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A report on the activities of groups of interchurch families in
French speaking Switzerland (Suisse Romande)
from 1998 (Geneva) to 2003 (Rome)

French speaking Switzerland; week end reunions:
Like a second breath in those Cantons with a Catholic tradition.

Since 1974 the Swiss groups have organised, each in turn, their regional meeting, as have the French regions. A record of these meetings is kept in the Franco-Swiss revue “Foyers Mixtes” published by the Centre St Irénée in Lyons. Its director Fr. René Beaupère has not missed a single one of these twenty regional meetings. He encourages the Swiss to follow their specific vocation, in spite of their relative ecumenical comfort...

Tradition dictates that the group that organises a particular regional weekend meeting for French speaking Switzerland passes the organisation for the next meeting on to another group. This group is then responsible for inviting the other groups eighteen months later to its own canton for the next meeting. And so, from time to time, we experience the miracle of reunions, and also of finding new couples. But unfortunately it also happens that we lose touch with people, because, lacking a proper secretariat, the address book which we pass on is not always complete…

Another important phenomenon is worth pointing out. This is the absence, for the most part, of groups or couples from the Cantons with a reformed tradition (Geneva, Neuchâtel and Vaud). The canton of Vaud, for example, still has three or four groups of interchurch families. But its members have for the most part resolved the classic questions which arise at baptism, with the religious education of children and at confirmation. They meet, from friendship and faithfulness, to deepen their understanding of themes or theological texts. A group in Lausanne is currently studying that excellent book “For the conversion of the churches” by the Groupe des Dombes. Even if the majority of these groups do not appear to be called to counsel young couples who are in their turn confronting the same questions, at least one has declared its willingness to welcome new couples.

So we can make an observation. It seems that, for a little while now, in those Cantons called mixed by our Catholic colleagues, “the problem is that there is no problem.” It is true that ecumenical relations are good on the whole and priests and pastors have clearly learnt to collaborate on a day to day basis. But if we look more closely, we are forced to notice that the generation which saw and greeted Vatican II has today been replaced by young churchmen not necessarily knowledgeable about or sympathetic to ecumenism such as it is lived by interchurch families. We can see, in this or that church, a re-affirmation of identity which is not always favourable to the pastoral gains of interchurch families. Whether this re-affirmation of identity is a marked feature or not, there is still a question: “Does the mutual trust of the churches and the experience of more than thirty years of joint pastoral care of interchurch couples of itself mean that the task of the church on behalf of interchurch families and of interchurch families for the church is no longer necessary?” Is it simply a question of solving practical problems or of always deepening our unity by a continual return to a dialogue which is fruitful?

The protestant cantons seem to have moved beyond the years when families discovered enthusiastically, courageously, sometimes with difficulty, the paths of a family life shared between two parishes of different denominations. One can notice, however, that the interchurch families’ movement is getting a second wind, in French speaking Switzerland, in the Catholic Cantons like Fribourg, the Jura and the Valais. So it is that the last three weekend meetings have been organised by groups who living today the “existential phase” known by families who are asking themselves questions about baptism and the religious education of children.
- The 29-30th May at Arzier, a group from Geneva organised the first weekend after the first international meeting in Geneva at the World Council of Churches. The theme was “A study of John’s gospel chapters 13-14.
- The 23-24th of September at Sapinhaut the group from Martigny in the Valais left its vines, in spite of the imminent harvest and led a session on “The Trinity, the source of family life”, with the help of Pastor Jacques Nicole and Fr. René Beaupère. (see “Foyers Mixtes number 127-128 p.29).
- The 17-18th of November 2001, at Charmey, the group from Fribourg invited Mgr. Bernard Genoud, then the newly appointed bishop of the diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg as well as the president of the Fribourg diocesan synod, Pastor Daniel Roche to open a weekend entitled “transmitting the faith” and based on the important text which describes Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman (John 4). (See Foyers Mixtes number 132-134 p.63).
- The 20th meeting was organised by the ever young group from the Jura on the 8-9th March 2003 at Delmont. The text studied was that of the bread of life (John 6). (See Foyers Mixtes number 139 p.31)

It is worth noting at this point that, as well as the faithful participation of Fr. Beaupère, Ruth and Martin Reardon from the British AIF took part in the weekends organised by the Valais and the Jura and even wrote about them in “News and Notes”.
Should we not encourage international links in between International conferences?

Pastor Richard Ecklin remembers:
The experience and the beliefs of an old friend of interchurch families

It is not possible to write a report on interchurch families in French speaking Switzerland without mentioning, as well as Fr. Beaupère, Pastor Richard Ecklin, their faithful friend from Neuchâtel. He has been for a long time a member of the committee of the journal “Foyers Mixtes” and he has been their Protestant theological adviser. So as an addendum, here is the summary of a paper for which I asked from this unconditional friend of interchurch families. Twenty years of retirement have not prevented him from dedicating himself to their pastoral care. What an unflagging prophet of the ecumenical cause is our friend Richard.

“Among many memories one that comes to mind is the celebration of four baptisms of children of interchurch families in August 1979 at the community of Grandchamp. It reminds us both where we come from, and where we still are… They were four families deeply attached to both their churches. They were unable to decide to choose a single place to baptise their children. The pastor and the priest agreed to baptise the children in turns. They made sure that the baptisms would be inscribed in both baptismal rolls. The church authorities protested: ecumenism gone wild! Irregular practice! In effect the authorities argue that it is precisely because of the mutual recognition of baptisms in Switzerland (following the agreement of 5.7.1973 between the federation of protestant churches in Switzerland (FEPS) and the Swiss Episcopal conference (CES) and another church) that the baptism should be celebrated and inscribed in the baptismal register of a single specific church, and not in some special one-off way. (Baptism and ecclesial belonging in mixed marriages. Reflections and guidelines jointly edited by the FEPS and the CEC in July 1987.) But where is the irregularity? In the interchurch families or in the division of the Churches who refuse Eucharistic hospitality?”

And Pastor Ecklin adds: “If the interchurch couple is well and truly married and blessed in the sight of God, it is, alas, the churches who remain so slow to join together. If only they were at least “engaged”! Four baptisms celebrated in an atmosphere of wedding between the churches: a real party, much faith and prayer… beyond the tearing apart and the baseness of yesteryear and in spite of the refusal to move and the loss of the sense of church which occurs today. It may not hit the front page of the newspapers, but it can open us to a vision of a brotherhood stretching out to infinity, covering all the centuries, all people and civilisations, with Jesus at the heart of universal history and… at the very end of the journey, the wedding of the Lamb and his Church.”

Official and academic texts
In spite of everything, interchurch families are the object of research and recognised as partners by the ecumenical movement.

It is interesting to note that in the 1990s, the theology faculty of Lausanne has been the research base for two academic theses devoted to mixed marriages:
- Christ’s guests, Protestants and Catholics at the same table? By Peter VUILLE (a member of an interchurch family) in 1990
- Interchurch families: ethical questions towards an understanding of marriage and the reconciliation of the churches. Reflections based on the question of Catholic-Protestant interchurch families in the canton of Vaud. By Sybil PETER in 1994

For its part the Catholic theological faculty in Fribourg is host to an academic thesis by a student, the daughter of an interchurch family. She did the first half of her thesis in the Protestant faculty at Lausanne and then decided to finish her thesis at Fribourg:

- Catholic-Protestant interchurch families in the canton of Vaud: the situation at the dawn of the third millennium. By Annick BARBLAN in 2000. (see Foyers Mixtes no. 131 p.32: the text of this thesis is available on CD-Rom)

In the large diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg something important has happened. From 1997 to 2000 a “Diocesan assembly” was held called “AD 2000”. The fifth of the nine documents produced by the lay and ecclesiastical members, and then signed by the bishop was called “For a church which perseveres with ecumenism”. It contains several mentions of interchurch families (the underlining has been added by us.) 
- In the chapter devoted to the “General situation”, one can read that “Still today, as in the past, interchurch families play an essential role in the progress of ecumenism, by their experiences, their suggestions, their ability to live their differences as a source of mutual enrichment: nevertheless many experience a loss of heart with respect to the churches.
- The next chapter is called “Spirituality” and tries to encourage an ecumenical spirituality. Its last request is that (6): “The assembly invites Christians and Christians from interchurch families to share their experiences with those Christian communities which are searching for unity.”

- In the chapter on “Pastoral care”, it is noted that its pastoral dimension varies “according to the people, the places and the circumstances” and that “there is no common strategy at the cantonal level, or at the level of French speaking Switzerland as a whole. Collaboration in preparation for baptism, confirmation and marriage is more or less difficult. Chaplaincies on the other hand enjoy a stronger ecumenical collaboration.” Hence the last request of the Assembly (11): “to live the preparation for marriage and baptism in an ecumenical spirit.”
- The chapter devoted to “Eucharistic hospitality” has to admit that “the different positions and practices within the Catholic communities and between the churches do not allow the assembly, for the present, to make decisions about Eucharistic hospitality which would lead to Unity. Hence the assembly refuses to lay down precise criteria. On the other hand it suggests a journey towards a better understanding of the Eucharist.” Wishing to move towards sharing the Table, not only of the Word, but also the Eucharist, the assembly asks the Catholic communities to deepen their theological reflection on the Eucharist (15), and asks the Bishop to take part in this exchange (16) and "not only that the question of interchurch families should be at the centre of these discussions but also that interchurch families should take an active part in the reflection on Eucharistic hospitality.” (17) (See “Foyers Mixtes no. 127-128 p.41-46 where the whole of this document is published.)

Thoughts for the future
Towards the creation of an association of interchurch families for French speaking Switzerland.

In Rome, during the second world meeting, on the initiative of some French families, all the French speaking delegates were invited to talk about forming an association of French speaking interchurch families. This was in order to make the movement more visible, not withstanding the good work done by the Centre St Irénée. How could we move in this direction without this new association duplicating existing structures, or even prejudicing them? That was the debate, and the Swiss know the importance of keeping the best possible links with the Centre St Irénée, which is a guarantee, simultaneously, of the historical, pastoral, cultural and international unity of the groups and associations of interchurch families.

Aware that they must bring about an evolution rather than a revolution, all those Swiss couples who took part in the Rome meeting call for the formation, in the near future, of a Swiss (French speaking?) association of those interchurch families, associated with the Centre St Irénée. This association would be “affiliated” or “twinned” with the French association. Has the day not come to make ourselves more visible in our own country? This is the current situation: the weekends for French speaking Switzerland are organised in a haphazard manner, without any real administrative base: the churches speak about us, but without any official spokesperson. As a personal example; I wrote at the end of June to all the bishops and all the synodical councils of Switzerland to tell them about the second international meeting in Rome and to make them aware of any documents that might come out of it. But I have only my little signature, and a small out of date logo to lend importance to my letter. As a result only a few church leaders took the trouble to answer. So let us move forward, confident and praying.

Fribourg, end of September 2003

Pastor Jean-Baptiste Lipp

PS Translator’s note. I have translated “Foyers mixtes” as interchurch families and “Foyers interconfessionels” as mixed marriages.



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