We live 20 km away from the town, where Huldrych Zwingli, one of the five best known reformation leaders founded his new church. Over last three weeks we could see how different denominations dance together. In Langnau we took part in the ecumenical service in the protestant church. The atmosphere was cheerful. Much singing and applause. Astonishingly enough, the was no cross whatsoever in the church. Later we talked to the head of the congregation to find out that the crosses rarely appear in their churches as they try do get rid of all possible symbols. For some it might be appalling, for others nothings special.
In turn, the catholic church in Langnau is placed on the hill and the flat of the parish priest is located on the very last floor. As we tasted the delicacies from the parish cook and enjoyed the view of the neighbourhood from the window, we had a conversation. Sitting at the very top, we let our thoughts plunge very deeply. Why no more than 5% of 0,the registered catholics go to the church? What the remaining 95% are missing in the pastoral care? How the community gets on with their protestant neighbours? Is there ‘we and them’? Why in the region of Zurich is predominantly catholic, even though Switzerland has such a rich rradition of the reformed church?
First came the reformation and according to the principle cuius regio eius religio (yes yes, all three of us learnt Latin at school:) the rulers banned the catholic church in the region. In the middle of the 19th century there were more and more women coming from Italy. Many of them worked in big spinning mills in Langnau. As they were catholic, they thought that they just had to have a priest. The masses were first held at homes and then they built in Langnau the first catholic church and parish house since the 15th century. It was exactly where we were now. Migrants from eastern and southern Europe have contributed to the fact that there are now so many catholics in this area. In the neighbouring parish there is even a Polish priest.
The communication between the catholic and reformed church has its bright and shady moments. There are plenty of ecumenical get-togethers. We arranged, cleaned, served food, sang and sold fair trade products on such interconfessional events. Next Sunday we are going to the Baptist church as they regularly organize a Taize prayer.
There are also challenges difficult to play down. There is a certain percentage of people who do not explicitly show their reluctance to the other confession but in fact they would be happy to stigmatize the other group – some Catholics would imprint the letter “R” on the backs of the Reformed, some Reformed would keenly stigmatize the Catholics with the letter “K”. It is now not allowed to organise a Corpus Christi procession withn the town area because the non-Catholics might feel uncomfortable about it. So there were priests who arranged it far on the fields.
Taize teaches us to respect the differences and seek the similarities. The parish priest of Langnau does his best to make sure that all people who come to his church feel at home, regardless of the denomination :
I know that about one third of people who attend my services are not Catholics. They just come and they receive the holy communion. I am not a judge to say, ‘you are not Catholic, you are divorced and live in new relationship’ or whatever else. I do not refuse to give communion to anyone. Jesus also would not make a difference.
To me it was an echo of what pope Francis once said when asked about his attitude to homosexual people: “Who I am to judge?”