The leader of the German Catholic Church has branded the emergence of a new xenophobia in his country as a “disgrace”.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, said he felt “physically” pained to see protesters making “Hitler salutes” and chanting Nazi slogans at migrants arriving from the Middle East.
In an interview with Der Spiegel magazine, he warned Catholics not to involve themselves with political extremism.
“Xenophobia and being a Catholic do not belong together,” said Cardinal Marx, the Archbishop of Munich-Freising.
“Keep yourselves well away from it … it is irresponsible for everyone.”
Cardinal Marx on Saturday made a spontaneous visit to the railway station in Munich to meet and greet some of the first of the thousands of mostly Syrian migrants arriving by train from Hungary.
He turned up with Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, the chairman of the Protestant Church in Germany, with whom he had been dining when they suddenly decided, over their lunch, to go to the station and welcome the migrants in person.
The cardinal said the pair had been watching the events unfold on their smart phones at the time.
There were small pockets of opposition to the migrant influx, most notably in Dortmund where 29 members of Die Rechte (the right) party staged a protest rally at the station as a train carrying 1,000 migrants arrived.
But in Munich food had been stockpiled and was handed out to Syrians as they disembarked from trains, for instance, while in Frankfurt, Germans formed a human chain to pass bags of food, clothing and toiletries to exhausted arrivals, who were also greeted with balloons and banners with words such as: “We love refugees.”
In Dresden, a graffiti artist daubed the words “a warm welcome” on to the side of a carriage of a train in Arabic.
Over the last year, Cardinal Marx has repeatedly spoken out against nationalist violence by Germans opposed to Angela Merkel’s open door policy to refugees fleeing war in the Middle East. The country is expecting about 800,000 asylum applications this year alone.
During the summer, he condemned an arson attack that destroyed a reception centre for asylum seekers, saying that the attack revealed that “some groups” were trying to “sow hatred” against migrants.
There were 150 attacks against centres for refugees and asylum seekers in the first half of 2015 alone, some involve guns and firebombs.