Special report: The papal trip to Switzerland

Source: FSSPX News


At the end of this trip, certain questions arose: what is the exact meaning of these massive gatherings? What are the fruits for the religious practice of youth and for priestly and religious vocations?

The synthesis of these two days and the declarations made – such as they were related by the new agency APIC – allow us to discover an answer to these questions.

The religious situation in Switzerland

Out of 7.3 million inhabitants, 41% of them are Catholic, 9.1% of those being of foreign origin, 37 % are Protestant and around 5% Muslim. 11% of Swiss today say they have no formal religious affiliation, up from 7.5% ten years ago.

Catholics are thus, today, in the majority with more than 3.5 million faithful in this land of Calvin. But Protestantism retains a great influence and “popular ecumenism” is quite strong among Christians. It is “sometimes imprudent”, but the Swiss think they are “pioneers”, according to one Roman prelate. “Pastoral agents”, numerous laymen and women in German-speaking Switzerland, over-step the bounds of their mission-field while trampling on that of the priests, and this after calls to order from Rome. Moreover, Eucharistic “hospitality” between Christians is a widespread practice and unfavorable reactions to recent Roman documents on this subject are numerous.

The great majority of Swiss Catholics no longer relate to the traditional Church. In ten years, the Catholic Church in Switzerland has lost around 150,000 faithful. Made up of many immigrants (one third of young Catholics are foreigners), plagued by indifferentism, the Church’s face is changing and the young no longer maintain institutional ties with her.

“They are more acquainted with WYD! They are sometimes in the movements [the “new ecclesial movements” such as Focolare or Opus Dei] or prayer groups. In the past, youth ministries did not have contact with the movements. Today there is a dialog, a unanimity between the movements and the dioceses. In short, they are much better disposed to welcome the pope”, pointed out Msgr. Amédée Grab, bishop of Coire and President of the Swiss Bishops Conference. “This encounter, desired by the bishops, would not have taken place without the previous World Youth Days”.

However a recent poll published by Hebdo revealed that roughly nine Swiss out of ten want to do away with mandatory priestly celibacy, to share the Eucharist with other Christians, to strengthen ecumenism or to give equal rights to women. 76% say they support the idea of ordaining women as priests.

Saturday, June 5: the meeting with the youth

In the Arena, which was packed to the rafters – according to an APIC journalist – the T-shirts of the participants, in all colors and bearing the slogan of this 1st National Encounter of Swiss Catholic Youth, “Rise up” (Lk 7:14) looked like an impressionist painting. Banners were hung at the back and sides of the Arena. “John-Paul II, we are at your side”, “John-Paul II, we love you”, “The Church my love, the Church my mother”, “Dear Holy Father, thank you for coming”, “Christ, not a way, but my way”, “Joy comes from giving”, and still more.

After the word of welcome of Msgr. Denis Theurillat, delegate of the Conference of Swiss Bishops to the youth and auxiliary of the diocese of Basle, pastor Samuel Lutz, President of the Synod of Reformed Churches of Bern-Jura-Soleure, went to the podium and commented on the theme of the encounter: Rise up! “That’s what Christ says to us, to all of us, to you Catholics and we Reformed Christians. Rise up! He doesn’t intend it to be an order, like the jarring effect of an alarm clock, but as an invitation, as an opportunity, as a call”. However, the Protestant Churches of Switzerland declined the invitation of the Swiss Bishops Conference to participate in the following day’s mass with the pope, because of the absence of Eucharistic hospitality

Then the performances began, in the form of ballets, songs, mime, video clips, a rock concert and even a dance number from the musical comedy hit The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Shows in which Catholic youth coming from all over Switzerland were the actors, dancers, singing and paying tribute to “modern dance”. There were more than a hundred of them on stage, with the idea of illustrating their hope and faith in a big show, applauded by a noisy and joyous crowd.

On two screens, there were video clips shows alternating images of social questions, statistics, images of life and even of the sacraments. Rock music electrified the audience, and the decibels increased. “Where am I?”, “Where is my place”; “Anorexia in order to be beautiful” or even “I’m worthless”, certain of these preoccupations were dramatized on the stage. A choreographed group ended with a call to God. “God is here. In the mud of the world? Yes”.

The hall heated up before the arrival of the pope, with three youth from the three linguistic regions of the country acting as MCs between the numbers. On the stage as in the hall, everyone wore jeans. Thousands of colored placards were held aloft, balloons popped, little flags were sold and waved in the air with the colors of the Vatican, or even of the cantons and the countries of the youth who were there – there was even a large Albanian flag. A Christian rock group “Aquero” took the stage – long riffs on the electric guitar or saxophone – the place was “swinging”…Good rock for the glory of God. The hall took up the Alleluia refrain again. “One more time!”

The atmosphere was very moving, very warm. Msgr. Grab, President of the Swiss Bishops Conference, thanked the pope for “inciting hope and faith throughout the word despite his growing health concerns”.

The spectacle continued with the pope as guest of honor. After a choir in biblically inspired costumes and bare feet interpreted Psalm 8, three Swiss youths from the three regions, two girls and a boy, thanked the pope and gave their testimony. “How do we raise up humanity wounded by its own folly?” asked the Romansch girl, Elodie Coste. “In Switzerland too there are youth in distress, uncertain they’ll find work and troubled by images of torture and war,” said Barbara Grossman, from German-speaking Switzerland. As for the one from the Italian region, Andrea Cavallini, he asserted that “the commitment which is being asked of us in all facets of society is somewhat intimidating, which does not help us to live life to the full. Stress and confusion increase the difficulty of living today”. Then the young man improvised briefly, challenging any suggestion that the pope was too old. This was not part of the printed speech given to the press in advance: “Holy Father, the Swiss-Italian youth wish you a long life to come”. The cheering went on quite a while. The three young people came one by one before the pope, genuflected and kissed his ring. This was a touching moment of devotion in a festival that would last late into the night.

Msgr. Grab thanked John-Paul II: “Despite growing difficulties, you do not spare your strength…” The President of the Swiss Bishops Conference recalled the visit of the pope to Switzerland in 1984, twenty years ago. “The youth who greet you today loudly and joyously, Most Holy Father, know you, admire you, and love you”. These young people, he continued, want to work for a world in which people consciously strive for peace, a world where the dignity of each person and his fundamental rights are respected. A world in which terrorism, slavery in all its forms, the dictatorship of money and nationalism can be defeated”. In conclusion he asked the pope to bless “our families, often threatened or broken apart.

“You are the future of Switzerland”, responded John-Paul II, addressing in particular the youth, the actors of this day. “I tell you all, dear young people, be not afraid to encounter Jesus”. He continued: “Like you, I was once twenty years old. I loved sports, skiing, and the theater. I studied and I worked. I had desires and preoccupations. During those years so long ago, at a time when my native land was devastated by war and then by totalitarianism, I sought the direction I wanted to give to my life. I found it in following the Lord Jesus.”

Then he addressed each young person directly with these words on the family and marriage: “Never tire of training yourself in the difficult discipline of listening” (…) Thus you will be able to build a family, founded on marriage, this pact of love between a man and a woman…You will, by your personal testimony, be able to affirm that, although there are difficulties and obstacles, it is possible to fully live Christian marriage as a completely meaningful experience and as ‘good news’ for the whole family”.

In this third millennium, the pope said, “all of you young people are called to proclaim the message of the Gospel by the testimony of your lives. The Church needs your energy, your enthusiasm, and your youthful ideals so that the Gospel will penetrate the fiber of society and give birth to a civilization of authentic justice and love without discrimination”.

John-Paul II told the young people not to follow the “mirages of a consumer society”, but to listen to the precepts of the Gospel, counseling them not to “give in to despair, not to become “absorbed by fleeting pleasures”, not to succumb to “indifference and superficiality”, not be drawn in by “disordered affections”, but to follow Christian precepts in “a world which is often deprived of light and which lacks the courage of noble ideals”. “Now is not the time be ashamed of the Gospel”, he continued. “Rather, the time has come to proclaim it”. “Christianity is not a simple book of culture or even an ideology, nor is it only a system of values or principles. Christianity is a person”.

The young people’s reaction

The young people present will have retained a few snatches of the pope’s speech, from the passages in French, which they had difficulty in picking up, even though the very respectful crowd fell silent whenever John Paul II was reading, with difficulty, his text. “Sometimes it was too difficult to understand…He told us that he to had been twenty years old once, that he liked sport, skiing and the theater…”

They remarked that he was courageous, in spite of his age, to have made this visit. They heard the pope tell them not to be afraid to follow Jesus… He who said “Arise!” to the young man of Naim who was lying dead in his coffin. Now they know that this is not the moment to blush at the Gospel, in a world which is too often lacking in noble ideals, “if they wish to bring about a civilization of true justice and love without discrimination”.

“I was amazed to see how the crowd acclaimed the pope, this solidarity between the people, this complicity, something was happening,” said Nathalie. “A ‘certain something’ happened,” according to Magalie. While Baptiste declared himself greatly impressed by his character: “He is elderly, you could see that he had difficulty in communicating, but you could see immediately that it was he who decided, who commanded!” Everyone saw the gesture of authority of John Paul II when his secretary wished to take the text of his speech from his hands. With their minds and hearts still full of the spectacle they have just experienced, these teenagers who are preparing for Confirmation, are already exchanging their recollections.

However, if their preparation time as confirmands – which lasts a year and a half, from September 2003 to February 2005, at the rate of one meeting per month and three outings, including most notably, a visit to the Grand-Saint-Bernard, and another to Taizé – had not included the meeting in Bern, they would not have come of their own accord, they admitted. But when all is said and done, said Grégoire, “If John Paul II comes to Bern, so near to us, it’s the chance to see the pope, the head of the Catholic Church, and also to share a good time, to celebrate.”

For these young people, it is often the charisma of the man, Karol Wojtyla, which is fascinating, but they maintain few institutional links with the Church. Caroline Descamps, a student of English in Geneva, sees in John Paul II, above all, “a man of convictions” and “his strength to uphold them”, even if she herself does not always share them. For Camille Moneau, a science student in Lausanne, the pope’s teaching “has been of service to him every day” and he admires his efforts which brought about the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. These two students took part in the World Youth Day in Rome in the year 2000, like many of the participants at Bern, who were not only Swiss, but Germans, French, Italians and also Mexicans, to cite but a few nationalities. On the other hand, it was the first meeting with the pope for a group of 14-year-olds from Neuchatel. It was, most of all, the man of history whom they had come to see, “Karol Wojtyla and not everything around him, the Vatican….” Cardinal Henri Schwery, bishop emeritus of Sion, remarked: “Nowadays, young people experience the Church differently, through movements and gatherings like World Youth Day. They do not always know what the pope teaches, or do not follow it, but they admire the greatness of the man.”

After the conclusion of the meeting of John Paul II with the 14,000 young people, assembled at the skating rink in Bern, Séverine Borlot, who had come from France to meet up with Swiss friends, was still wiping away her tears. “I was very moved to see and particularly to hear the pope,” she said. “I was very impressed by his willpower. In spite of his illness and fatigue, he read the whole of his speech and I was very touched by the message he gave us.” As for Udo Waltman, a student at Innsbruck, he was struck by the atmosphere. “I am not an unwavering admirer of John Paul II. I am a Catholic, but I do not always share the Church’s message,” he declared. Having said that, “he is an extraordinary man, who genuinely loves young people, as he has shown us this evening.”

Chantal Brun, who worked as a catechist in the parish of Bethlehem in Bern, before taking charge of the secretariat for the Meeting, admits that her compatriots are often reluctant with regard to Rome. “But people consider John Paul II a very popular personality. Even if they do not necessarily share his opinions, especially where morals are concerned, they told themselves that if he was coming to Switzerland, it would be an opportunity to find out more about him…” Many young people, while undoubtedly criticizing his sexual morality, consider him otherwise to be a witness for peace, as shown by his commitment against the war in Iraq for the past two years. “In German-speaking Switzerland, many appreciate his stance on the Middle East.”

In fact, the enthusiasm at these mass meetings stands in stark contrast to the absence of many young people in parish life, a participant remarked. For the auxiliary bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, Mgr. Bürcher, it has been obvious for a long time that the parish no longer has the exclusive rights to the proclamation of the Gospel: “There has been Catholic action, which exists and is still flourishing today, and there are notably, the new ecclesial movements, like Sant’Egidio, Focolare, charismatic groups. Young people are finding something in these which touches them more deeply.”

Sunday June 6, the Mass

A little before 10 am., the white popemobile of John Paul II was announced, and already the crowd was in high excitement. It had scarcely entered the Allmend stadium of Bern, when a horde of altar servers dressed in albs – both boys and girls together – began to run in its wake to catch a glimpse of the face of the old man bent in his chair. It was a moment of delirium in the crowd.

The white and yellow flags of the Vatican flapped wildly, before long drowned in a sea of red and white, the national colors of Poland – and of Switzerland, much more discreetly. Floating on the undulating crowd, the checkered flag of Croatia, the two-headed black eagle of the Albanians of Kosovo, the German flag (free publicity for World Youth Day 2005, in Cologne!), the flags of Portugal, Italy, Brazil, and of different Swiss cantons, including Ticino, Valais and Glarus. “Giovannni Paolo! Giovanni Paolo!” chanted the crowd on several occasions, applauding the pope during significant passages of his sermon. Standing out in the middle of the crowds, was the banner of Solidarity, the glorious Polish union of past years.

During his sermon, John Paul II launched an appeal to Christians to “commit themselves to unity” and he reaffirmed his wish “to go forward on the difficult road to full communion of all believers.” He recalled that commitment to the unity of Christians was “a call which concerned pastors and faithful, which prompted a renewed consciousness of their responsibility in the Church.” “However,” he continued in a clear voice, “it is certain that a major contribution to the ecumenical cause will come from the will of Catholics to live this unity amongst themselves.” “A local Church where the spirituality of communion flourishes, will be able to constantly purify itself of the ‘poisons’ of selfishness, which generate jealousy, mistrust, timid withdrawals, and harmful conflicts”

“Dear young friends, know that the pope loves you,” he told them. He also reminded them, on the day of the anniversary of the landing of the Allied troops in Normandy in 1944, that “the real source of the greatness of man” is his “indestructible dignity.” John Paul II also condemned the “outrages” committed against man, an allusion to torture and other violence. “When all is said and done, every outrage committed against man constitutes an outrage against his Creator, who loves him with the love of a Father.”

The pope then recalled that Switzerland had a “great tradition of respect for mankind”, placed under the sign of the Red Cross, founded in 1863 by the Swiss Henri Dunant, to come to the aid of victims of the battlefield and wars. He ended by paying tribute to the Pontifical Swiss Guard, who will celebrate five hundred years in 2005.

During the prayer of the Angelus which followed the Mass, John Paul II “entrusted the Swiss people to the Virgin Mary,” as well as her young people, calling on them to help the Swiss to “remain in harmony and unity with all the different linguistic and ethnic groups of which she is formed.”

During the Mass, animated by songs with lively rhythms, the texts and prayers were read in the national languages of Switzerland: French, German, Italian, Romansch, but also in Spanish, Portuguese and Albanian. The organizers thus hoped to demonstrate “the opening up of Switzerland to the world”. A third of the young Swiss Catholics are actually foreigners. Then, the pope blessed the water of the four rivers which flow through Switzerland, the Rhine, the Rhone, the Inn and the Ticino. With these four waters mingled in a large bowl, symbolizing the wealth of the cultural and linguistic differences of Switzerland, the pope blessed the crowd.

Finally a collection was organized during the celebration to meet the expenses of the Meeting of Young Swiss Catholics, but also in aid of the young AIDS victims in South Africa. This collection was made in collaboration with the dioceses of Marianhill and Durban and the Lenten programs of the Swiss Catholics.

Press reaction

On Monday June 8, the majority of daily journals, in all three of the main languages, French, German and Italian, dedicated their front page to this event. Photos and commentaries accompanied the highly diverse reports.

In its entirety, the Swiss press hailed “the powerful word” of the pope. John Paul II made a strong impression by his charisma with the young people. “The powerful word of a pope who is barely audible,” said the Quotidien Jurassien. If the pope is welcomed by the young like a celebrity, “it is because he offers them different values for a more humane and just world,” wrote the daily paper in Delémont.

The Nouvelliste devoted several articles to the event. The Valaisan daily esteemed that “after the welcome given to the successor of Peter by the Swiss youth, the Catholic personalities who recently sent him their letter demanding his resignation should re-examine their case.”

La Liberté, in Fribourg, and the Courrier of Geneva, consecrated their front pages, as well as three more, to the meeting of the pope with the youth. La Liberté highlighted the contrast with John Paul II’s visit in 1984, when the young people had presented their wish for a reform of the Church to “a conquering pope”, and the visit today, where “they ensured an unqualified triumph for John Paul II”. “His unsteady voice delivered an almost inaudible message. But does anyone really want to hear it?” asked La Liberté: the young people who came to the meeting with John Paul II did not want to broach any volatile subjects “in this last celebration with their grandfather”, preferring to be his “fans or groupies”.

Enfeebled, inaudible, but a “superstar”. As shown by the Vaudois daily 24 heures, the Swiss press declared itself impressed by the attendance figures over these two days: 14,000 young people on the Saturday evening at the Bern Arena and 70,000 people on Sunday on the Allmend arena, for the biggest Mass of the last 50 years in Switzerland. In the end, and perhaps thanks to this manner of making no mention of the problems of rebellious Catholics and angry Protestants, wrote 24 heures, the attendance figures of these two days were “almost providential”.

For Le Temps, “The old magic worked once again. Between Pope John Paul II and the young people, there is an abiding love, without doubt maintained by the Faith.” La Tribune de Genève, for its part put emphasis on the “American-style show” aspect, orchestrated by a pope promoted as a “youth idol”. According to the daily paper from the hometown of Calvin, the meeting was “terribly lacking in content”.

Another French-speaking daily, Le Matin, accorded much space to this visit, and did not hesitate to express its criticism: “The teenagers in such admiration before the pope, are not all aware of his conservatism. Singing and dancing is a good way of giving a modern image to a Church which is not at all modern.” Le Matin poses the question: “Does the pope listen to the young people?” According to the Swiss daily, no mention was made of marriage, the condom or the refusal of the Eucharist to Protestants…

The Giornale del Popolo, the Catholic daily of the Ticino canton, not surprisingly devoted its main headline and several pages to this visit. “Never before have so many people been gathered for an event of this magnitude.” The pope’s young fans, we read, “have given Switzerland a jolt”. The Italian-speaking daily also underlined the paternal bond which has been forged between the pope and the youth.

The German-speaking press was no exception, wondering over the “secret” of the old pope. The Bund believes it has found it in the image of a “severe but warm-hearted grandfather.” For the Mitteland Zeitung, John Paul II is “one of the last voices reminding us that life can not just be considered a question of power and money.” The Tages Anzeiger, in Zurich, lays stress on what divides: “The gulfs remain very deep,” it comments, with regard to the “exclusion of the Reformed Churches from the evening meal.”

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung, a liberal Zurich journal, was more discreet in its coverage of the visit, with no photo on the front page. It spoke inside of the fact that this jubilant weekend in Bern was also profoundly marked by a total ban on demonstrations. Finally, the Berner Zeitung, a daily of the Swiss capital, considered that “stars and idols are also able to function independently of content.”

During the press conference which followed the visit of the Sovereign Pontiff, Bishop Amédée Grab let it be known that he would retain from these days a feeling of joy, impressed by the immense affinity shown by the young towards the pope. “One of the great moments,” he continued, “was the meal with the pope at Viktoriaheim, where the bishops of his entourage, as well as the bishops of Switzerland were present,” – the other members of the delegations took their meal at the Novotel Hotel, opposite the Bern Arena. Sitting next to the pope, Bishop Grab was able to speak to John Paul II, who could only respond in brief phrases. “But his interest is ever present. If his mind reacts immediately to what one says to him, he can not speak immediately and expresses himself only with difficulty.”

As for Bishop Denis Theurillat, he expressed his emotion and said he was “grateful to all the persons and young adults who gave so much time and energy into making this celebration a success.” A large number of meetings were necessary, since January 2003, to see these two exceptional days through to a successful conclusion. For the bishop, responsible for the organization committee, the young people, even if they did not understand the pope’s every word, left with this pressing invitation: “Arise, do something with your life!” Finally, he enthused over “this amazing welcome”, just as for the Eucharist on Sunday: “This crowd of 70,000 people in the sunshine” “On Sunday we celebrated the beauty of life,” he concluded before proclaiming: “I still feel as if on a cloud!”

In reply to one question, Bishop Amédée Grab stated that “the pope’s visit was pastoral, and one of friendship.” “It was not a visit for a call to order, nor was it destined to apply the norms of the universal Church in Switzerland,” he said. The two delegations, Roman and Swiss, did not mention any vexing subjects. But the Swiss bishops will have to (do so) during their visit to Rome.”

Interviewed by Apic on his reaction to the stand taken by the Swiss theologian Hans Küng who, in the Blick, described the event as the “triumphalist cult of the person”, Bishop Amédée Grab replied: “We did not invite the pope in order to show him an outpouring of affection. The manner in which the young people wished to welcome their guest is their affair. There was not a claque there to welcome him! In this type of enthusiasm for a person or an ideal, certain forms displease certain theologians. Those who protest against the cult of the personality are the elderly. If the young people are manifesting their joy, let us learn a lesson from it. Let us not be overcome with bitterness!”

On his return from Switzerland, the Holy Father declared on the following Wednesday, in front of 10,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, amongst whom were members of the Buddhist movement Rissho Kosei-Kai from Japan: “I thank the Lord who gave me the opportunity to experience a moment of great spiritual enthusiasm with the young people of Switzerland.”

During the week, in a letter written in Italian, Bishop Grab expressed the gratitude of the Swiss bishops to the pope and their happiness with his visit: “Holy Father, we thank you for your visit, which has given a momentum of hope and encouragement to the Church which is in Switzerland. In spite of some criticisms voiced during the preparations for your visit, the media too have understood the central message which you defend: the strength of Christianity lies not in outward appearances, but in the spiritual reality which opens up new dimensions and liberates man from his selfishness. It is marvelous to note the extent to which the media echoed your Gospel message.”

And after?

Father Pierre-Yves Maillard, head of the Pastoral Committee of the 1st Meeting of Young Catholics of Switzerland, and superior of the diocesan seminary of Sion at Givisiez (Fribourg), is happy to say that the young people have truly fulfilled their role: almost a thousand of them were already at work on the eve of the meeting. These young people were involved for months in preparation for the meeting: the choir, the choreography, the decor, etc. “It is not just this weekend, but the whole preparation which is interesting…This is no flash in the pan, some of them will now commit themselves to work in their communities.” Even if he can not confirm at this stage, the setting up on a regular basis of a national meeting along these lines, the young priest believes that there will “certainly be a more to come”, without being able to say as yet, exactly what form it will take. However, he is conscious that a large part of the success of this weekend was due to John Paul II’s own charisma.

What next? The organizing committee is not yet in a position to put forward any concrete proposals. “There is no proposition on the table yet, but after this success, it is obvious that there will have to be a follow up to June 5, 2004,” affirmed Alexandre Praz of the organizing committee of the Meeting. “When we saw all the bridges that could be built, whether at Swiss regional level, between different ecclesial sensibilities, from the traditional pastoral care of young people in parishes to the new communities, we have to strive towards something.” This sort of “intercatholic ecumenism” is a first step, but it shows that beyond the differences, “we share something still stronger which unites us, the same faith in Jesus Christ.”