he said, because it is the place where people hear the word of God, "which purifies us and shows us the path of faith."
A clergy sex abuse scandal that emerged at a Catholic school in Berlin in January has widened not only to the rest of Germany but to other European countries. Several speakers at the Kirchentag called for an examination of the celibate priesthood, and Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg received applause when he said the laity, especially women, must be more active in church affairs.
At the opening of the program, German President Horst Kohler addressed the assembly and told participants, "We should not forget how much good is done through the churches." However, he also called for "full disclosure and a focus on the victims."
Alois Gluck, president of the Central Council of German Catholics, told the assembly, "We hope this crisis will lead to new cooperation in partnership among lay people, priests and bishops."
The Central Council of German Catholics teamed up with the Protestant organization Kirchentag to sponsor the event. Topics ranged from church teaching, praying, education and involvement in areas like fair trade, health care or the environment to presentations by human rights activists, the police force, the military and Christian organizations of homosexuals or wives of priests.
Topics went beyond church-related themes; organizations represented at the Kirchentag mirrored Germany's pluralistic society. Political parties tried hard to explain their affinity with Christian values, regardless of their emphasis on separation of church and state.
"There is simply too much," noted more than one visitor trying to find his way through the displays in the Munich exhibition center.
Some Kirchentag speakers also addressed the issue of Germany's role in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. Since 2002, German forces have been part of the International Security Assistance Force to help rebuild the country.
With more than 5,300 German soldiers and police serving in Afghanistan, Germany has the third-largest contingent in the country, after the United States and Britain. In recent months, as casualties have mounted, some troops and those at home have questioned Germany's role.
At Christmas time, Margot Kaessmann, former head of Germany's Protestant Church, said Germany should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. At the Kirchentag, Bishop Heinz Algermissen of Fulda called for more public resistance against the German policy in Afghanistan.
"The electorate should press their representatives that the Bundestag develops a mandatory perspective to withdraw," he said May 15.
However, some politicians warned of the human disaster that an early withdrawal might cause.
Reinhard Eroes, a former German military officer who runs the nongovernmental organization "Kinderhilfe (Kids Help) Afghanistan," called for more respect for the Afghan population.
Catholic News Service