Virtual Annual Convention 2021 – KAAD breaks new ground

This year’s 34th Annual Convention of KAAD was dedicated to the topic “Power and Freedom of Language: Identity Politics and Language Biographies” and brought together in virtual space 320 scholarship holders, alumni and guests from around 50 countries. For four days (from April 22 to 25), participants explored the diverse facets of this topic. Additionally, for the first time KAAD cooperated with the scholarship institution Cusanuswerk, which led a panel on the topic of “Language and Truth in the Media”.

The Convention’s topic Language is like no other shaping and characterizing the worldwide community of KAAD: Not only essential as a means of communication, language characterizes the belonging to a community in general, the identity in particular, shapes the thinking and is simply the medium through which humans comprehend the world. By means of language humans tell themselves and shape their relationship to other human beings. Language can cause wars, either by acting as a means of incitement (keywords: propaganda and fake news) or – for example, through the suppression of a language in a country – by being perceived as the object of the conflict itself. Language is also the mirror of social realities, as such changeable and the scene of debates and struggles. Thus, various dimensions – philosophical, political or religious – are linked to the phenomenon of language.

In a panel discussion with alumni as well as scholars from all five regions, the levels of one’s own biographical imprint by different languages as well as the identity politics linked to it were taken into consideration. Other aspects of this topic – be it the liturgical and spiritual dimension of a particular language and the question of the extent to which language can mean “home”, be it the phenomenon of multilingualism, the debates about genus and gender in languages, or the relevance or appeal of the German language – were addressed in the panels on Saturday.

The highlight of the Convention was a festive event on Friday evening. First, the former Secretary General was honored on the occasion of his well-deserved retirement and then the new President and the new Secretary General were introduced into their offices. In addition, the prizes of the “KAAD Foundation Peter Hünermann” for 2020 and 2021 were awarded.

Bishop Wilfried Theising, Episcopal Representative for KAAD, paid tribute to Dr. Hermann Weber’s 32 years of service as Secretary General of KAAD, highlighting also his services to the Global Church community. Afterwards, KAAD scholarship holder Francisca Atieno Odero, a doctoral student in German Studies from Kenya, interviewed Dr. Weber about his time at KAAD. In doing so, it became clear how closely the thematic focus of this year’s Annual Convention is linked to Dr. Weber’s work: language, language biographies and identity as key aspects of KAAD and its scholars. In addition, the farewell gift of the KAAD office to Dr. Weber – a composition of the Brazilian composer, guitarist and KAAD alumnus Rogério Dentello – was performed by the Brazilian pianist Dr. Eliana Asano.

Then, Auxiliary Bishop Theising introduced Fr. Dr. Hans Langendörfer SJ as the new President of KAAD and welcomed the new Secretary General, Dr. Nora Kalbarczyk, who assumed her office on March 1. Fr. Dr. Langendörfer, who comes from the field of peace ethics and, as a long-time secretary of the German Bishops’ Conference, is very familiar with the Global Church, focused on peace and reconciliation work. He emphasized that he was looking forward to the exchange with the scholarship holders as well as alumni and partners.

The new Secretary General, in turn, emphasized the continuity with her predecessor in her conversation with the Bishop, but at the same time addressed the fact that current global developments and challenges require new approaches for the further implementation of KAAD’s core concerns. In doing so, she also referred to the format of this year’s Annual Convention, which had to be held virtually due to the pandemic and which enabled encounters and exchanges in times of little contact.

Also on Friday evening, KAAD Honorary President, professor emeritus Dr. Peter Hünermann, honored KAAD alumnus Dr. Lauro Sitzmann from Paraguay for his services in the health sector with the award of the year 2020 of the “KAAD Foundation Peter Hünermann”. In his laudatory speech, Dr. Thomas Krüggeler, Head of the Latin America Department, honored Dr. Sitzmann as a physician who has comprehensively, solidarily and sustainably shaped the health system of his country and established a cooperative health insurance.

Then, Prof. Dr. Hünermann presented the award of the year 2021 to peace and conflict researcher Dr. Constansia Mumma-Martinon from Kenya for her commitment to reconciliation work in her home country. In his laudatory speech, Dr. Marko Kuhn, Head of the Africa Department, called the award winner a passionate scholar and practitioner in the field of peace and reconciliation work. In her speech, Dr. Mumma-Martinon thanked KAAD and at the same time encouraged the scholarship holders and alumni to use their opportunities as multipliers and change agents. The award ceremony was enriched by musical contributions from Brazil and Ghana.

In the course of four days, all program items of our Annual Convention were translated into different virtual formats: from the meeting of liaison lecturers and the meeting of regional groups to the interreligious encounter in prayer, the international soirée, several panel discussions as well as the further deepening of content in five forums, the meetings of expert groups and the ceremonial act on Friday evening. Also the International Service could take place and be broadcasted.

KAAD has successfully broken new ground with this virtual Convention – and will transfer some of these formats, which for the first time brought together numerous alumni and partners in their respective home countries with scholars in Germany, to the time after the pandemic.

All this will be documented on this page soon; also the recordings of the festive event on Friday evening will be made available.