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Praise for Pope’s visit laced with criticism

The Swiss press did not hide its criticism of Pope John Paul's visit to Bern

Swiss newspapers have given a mainly upbeat assessment of Pope John Paul II’s weekend visit to Bern, describing him as a “star” who captured the hearts of young people.

But commentators also reserved criticism for the Catholic Church’s stance on controversial issues such as contraception.

The Pope celebrated Mass in front of 70,000 people in Bern on Sunday – the culmination of his first visit to the country in 20 years.

On Saturday he gave an address before 12,000 young people at the first national Catholic youth meeting held in Switzerland.

The “Bund” commented that it was hard to understand the cheers of the young who were confronted by “a grey sick” man.

“His religious doctrine and his moral opinions are harsh, old-fashioned and conservative. But young people – who have grown up in times of fun – cheered him with great enthusiasm.

“The Pope is an icon like a pop star. His appearances are mega events. But it is to be doubted whether young people will now turn up at Mass or stick to the sexual morals that he demands.”

Religious happening

The mass-circulation “Blick” described the visit as a great “religious happening”, with thousands of young Swiss, among them many second-generation foreigners, celebrating with the “old man from Rome”.

“He came to Switzerland without pomp and circumstance. He celebrated with young people and strengthened them in their search for values that go beyond those belonging to the cult of consumption,” the paper commented.

The “Südostschweiz” wrote that John Paul II had an aura which could really move people.

“But there have to be questions about the point of a pastoral trip during which current problems within the Catholic Church and critical issues are ignored,” the paper said in an editorial.

Moving but disappointing

For Jörg Stolz, director of the Observatory of Religions at Lausanne University, the Pope’s visit was moving but disappointing.

“It was obvious that [the young people] were happy. But this meeting was disappointing in one aspect in particular: it lacked any real content,” he wrote in the “Tribune de Genève”.

Criticism also came from “Le Matin”, which asked whether the Pope was really listening to the young.

“Singing and dancing are all well and good to give a modern image of a Church which is not. Apart from the singing and dancing, the young also need a Church which listens to their concerns,” it commented.

“La Liberté” pulled no punches in its assessment of Pope John Paul’s visit.

“One respects the great fighting spirit of a charismatic Pontiff. But one doesn’t necessarily agree with an absolute morality that, for example, forbids the use of the condom because it is a barrier to life, or ignores that it can help in the fight against Aids.”


Swiss theologian Hans Küng, one of a number of prominent Catholics who had called for the resignation of the Pope ahead of his visit, felt that their stance had been justified.

Küng told the “Basler Zeitung” that the gathering of Catholic youth was not representative and he spoke of a “triumphalistic personality cult”.

The “Tages-Anzeiger” touched on the refusal of the Catholic Church to allow Protestants to take part in Sunday’s Communion celebrated by the Pope.

“The rifts [between Catholics and Protestants] remain deep. The exclusion from the Communion is particularly remarkable because during his last visit in 1984 he encouraged more ecumenicalism when he met the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches.

“The federation therefore rightly refused to be represented at Sunday’s Mass,” the paper commented.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes

The Pope celebrated Mass in front of 70,000 people in Bern on Sunday.

The Mass was the high point of a two-day trip to Switzerland, his first to the country in 20 years.

During his sermon – and in an address to a Catholic youth gathering on Saturday night – the Pope called on young people to spread the Gospel and help create a society based on justice and love.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR