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Churches take a step towards unity

Bishop Amédée Grab (left), Bishop Fritz-René Müller (centre) and Pastor Thomas Wipf (right) united at a memorial service for tsunami victims Keystone Archive

The Swiss churches have signed an ecumenical charter on closer cooperation in Europe – the first such document since the 11th century.

The text of the Charta Oecumenica, which was drawn up in 2001, speaks of the need for Christian unity in Europe.

Representatives of ten Christian denominations in Switzerland signed the document at an inter-confessional gathering in the church of St Ursanne in northwest Switzerland.

“The charter is the result of a growing cooperation between the churches in Europe,” said Monsignor Amédée Grab, the president of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference, in a sermon.

“We are bringing together our traditions, our strengths, our hopes.”

Common witness

The document dates back to a European ecumenical gathering in Strasbourg, France, and aims at a common approach to spreading the Christian faith. It was drawn up by representatives of the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox traditions.

Sunday’s service, attended by 300 to 400 faithful and televised within Switzerland, was presided over by Fritz-René Müller, bishop of the Old Catholic Church. Representatives of the ten members of the community of Christian churches in Switzerland signed the document at the close of the service.

Müller told the gathering that differences between the confessions had traditionally made it hard for them to work together, but the charter was an attempt at common purpose. “In this difficult time, the charter aims to bring out what we have in common.”

Catholic bishop Kurt Koch described the signing of the document as a “milestone” in the life of the Swiss churches, but warned there was still a long way to go towards unity.

“The goal of the visible unity of all Christians is a long way off,” he said.

swissinfo with agencies

The creation of an ecumenical charter was raised at a European ecumencial conference in Graz, Austria in 1997.
The document was drawn up in Strasbourg, France, in 2001 by representatives of the main Christian churches.
Swiss churches signed up to the charter at a service in St Ursanne on Sunday January 23, 2005.
Signatories included the Roman Catholic, Reformed, Old Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Orthodox, Anglican and Greek Catholic churches.

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