Vatican II inspiration becomes home for ecumenism in Geneva

In the hometown of John Calvin, theologian, pastor and reformer in Geneva during the Protestant Reformation, the Ecumenical Theological Workshop makes it possible for Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox theologians to get new insights to add more audiences of different faiths to their fold.

Feb 09, 2020

By Claire Lesegretain
In the hometown of John Calvin, theologian, pastor and reformer in Geneva during the Protestant Reformation, the Ecumenical Theological Workshop makes it possible for Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox theologians to get new insights to add more audiences of different faiths to their fold.

On Mondays, Pastor Blaise Menu and Catholic laywoman Anne Deshusses-Raemy, co-directors of the ecumenical institute, lunch together in a restaurant in Geneva, the second most populous city in Switzerland.

They take stock of life in Geneva. Of its 500,000 inhabitants, 35 percent are Catholics, 9 percent Protestants, 5 percent Muslims and 1 percent Jews.

The Christians know that they are the "heirs of a precious ecumenical bond," said Menu.

"Since the beginning of the 20th century, ecumenism has been first and foremost a serious matter here," explained Menu, also a connoisseur of Geneva's history.

Thanks to the institute, "ecumenism has caught up with more experts. And, participants are increasing," Menu said.

Vatican II
Taking inspiration from the Vatican II, the institute was conceived in 1973 by a handful of pastors and Jesuits. After a year, they decided to widen its scope.

A two-year course familiarizes students with the outside world as speakers are drawn from different parts of the globe.

Five Catholics, four Protestants and two Orthodox believers make up the 11-member theological faculty and the studies are centered around the Bible, history and ethics.

They attend each others' classes "to answer the students well," Deshusses-Raemy explained.

Every two weeks, they meet to piece together the content for the courses.

Stefan Contantinescu, a 33-year-old Romanian Orthodox layman, who has been teaching at the institute since three years, said the association with the ecumenical organization has "enriched" him in more than one way.

Faith and profession
There are 65 registered students for the academic year 2019-2021, a third of whom are Protestants, two thirds Catholics and one Orthodox woman.

Aged between 20 and 80, their vocational association ranges from the prestigious CERN, the European organization for nuclear research, to civic departments.

"The only prerequisite is motivation," insisted Deshusses-Raemy, who also takes part in training at the Catholic Church's ecclesial mission in Geneva.

No certificate
Dominique Kuner, a 63-year-old Catholic and psychotherapist, underwent a drastic change while studying here.

"For the first two months I came out of classes crying because I felt my religion was being deconstructed, until I realized that I had to deconstruct before I could rebuild," she recalled.

A third of the 3,000 students who have passed out from the institute since 1973 have gone on to become chaplains in prisons, hospitals and asylum-seekers' camps.

"Most of the committed lay people, whether Protestants or Catholics, trace their origin to the institute," said Pastor Emmanuel Fuchs, president of the Protestant Church of Geneva.

"Of course, the organization does not dole out any certificate. But it's much more than that," added Menu. "It is the place that, in its own way, allows Christians to be ecumenical."--LCI(https://international.la-croix.com)

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