Switzerland: Fribourg in the footsteps of the Archdiocese of Poitiers

Source: FSSPX News


From February 6 to 8, the annual pastoral session of the French-speaking part of the canton of Fribourg gathered almost 130 priests and lay pastoral ministers around the theme: “How to give life to our small communities and movements” (there are 139 of them in the canton).

Under the guidance of Fr. Marc Donzé, the new episcopal vicar for the French-speaking part of the canton of Fribourg, the session aimed at helping the participants to “read the signs of the times, and to invent new ways which would enable our communities and movements to preach Jesus Christ in a communicative manner full of life, in today’s world, (…) and this even if the Church does not march like an army corps, following commands.” (sic)

To this end the organizers solicited the intervention of Fr. Jean Paul Russeil, episcopal vicar of the diocese of Poitiers, a theologian and historian. Following upon the example of this predecessor, Bishop Joseph Rozier, Bishop Albert Rouet, Bishop of Poitiers had called a diocesan synod between 2001 and 2003 on the theme At the service of the Mission: actors and ministers of the Gospel. Fr. Russeil, who had been the General Secretary, emphasized how much Bishop Rouet had profited by the fruits of the first synod: first of all to bring an answer to the needs of local communities, for “the Church is in charge of everybody.”

Not wanting to call upon foreign priests or new communities in order to make up for the departure of aged priests, the diocese of Poitiers chose the option of “local communities”. “It means a concern for consultation, joint reflection, participation. This process cannot be worked out from an isolated office at the bishop’s house,” explained Fr. Russeil. “Living conditions have changed, people are educated, we cannot keep working according to the schemas of the past. We must confront a universe constantly on the move, in all respects.” The episcopal vicar refuses to close down parishes in sparsely populated areas because “if we strengthen those who are already strong and leave the others, we do not gain one single Christian more, on the contrary! No land must be abandoned by God. It would be contrary to the logics of the Gospel.”

“Must everything be based on the number of priests?” wondered the episcopal vicar. “Centralization brings with it a concentration of the exercise of authority, but it is not sufficient to repeat in an incantatory manner that authority is a service. We want to give authority and responsibilities back to Christians from the rank and file!” It is no longer a question of understanding the parish with priests, surrounded by lay people to help them, but to see it as responsible local communities, constituted around a leading team, with a priest who comes to help them.