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Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin 

Cardinal Parolin in Switzerland for centenary of diplomatic relations

The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, visits Switzerland for the centenary celebration of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Swiss Confederation, and celebrates Mass on Sunday with the Benedictine community in the Marian Shrine of Einsiedeln.

By Mario Galgano

One hundred years ago the Apostolic Nunciature to Switzerland was opened in Bern. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, accepted the invitation of Federal Councilor Ignazio Cassis, Vice-President of Switzerland and Swiss Foreign Minister, to participate in the celebration of this diplomatic anniversary of peace in Switzerland.

Together, they will take part on Monday in a two-day conference at the University of Fribourg in western Switzerland on the historical reassessment of diplomatic relations.

Beginnings of diplomatic relations

From 1586 until 1873 - the beginning of the Kulturkampf - there had already been a papal envoy to Switzerland, in Lucerne, and he only officially served as an "interlocutor" with the Catholic cantons. Then, about a hundred years ago, the foundations were laid for official relations between Switzerland and the Apostolic See.

Pilgrimage sites

The abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Einsiedeln, Urban Federer - who welcomed Cardinal Parolin on the first leg of his visit to Switzerland – notes that "Einsiedeln tells us of many generations of monks and believers who have found refuge and new strength in the Mother of Jesus."

On 16 June 1984, Pope St. John Paul II visited the monastery which is located in the heart of the country and is famous for its "Black Madonna."

Cardinal Parolin expressed pleasure that he began his visit at a Marian shrine. He is also visiting Flüeli-Ranft, another important Swiss pilgrimage site where Saint Nicholas of Flüe, the patron saint of Switzerland, worked 550 years ago.

Saint Nicholas was a mystic and hermit, who left a wife and children behind, was considered an important interlocutor for geopolitical-diplomatic issues in the past. His attitude is still appreciated today as a model for peacemakers and deep faith in the Church.

Interruption/restoration of diplomatic relations

The interruption of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and the Vatican in the 19th century due to the Kulturkampf is a little-known page in Swiss history. Worthy of attention, however, is the resumption of these relations, in 1920, by decision of the Federal Council and the intervention of some cardinals.

The Holy See resumed its diplomatic relations with Switzerland thanks to the University of Fribourg and especially for its humanitarian cooperation during the Great War, at the suggestion of the Cardinal of Paris, Léon Amette.

During this time, the intention was to host the wounded and the sick in Switzerland and it was finally through the efforts of Federal Councillor Giuseppe Motta - then President of the Confederation - that the new Nunciature opened its doors in Bern.

On the Swiss side, however, it was not until 1991 - following discussions between the Holy See and Bishop Haas on the situation in the diocese of Chur - that the Federal Council decided to put an end to unilateralism in diplomatic relations and appointed an ambassador on a special mission to the Holy See. Before then, the only Swiss representatives in Rome were the Swiss Guards.

Celebrating a hundred years

Today, one hundred years after the resumption of these relations, talks are being held that aim to further develop the existing cooperation between the Holy See and Switzerland.

On Monday, at the University of Fribourg, there will be a presentation of a book written by a historian from Ticino, Lorenzo Planzi, titled "The Pope and the Federal Council: from the break-up in 1873 to the reopening of the nunciature in Bern in 1920." The book was published in Locarno in 2020 and is available in three languages.

On Tuesday, there will be a study meeting on "Switzerland and the Holy See: a dense history, from the Middle Ages to the common commitment for peace". Scholars and researchers will speak on five themes: "From the Middle Ages to the Reformation", "The Lucerne Nunciature", "Sociology and theology of confessional coexistence in Switzerland", "A century of relations between Switzerland and the Holy See" and, in the concluding round table, with the participation of the Apostolic Nuncio in Bern, Monsignor Martin Krebs and Ambassador Denis Knobel, "Diplomacy and current challenges".

The first session will examine apostolic diplomacy in the north of Chiasso before the Kulturkampf. It was, in fact, thanks to the intervention of the Milanese Cardinal Charles Borromeo that a Nuncio was established in Switzerland at the end of the 16th century. From 1586 until the end of the 19th century, the Pope's representative lived in Lucerne, considered by Rome as the only Swiss city worthy to host its representative.

In looking towards the future, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs is exploring the possibility of sending a permanent resident Swiss ambassador to the Holy See. The parliamentary commissions in Bern have already given their consent and we await the definitive consent of the Swiss Parliament.

This article is loosely translated from the Italian original

08 November 2021, 11:05