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Swiss hold memorial service for Pope

Bishop Grab leads mass at the service in Bern Keystone

Swiss bishops and government ministers have taken part in a memorial service in Bern for Pope John Paul II, who died on Saturday.

This content was published on April 7, 2005 - 20:17

Around 1,000 people attended Thursday’s service at the Trinity church, but hundreds of others were left having to watch a live broadcast of the event in a neighbouring church.

The service was led by Swiss bishops and the Papal Nuncio (diplomatic representative) to Switzerland.

The Swiss government was represented by the interior minister, Pascal Couchepin, and the foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey. Several parliamentarians, members of Bern’s diplomatic community and representatives of other Christian faiths were also in attendance.

The bishop of Chur, Amédée Grab, placed the words of the late Pope at the centre of his short homily. "Have no fear," he repeated.

He said the Pope spoke from experience having survived the Second World War and witnessed the destruction wrought on Europe.

The bishop of Basel, Kurt Koch, recalled Pope John Paul’s visit to Bern last June. Remembering what was to be the Pope’s penultimate trip abroad, bishop Koch gave "thanks for this gift".

The Papal Nuncio, Francesco Canalini, called the Pope a "witness for peace, reconciliation, solidarity, justice and hope in the service of God’s creation, man".

The service concluded with intercessions, prayer and mass.

Funeral

The service was held on the eve of the Pope’s funeral. About four million pilgrims have arrived in Rome to pay their respects to the late Pontiff in what is the biggest gathering in the Vatican’s history.

The funeral will be attended by royalty and heads of state and government. Switzerland will be represented by this year’s president, Samuel Schmid.

Flags of the federal buildings in the Swiss capital will be flown at half-mast on Friday, but not all cantons say they will follow Bern's lead.

The mainly protestant cantons of Geneva, Vaud and Neuchâtel have refused, and only the flags on the two buildings in Zurich belonging to the federal government will be lowered.

In Geneva, the authorities in the birthplace of Calvinism said there could be no exception to a local rule that flags be lowered only for the death of a Swiss citizen.

"There is just no precedent in Geneva," said the head of the local council, Martine Brunschwig Graf.

In the 16th century, John Calvin introduced an austere version of Protestantism which renounced papal authority, abolished mass and closed down monasteries.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Swiss bishops and the Papal Nuncio led a memorial service on Thursday for the late Pope.
The interior minister, Pascal Couchepin, and foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, were in attendance.
President Samuel Schmid will represent Switzerland at the Pope's funeral at the Vatican on Friday.

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