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Clergy swap robes for football boots

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Religious leaders of various faiths are joining forces with politicians from across the spectrum to promote a peaceful and harmonious European championship.

This content was published on May 25, 2008 - 10:16

The Church 08 campaign kicked off on Sunday with a special service attended by Sport Minister Samuel Schmid, and will feature a clergy versus politicians football match on Tuesday.

Organisers will pray that there will be no repeat of recent scenes of hooliganism at Swiss football matches during Euro 2008.

The churches' campaign draws parallels between the normally peaceful coexistence of fans during matches and the recent debate over the integration of immigrants in Switzerland.

"The world needs peace and for people to live harmoniously together, which is not assured in this world. Our two key messages are peace and hospitality," Catholic priest Stefan Roth told swissinfo.

Church 08 is a collaboration between the Swiss Evangelical and Catholic movements, but representatives of other religions will join an inter-faith football team to take on a side consisting of parliamentarians on Tuesday.

Team member Muris Begovic, Imam at the Mosque in Schlieren, told swissinfo that the match represents an opportunity to advance Muslim integration in Switzerland.

"It will send the message that we can all live together rather than work against each other. This should send a positive message about Muslims in Switzerland who are always having to justify themselves," he said.

"One of the things the team will have in common is sport. As Euro 2008 hosts we will welcome people from many different religions and cultures to this country. We must build our future based on our things in common, not on our differences."

Muslim integration

Team-mate Samuel Dubno, a member of Zurich's Israeli cultural centre, agrees that the match will send out the right message.

"This is a very good signal, especially for the Muslim community that is facing a tough time in Switzerland. Hopefully this match and the Euro 2008 tournament will play a part in helping them to integrate," he told swissinfo.

"It is important that we empower different sections of community rather than exclude them."

The cross-bench parliamentarians team includes Toni Bortoluzzi from the rightwing Swiss People's Party, Maya Graf of the Green Party and Christian Wasserfallen from the centre-right Radical Party.

Many churches in the host cities of Zurich, Geneva, Basel and Bern will stay open for longer during Euro 2008 as part of the Church 08 campaign.

Another feature is a candle-lit boat procession on the Rhine in Basel and the opportunity for people to send text messages to be projected onto the Grossmünster cathedral in Zurich.

No fishing

Church 08 is not the only religious campaign to focus on Euro 08 – the Evangelical Church has also launched its Kickoff 2008 project in conjunction with various sport organisations, while some churches will show matches on big screens.

Stefan Roth said Church 08 was attempting to get involved in a large social event rather than fishing for more members.

"We are not trying to increase the size of our congregation - we know that people are here foremost for the football rather than religion.

"But if someone finds connection to God in these weeks then that is a bonus," he said.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen

Euro 2008

Switzerland co-hosts the Euro 2008 football tournament together with Austria from June 7-29.

The 31 games will be played in four cities in Switzerland (Basel, Bern, Geneva and Zurich) and four cities in Austria (Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Vienna).

Up to 5.4 million football fans are expected to follow the tournament in Switzerland, including 1.4 million from abroad.

The finals will be broadcast in 170 countries and are expected to achieve an accumulated total audience of eight billion viewers spread over the tournament.

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