In an effort to reach out to local people, a German Catholic priest from the Diocese of Limburg has adopted the habit of taking a weekly train journey during which he makes himself available to chat to other passengers.
Fr. Olaf Lindenberg has experienced enormous success with his simple idea of setting out to meet people while he travels on local trains.
Nearly every Tuesday he boards the 6:55 a.m. train between Limburg and Frankfurt-am-Main.
“I sit in the front carriage — always the same one — and wait for people to come,” he says. “People see my Roman collar, recognize me as a priest, and if they wish, they come to talk to me.”
He repeats the exercise on the 5:01 p.m. evening train in the opposite direction. During the hour-long journey, Fr. Lindenberg offers a comforting presence and an opportunity to listen.
“The compartment is a public space,” he says. “People don’t talk about the rain or the weather but things that really concern them, both positive and negative.”
“By the same token, we rarely discuss genuinely existential issues,” he says. “The question of God is often raised indirectly in a somewhat covert manner.”
“The most important thing is that the people find a person who will listen to them. It is a very clear need,” he adds.
Along with his train project, Fr. Lindenberg has also launched a blog titled “Praying differently.”
He makes use of this to accompany people who have never prayed, who do not know how to do so or think that only “monks know how to pray.”
Fr. Lindenberg posts a prayer daily on his blog, which he records himself so that it can be either read or listened to.
“Many people tell me they want to pray but don’t have time,” he says. “Yet we don’t need a lot of time. It’s simply a matter of creating a space for it.”
Ordained 26 years ago, the blond 52-year-old priest with blue-framed glasses credits the influence on him of the writings of French author Madeleine Delbrêl, “who encouraged the church to be where the people are.”
“Where a meeting takes place actually matters little as long as we are there to listen,” says Fr. Lindenberg.
“Going to church may impress people as may knocking on the presbytery door to meet the local parish priest,” he says. “In the train, however, I meet people who may or may not be believers. I often know nothing about them.”
Fr. Lindenberg’s blog and rail ministry has clearly opened up a new path.
“We understand the mission of the Catholic Church but we also appreciate that in order to fulfill this mission, we cannot go on as in the past,” he says.
“It is important to try new approaches,” he says. “The Lenten period is good for this since it is a period of renewal.”
No longer attached to a parish and currently working full time on spiritual accompaniment for the deacons of his diocese, Fr. Lindenberg now has the opportunity to “try things out.”
Given the success of this initial experiment, which has proved to be “very positive,” he decided to continue it beyond Easter.
He will now continue until Pentecost (May 20) to offer a prayer each day on his blog and to take the train each week to Frankfurt.
— Delphine Nerbollier