Feb. 4 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christians worldwide commemorate the day with a series of events.
Organized by the Polish section in cooperation with the German and Dutch sections of the International Bonhoeffer Society, the International Bonhoeffer Centennial Congress will take place Feb. 3-4 in Bonhoeffer’s native town, Breslau, Germany.
Top church leaders, scholars, theologians across Europe and from all around the world will be attending the event Bishop Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Huber, Council Chairman of German Evangelical Church and Archbishop Dr. Rowan Williams, Head of the Anglican Communion are invited to give remarks on the first evening. The two-day gathering will be centered on commemoration services, panel discussions and visits to historical sites, recalling the life and work of Bonhoeffer.
Part two of the Bonhoeffer Centennial Congress, on the other hand, will focus more on theological and academic aspect. Running from Feb. 6 to Feb. 8, participants will be attending lectures by seminary professors in Europe, studying how Bonhoeffer’s theology contributes to the development of Christianity and churches throughout the history.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on February 4, 1906. He was known as one of the few figures of the 1930’s with a comprehensive grasp of both German- and English-language theology. Bonhoeffer's theologically rooted opposition to National Socialism first made him a leader, along with Martin Niemueller and Karl Barth, in the Confessing Church. He was also part of the European ecumenical movement.
Together with other pastors and theologians, Bonhoeffer organized the Confessing Church, which announced publicly in its Barmen Declaration in 1934- one year after Hitler rose to power- its allegiance first to Jesus Christ, "We repudiate the false teaching that the church can and must recognize yet other happenings and powers, personalities and truths as divine revelation alongside this one Word of God. … "
Bonhoeffer has refused to keep silent about the discrimination and persecution of the Jews, so he spoke out repeatedly and fearlessly against Hitler until his death. Finally, He was hanged in the concentration camp at Flossenbürg on Apr. 9, 1945, one of four members of his immediate family to die at the hands of the Nazi regime for their participation in the small Protestant resistance movement.
Due to Bonhoeffer’s leadership at the anti-Nazi Confessing Church, Bonhoeffer had a strong understanding in the interaction of religion, politics, and culture. His thought provides an example of intellectual preparation for the reconstruction of German society after the war.
Today as Christians in China are being restricted in their religious freedom under the Communist’s regime, Bonhoeffer’s theological work has impressed many Chinese Christians as well.
In a recent commentary written by Chairman of the Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement (HKCRM) Rev. Wu Chi Wai for Bonhoeffer’s 100th Birthday, he cited the quote from letter of Bonhoeffer to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr after Bonhoeffer had gone to America to become a guest lecturer during Nazi’s regime:
"I have made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people."
Hong Kong Christians leaders have used it to encourage citizens to stay in Hong Kong after the nation’s handover to the Communist China in 1997 as many fear that they may face suppression from the Communist Party.
A number of seminaries in Hong Kong and Taiwan will be holding many special exhibitions, forums and seminars to introduce the life and work of Bonhoeffer within this year.