Fully booked. The Mass celebrated by Pope Francis on June 21 at the Palexpo in Geneva was fully booked already on June 1st, the first day of online reservations. Forty thousand tickets were made available to parishes: 77% to Catholics of the Suisse Romande, 12% to the German-speaking Canton, less than 1% to the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland and 11% to the neighbouring France. “We didn’t expect such a high number of people registering through the parishes”, said Msgr. Charles Morerod, bishop of Geneva, Lausanne and Freiburg. “We had planned to distribute the remaining tickets at local level but it was not possible because they were all booked. And we can’t accept more registrations for security reasons.”
How do you explain these high numbers?
“It’s a sign of the people’s joy to meet the Pope. We should not forget that it will take place on a Thursday afternoon and that in order to attend Mass people will need to arrive before noon. So it’s not that easy. I am impressed by the fact that 77% of participants will be arriving from the French-speaking part of Switzerland.”
Does this mean that the Swiss people think highly of the Pope, that the Christianity he communicates is appealing to people?
Many Swiss people are fond of the Pope. With no doubt they admire him as a person.
People’s perception of the Pope is that of an evangelical person. It’s a reason for their fondness. This has been said to me on many occasions.
What Switzerland will Pope Francis find?
The Pope will spend the most part of the day with the Ecumenical Council of Churches, an international body. He will then celebrate the Holy Mass and meet the faithful, most of whom are our parishioners. We should not forget that Switzerland has 26 Cantons that do not correspond to administrative divisions. Every canton has its own culture. Even the French-speaking cantons are characterised by a combination of different cultures. Switzerland is not a centralized Country. There are remarkable differences in the life of the Church at Lausanne, Geneva or Freiburg, although all these cities belong to the same diocese. However, there remarkable differences between the Italian, French and German parts of Switzerland, veritable different realms that live together in harmony.
Churches in Europe are becoming empty. There is a decline in Church attendance and in the number of vocations. How can this challenge be met?
In my diocese – where is located the Palexpo, the venue of the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis- we held a diocesan meeting on the theme of the missionary disciple that draws inspiration from the Pope’s words. It should be said that this phenomenon is not as evident in churches of large urban centres, while in rural regions it is perceived very strongly.
Are you worried?
We want people to meet Jesus. We are not worried about having to face to a situation on our own. We are workers in the vineyard of the Lord. A parish priest in my diocese who was celebrating the 60th anniversary of his ordination was asked how he felt about the fact that the Church is no longer as strong as it was 60 years ago. He replied:
“The Lord does not abandon His Church. We must not be afraid.”
In your opinion, what caused people to drift away from the Church? We are facing a set of established phenomena due to cultural reasons. Many beliefs, including philosophical concepts, which are part and parcel of our life of faith, are no longer as widespread as they once were. This includes the understanding of family life, for example. In Countries impacted by religious wars also religious formation can cause people to drift away from the Church, which, in many cases is understood as a potential threat. Many people think they know the Christian faith and if they seek alternatives they seek them elsewhere. There is also a problem of intergenerational transmission of the faith – from parents to their offspring. This phenomenon is not confined to Switzerland.
The Pope will be arriving in this place located in the heart of Europe. What do you expect from the papal visit?
A message of hope and joy.
What does it mean for Switzerland today?
Our Country has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. When people’s material needs are satisfied, where they have no financial worries (the economic and financial situation in Switzerland is not perfect, there are poor people, but the overall situation is good) what should people look for, and where?
Many people are afflicted by feelings of ennui.
On top of that, a large number of people don’t even imagine that a different life exists because they have never heard it.
What will you say to Pope Francis?
I will thank him for his visit. I will convey him my gratitude for having decided to visit a city whose primary approach towards religion is the absence of it. I will also thank him for everything he does.