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The article from which this is taken was published in the January 2004 issue of The Journal.

Franco-Swiss conferences 1967-1981

Previously we gave an account of the series of sixteen Italian-French-Swiss conferences held in Italy between 1970 and 1998 (Interchurch Families 9, 2 Summer 2001 pp.9-10) and of the series of ten English-speaking international conferences held between 1980 and 2001 (IF 11, 1 January 2003 p.11). Here we give an overview of the Franco-Swiss conferences that took place between 1967 and 1981 (holding over an account of the Swiss conferences held in Suisse romande between 1974 and 2003).

1967: the first Franco-Swiss conference
The earliest international meetings of interchurch families were the Franco-Swiss conferences that began in 1967. The original inspiration came from Lyon, where Fr René Beaupère OP, Director of the Centre St Irénée, had organised meetings of foyers mixtes since the early 1960’s (IF 1, 2 Summer 1993, p.8). The publication of the ‘Charter of Lyon’ in 1965 stimulated the development of groups of foyers mixtes both in France (especially in Paris and the south at first) and in Switzerland (to begin with, around Lausanne and Geneva).

The first Franco-Swiss meeting was held in 1967, and in 1968 the first number of Foyers Mixtes (published at Lyon) contained an interview introducing the interchurch families of the canton of Vaud in Switzerland (FM 2, pp.15).

Voirons, near Geneva, 24-26 May 1969
At the first meeting in 1967 it was resolved to make the Franco-Swiss conference an annual event. A series of meetings took place at Voirons at Pentecost. The third meeting at Voirons was planned for the Pentecost weekend, 1969, the theme to be decided together (FM 3, p.14). About thirty French and Swiss Catholic-Protestant couples from Lyon and the Rhone-Alps region, and the cantons of Vaud and Geneva (with forty or so children) met at a centre run by Dominican sisters, half-way between Lyon and Lausanne, just over the Swiss border in France. A compromise was reported between the expectation of the sisters that retreatants would keep silence at meals, and the desire of the families to get to know one another! The two themes of the conference were intercommunion (‘with a particularly rich double eucharistic experience – without intercommunion’) and the religious education of interchurch family children.

A text drawn up at the end of the meeting focused on the two eucharistic celebrations, the Lord’s Supper celebrated on Pentecost Sunday morning and Mass in the evening. Only recently, the text pointed out, had couples been present together at the eucharist; in past years they had gone to church separately. At Voirons they had a particularly profound experience of being together, a fervent and joyful experience of spiritual communion; paradoxically they suffered all the more when they could not receive communion together. ‘The exclusion of one partner from the eucharistic meal was painful in the measure to which the couple had realised its own spiritual unity; in fact the one who received communion felt closer to his or her spouse who did not receive communion, than to the other communicants.’ They assumed this suffering as of spiritual value for themselves, while hoping that it would contribute to making the churches aware of the urgency of tackling the problem of intercommunion. They wanted the churches to consider the possibility of reciprocal eucharistic sharing for couples, at least at high points of the liturgical year (FM 4, pp.16-23).

When the quarterly Foyers Mixtes celebrated its first anniversary with the October 1969 number (5), a new development was announced. The editorial group was to include couples from the cantons of Vaud and Geneva as well as the original Lyon team. Subsequent numbers gave news from groups in Vaud and Geneva, as well as reflections from a Swiss pastor and a priest. There was also news of how the Voirons 1969 text was being made known to church authorities in Lyon and Geneva, and to the Catholic bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg (FM 7, pp.17-19.)

Voirons, 16-18 May 1970; 29-31 May 1971
The fourth and fifth Franco-Swiss meetings returned to Voirons for the Pentecost weekends of 1970 and 1971. ‘Two events were outstanding this year: a double baptism and eucharistic hospitality’, said a report of the 1971 conference. This gives documentation and an account of what happened at Voirons under the title of ‘Eucharistic Hospitality’ (FM 12, pp.11-18). The word ‘intercommunion’ had been dropped. The report begins with the text of three letters. The first was addressed by French and Swiss couples intending to meet at Voirons to the local Catholic and Reformed authorities, identical letters sent to Pastor J.P.Monsarrat, President of the Council of the Centre-Alps-Rhone region of the French Reformed Church and to Mgr J.Sauvage, Bishop of Annecy. In carefully thought-out wording they asked for the authorisation of reciprocal eucharisitic hospitality on the occasion of the meeting at Pentecost 1971. The replies of Pastor Monsarrat and Bishop Sauvage follow.

The report continues with an account of the intense and lengthy discussion of those replies. It then explains what different couples decided to do in practice (with their reasons) in the face of authorisation from the Reformed Church, and the Bishop’s offer of eucharistic hospitality to the Protestants but refusal of permission for the Catholics to receive communion from the Reformed pastor. A first reaction to the Bishop’s letter was negative, because reciprocity was felt to be so important by married couples. They were helped by both Fr Beaupère and Pastor Bruston to appreciate the profound pastoral reflection with which Bishop Sauvage had approached the traditional position of the Catholic Church. They became more aware of how the Bishop had recognised the existential communion of the couple in its relation to the objective communion of the Church, and the prophetic character of this half-acceptance of their request. About two-thirds of the couples present received communion together at the morning Mass, and the Catholic partner respected the Bishop’s decision not to allow them to receive at the evening Lord’s Supper. For the rest, six couples kept to the practice of each partner receiving only in his/her own church; four couples received together in both celebrations, and one couple were united in receiving at neither. Afterwards they explained their reasons to one another.

Voirons, 20-22 May 1972; 9-11 June 1973; 1-3 June 1974
In 1972 and 1973 French and Swiss foyers mixtes returned to Voirons; in 1973 the theme of the meeting was ‘The Holy Spirit: the Spirit’s work of renewal in the Church and the meaning of the feast of Pentecost’. A new departure for the review Foyers Mixtes in 1973 was a list of regional Correspondents who would promote the publication; for Switzerland it was not only the cantons of Vaud and Geneva that were included, but also those of Neuchâtel, Valais and Zurich. In 1974 the cantons of Berne and Fribourg were added to the list.

Clearly the question of eucharistic hospitality was constantly referred to in these meetings at Voirons, and the distress experienced by couples was so great that in 1974 the eighth conference decided on a eucharistic fast. A letter written by the meeting explained that on one occasion during the eight years they had been meeting they had been able to share communion at a Catholic Mass. They had not asked again, since reciprocity had been forbidden, and foyers mixtes need to express the fact that they belong in two communities. They hoped that their decision for a eucharistic fast in 1974 would show church authorities the seriousness of their pastoral need, so that in 1975, a Holy Year, they would be able to take a positive step forward towards reconciliation with reciprocal eucharistic hospitality for foyers mixtes at Pentecost. There were plans for a large gathering in 1975, including French, Swiss and Belgian interchurch families, and for preparatory work on recent theological agreements on the nature of the eucharist (FM 24, pp.22-23). (There had already been indications in Foyers Mixtes that ‘reciprocal eucharistic hospitality’ was being practised on some interchurch family occasions, for example in Geneva and Neuchâtel: 20, p.5; 25, p.21.)

Pentecost of the Holy Year 1975
An explanatory document entitled ‘Pentecost of the Holy Year 1975: an Appeal from Foyers mixtes to the Churches’ was sent to the Correspondents in January 1975, and appeared in shortened form as an editorial in Foyers Mixtes, no. 27. The Pentecost 1975 weekend, 17-19 May, was again to be held at Voirons. A ‘Letter from Voirons’ (FM 28, pp.5-8) told what had happened.

There had been much correspondence beforehand with various ecclesiastical authorities. Some had replied with sympathy; some had not. Mgr Le Bourgeois, President of the French Bishops’ Committee for Christian Unity, had been favourable to the request, saying that although a Catholic could not participate in the Lord’s Supper without question as if it were normal, one could not forbid a sincere and enlightened Christian from following his conscience. This was especially true for foyers mixtes, who lived division daily, in the measure to which the partners respected one another and remained faithful to their churches. He realised that on the occasion of Pentecost in the Holy Year, they were not saying that unity had been achieved, but expressing the dynamic character of a lived ecumenism and their desire for reconciliation. The Bishop of Annecy, however, while being happy to offer eucharistic hospitality to the Protestants, as he had done earlier, said he believed strongly that reciprocity was not the way forward. However, if individual Catholics decided to participate he would not reply to ‘that violent gesture by another: the breaking of ecclesial communion’. But he thought it was not the right way to go.

Another text which Catholic participants had in mind was that of the Swiss synodal Assembly of March 1975. This had been approved by the Swiss bishops and promulgated in the diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, signed by the bishop. It stated that if a Catholic was convinced in conscience that he should receive communion at the Lord’s Supper, this did not necessarily imply breaking with his own church, although eucharistic sharing remained problematic so long as the churches were divided

On Pentecost Sunday, therefore, Protestants were free to accept eucharistic hospitality at Mass in the morning, and most did so, while Catholics decided in conscience whether they would receive at the Lord’s Supper; most did so. The sisters in charge of the centre did not attend this evening celebration, sharing the bishop’s feeling that reciprocity was not a positive way forward. The couples present experienced Voirons 75 as a defining moment and a true Pentecost.

Francheville, 5-7 June 1976; Voirons 28-30 May 1977
The tenth Franco-Swiss meeting moved to Francheville, on the outskirts of Lyon, with the theme ‘Mary, Mother of God’. In 1977 they were back at Voirons, with the theme ‘The Communion of Saints’ (FM 31, p.33; 35, p.32).

Torre Pellice, 13-15 May 78; Voirons, 2-4 June 79; Voirons 16-17 May 81
The Pentecost weekend of 1978 was used for a meeting of French, Swiss and Italian interchurch families at Torre Pellice, near Turin (see Interchurch Families 9,2, Summer 2001, p.10) on the theme of ‘Bible, Spirit and Prayer’. It was counted as the ninth in the series of meetings in Italy, but also as the twelfth of the Pentecost Franco-Swiss conferences.

Back at Voirons in 1979 the theme was ‘Christ’s Resurrection and ours’ (FM 43, p.39) and the fourteenth meeting in 1981 was on the theme of ‘Love God with all your heart’. This was the final conference in the series of Pentecost meetings between French and Swiss foyers mixtes. Links between Lyon and the French-speaking Swiss remained strong, particularly through the review Foyers Mixtes, and some Swiss participation in the series of annual weekends on ecumenical catechetics that began in Lyon in 1975, for priests, pastors and interchurch couples.

Meanwhile, another series of meetings for the foyers mixtes de Suisse romande had begun in 1974. We are holding for our next number an overview of the twenty Swiss French-speaking conferences that took place between 1975 and 2003.