REVIEWS
Volume 9 Number 5
Looking Back With Gratitude, Looking Forward With Hope
01 October 1996

The opening of MRA's Jubilee conference at Mountain House, Caux, was marked by the Swiss federal government and by international diplomats and politicians. Kenneth Noble reports.


A series of chauffeur-driven limousines snaked their way round the hairpin bends leading up to the small Swiss village of Caux, some 2,000 ft above the Lake of Geneva, on 2 July. Representatives of the Swiss Federal Government, the Canton of Vaud and the Commune of Montreux, in which Caux lies, made the scenic journey to address the opening of the 50th anniversary conference at Mountain House. With them were 17 ambassadors, other diplomats, the Papal Nuncio and church leaders.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany sent a message, which was read out by Paul Laufs, Minister of State for Communications in the Bonn government. Kohl said that MRA could take stock of 50 years of `fruitful work in the service of understanding and reconciliation'. `The role of Caux has not lessened,' he said. `Still, today, hate and fanaticism are causing bloody conflicts right across the world.' It was important for Germans to mark the anniversary of Caux. `During the years after the war, Caux made a considerable contribution to reconciliation between the former enemies.'

US President Bill Clinton and UN Secretary-General Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali also sent messages to the conference. Clinton wrote of Caux's `great contributions toward a more stable and peaceful world' since `the dramatic French-German encounters at Mountain House after the Second World War'. Boutros-Ghali said that the inspiring example of the MRA centre in Caux showed `that reconciliation is always possible, that divided and warring peoples can eventually find common ground and a new beginning'.

Messages were also received from King Hussein of Jordan, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, the President of Latvia, the Patriarch of Ethiopia, the President of the Swiss Confederation and the President of the Swiss Parliament.

At the opening, the First Citizen of Switzerland and Speaker of Parliament, Jean-Fran├žois Leuba, expressed the gratitude of the Swiss Government for the MRA centre. `The aim of Caux and the aim of Swiss diplomacy are the same - contributing to world peace,' he said. `We need to bring people to the negotiating table before war begins. This dialogue goes on at Caux.' The originality of Caux lay in its belief in practical reconciliation.

Fran├žois Couchepin, Chancellor to the Swiss Federal Government, expressed his gratitude for the `ongoing spiritual adventure' of Caux. `Alas,' he said, `Caux is still needed - peace remains a fragile achievement.' He called for an ethic which was neither imperialist nor fundamentalist and for a democratic community in place of unbridled individualism. `We need standards to define a new ethic that will allow us to live together on this planet. We need to put into practice the Golden Rule - treat others as you would like them to treat you. We need to bring this ethic into politics.' He ended by calling on the people of Mountain House to continue to pursue their convictions.

Claude Ruey, speaking for the Canton of Vaud, acknowledged the pioneering spirit, devotion and deep sense of values of those who met at Caux. It was important to confront `the duty of memory' with honesty and objectivity. `The duty of memory of a people should be frank, complete and non-selective otherwise we will fall into intolerant nationalism, choosing from the past that which seems good to us and becoming an ideal seedbed for conflicts and hatred.' A people that forgot, he warned, cut itself off from its fellow humans and from many experiences - of suffering and success - which went into making its wealth and stability and its willingness to be open to others.

For the Caux Foundation, the legal body responsible for the MRA centre, Marcel Grandy spoke of the tasks which MRA had undertaken in the past and today. But, he went on, Caux was not only concerned with collective problems. Everything, he said, began in individuals' hearts - `As I am, so is my country.' Caux attached great importance to such questions as: What is the meaning of life? What is the true role of the family? What should be offered to today's young people?

Two days earlier, many of the 400 who had already assembled in Mountain House attended an `ecumenical celebration of thanksgiving' to mark the anniversary. The service, at the church of St Vincent at Montreux-Planches, was conducted by clergy of both the Protestant and Catholic Parishes of Montreux. The theme was three-fold: forgiveness for past mistakes, thanksgiving and intercession for the future. The service started with a rousing organ prelude, a welcome and a prayer. Then Now thank we all our God was sung by the congregation in multilingual unison.

People from the conference gave prayers in French, German and English. Some asked for forgiveness for where those committed to MRA had fallen short in pursuing their calling, or had been arrogant towards those with a different calling. Suresh Khatri of Fiji, a Hindu, gave a prayer in Sanskrit.

In his address, Pastor Jean Piguet spoke of the heritage of people of faith - a growing list. `In this century we cannot possibly number all the servants of God - planters, cultivators, gardeners and workmates... collaborating with God! But there must be no sense of rivalry or jealousy among us... we are just the garden which he cultivates.' He called on the congregation to open their eyes wider to `notice the first green shoots of spring, sometimes in our garden, sometimes in our neighbour's field.... The fruits of the harvest are already within sight, the eternal Jubilee.'
Kenneth Noble