ECUMENISM IN SWITZERLAND...
AND THE MODEST BUT ACTIVE INVOLVEMENT OF THE MONTHEY COMMUNITY
The town of Monthey, in Switzerland, has approximately 18,000 inhabitants from 108 different nationalities.
The Sisters of Saint Joseph community in Monthey know what it means to live together with other religions, especially the 2 main religions of the Valais : Catholicism and Protestantism.
Some preliminary thoughts: "Ecumenism is achieved by journeying together, not just with ideas." Pope Francis Vatican City, 23 June 2022
According to Pope Francis, 'the way of thinking about ecumenism' invites the Church to a new approach, to a journey of openness. "Ecumenism is achieved by walking together, not just with ideas," said Pope Francis at the Vatican on 23 June 2022.
On 18 January 2023, the newspaper 'La Croix' wrote: "Pope Francis has opted for a culture of encounter based on personal actions of closeness and friendship with the leaders of various Christian traditions. His journeys and audiences confirm this approach".
Let us also listen to Saint Paul the Apostle addressing the Ephesians: Eph 4:5 "There is one Body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope at the end of the calling you have received; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all."
And Saint Paul, addressing the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 12:13 "For in one Spirit we were all baptised into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink from the one Spirit".
Drawing on our rich experiences, we would like to share with you what we experienced in a simple and friendly way in our Monthey parish, where Catholics and Protestants live together in friendship.
Historically, in the Valais, Catholics and Protestants have enjoyed good relationships, not only in the informal encounters of everyday life, but also on a specifically religious level. Everyone has their own place, the place that Christ invites them to take: "Come, follow me". Ecumenism is a source of joy and friendship. There is no room for rivalry because the Lord is the Master in this community.
The SSJA community in Monthey (Switzerland) is humbly, but fully, committed to ecumenism; a group which encourages encounters and outreach, friendship, mutual support and service.
Located very close to our house, the Protestant Temple welcomes its members under the leadership of Pastor Robert Zamaradi, assisted by a deacon.
A few hundred metres further down the road, the Catholic Church, with Father Jérôme Hauswirth and several assistant priests, provides celebrations, the sacraments and other services for the Catholic community. On the first Sunday of Advent, after their own services, the two Christian communities gather at the Place ‘’Crochetan’’, a public place, alongside the Protestant pastor and the Catholic priest. This is followed by a time of prayer led by the two ministers, an address is given by each one of them, singings and the Our Father prayer. The blessing is given together by the two ministers. The gathering of the two Christian communities at the beginning of Advent is traditionally enriched by the presence of the students from the Cavalry School. A member of the group proclaims solemnly the opening of Advent and also invites the public to join in the "Advent Fires" procession, which takes place in the evening through the streets of the town up to the bonfire on the scout field.
And for the occasion, there's something extra: hot wine or tea!
Christians of the "two Churches" meet together for more time of prayer, when invited to do so by the Pastor and the Priest. Every year, during the month of January, from the 18th to 25th of January, the World Week Prayer for Christian Unity is an occasion offered to the two Christian communities. On the first Sunday, Christians of both churches are invited to attend the service in the Temple, and on the second Sunday, in the parish church. During those two Sundays the ministers give their sermon in the other church.
These gatherings are very meaningful and prayerful, and this challenge us. After all, didn't Christ pray for the Disciples to be "ONE"?
Christians: Catholics and Protestants live together in the same town and meet each other quite naturally. The SSJA community has a number of Protestants among its friends! And this is not an issue. On the contrary, it is the richness of " being different ", unity in diversity. There is "one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all..." (Eph. 4:5). Several charity activities are organised by the two Christian communities:
During Lent, a meal is offered in solidarity with the others. It is known as the "Ecumenical Campaign". It could actually be called a Lenten initiative. This year, it was in support of Tanzania.
Every Tuesday, a lunch is organised to invite all those who are lonely, those who would like to talk, to spend a social afternoon to play games, to share ideas... and a few sisters of the Community take part to that event every week. They are eagerly awaited each time.
Based on Christ's prayer: "May they be one as we are ONE" (John 17, 21), we, the Sisters of Monthey Community, believe that God is at work here and now.
Some historical background on Ecumenism:
Ecumenism began to develop at the end of the 19th century, and today it took the form of various agreements and numerous initiatives for dialogue. Every year since 1908, during the month of January, from the 18th to 25th of January, the Church invites all Christians to a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
It was Pope John XXIII (1958) and the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) who officially committed the Catholic Church in Ecumenism and to foster Christian unity.
We all remember the important writings of the Council on Ecumenism.
After the Council, interdenominational committee set to work on the common translation of the Bible (the TOB), and on the new version of the Lord's Prayer, published in 1966 and adopted by the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches. What a wonderful achievement, and this is much appreciated by all Christians!
Written by a member the Monthey community
On June 1st 2023