Catholicism in Switzerland
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Nicolas of Flue

Canonized on 15 May 1947, Nicolas of Flue, also known as Brother Klaus, hermit and mystic of Obwalden, became known to Confederates over the years as one of the noblest patriotic figures, in the fashion of a "national saint".

The majority in Switzerland with over three million partisans, the Roman Catholic Church is obviously well represented in this country.

The beginnings
Christianity very quickly penetrated into Switzerland via the merchants and Roman soldiers. The earliest trace of Christian life in Switzerland dates back to the decline of the Roman empire: in 377, Pontius Asclepiodotus, Roman prefect of Sion, had an inscription containing the monogram of the Christ engraved on a renovated official building. From this we can deduce that the population of Sion, from the first half of the fourth century, was primarily Christian.

Geneva, Martigny and Coire were the first bishoprics, but Christianization did not truly begin until the Middle Ages, due in particular to the wandering Irish and Scottish monks such as Gall, Ursicinus, Germanus, Romanus, Fintan, Pirmin and Colombanus junior.

The spread
A second wave of spiritual influence mostly came from monasteries and convents. The abbeys of St Maurice - the oldest monastery in Europe, continually occupied for 1,700 years - and Einsiedeln are the two gems of Swiss Catholicism, in addition to the Abbey of St Gallen, one of the main centers of Western culture from the ninth to the twelfth centuries. The poetry, illumination, history and sacred music of this era were widely encouraged by the monastery, the adjoining school and the library of St Gallen.

The Reformation and decline of Catholicism
The Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century completely changed the religious landscape of Switzerland. Most of the well-to-do rural counties and cities, which were later to become industrialized, and even the Catholic strongholds like the canton of St Gallen, embraced the new religion. The five essentially country and alpine cantons and only three urban cantons (Lucerne, Fribourg, Solothurn) persevered with the Catholic faith. Catholic Switzerland now represented only 40% of the population and could not resist in the face of the economic and cultural hegemony of Protestant Switzerland.

The Catholic cantons, hostile to the creation of a centralized federal State, could not oppose the new political ideas of the more industrialized Protestant cantons. The new constitution making Switzerland a federal state in 1848 was the work of the Protestants. All the same, large concessions were granted to the Catholics.

In the years to follow, however, Catholic loyalty to the State was called into question. This anti-Catholic climate would materialize in laws hostile to the Church (expulsion of Jesuits, interdiction to create new monasteries) and resulted, at the end of the nineteenth century, in a veritable "KulturKampf" in the cantons of Bern, Solothurn and Geneva.

Subsequently, Catholicism experienced a remarkable blossoming with the melding of its own powers. The different orders - Benedictines, Capuchins, Société des Missions, women’s communities – enjoyed an unexpected and rapid expansion. The creation of the Catholic Peoples’ Party in 1894, which became the Christian Democratic Party in 1970, provided access to federal politics, which was, until then, the exclusive domain of the radical Protestants.

Leading religion in Switzerland... due to immigration
Today, Roman Catholicism has regained its predominant position. Three million Catholics, i.e. 46% of the population, are present in all the cantons. The Catholic Church benefited from a strong immigration wave from Southern Europe in the seventies. In 1970, 50% of the population was Catholic. This figure has lowered by reason of the new religious streams in Switzerland (Muslim, Orthodox, etc.). In 1990, 736,000 Roman Catholics were of foreign nationality, or, one out of four Catholics. This rate is significantly higher than what can be observed for the Protestant group (only 140,000 are of foreign nationality, i.e. 3.2% of Protestants). Parallel to this, it is observed that there are many more Catholics in the under 40-age range. The stronger presence of foreigners among Catholics clearly influences these differences. Catholics are the majority in the rural cantons and in cities that experienced a high level of immigration from Southern Europe in the seventies.



Jean XXIII English Language Roman Catholic Church
ch. Adolphe-Pasteur 35
1209 Geneva
Tel. (022) 733 04 83
Fax (022) 919 19 39
Römisch-Katholische Basel
Katholische Erwachsenenbildung
Leonhardsstr. 45
4051 Basle
Tel. (061) 271 17 19

Roman Catholic Church

rue de la Chapelle 3
2400 Le Locle
Tel. (032) 931 11 86

Roman Catholic Kirche Nationale in the canton of Bern 
rue de la Plänke (Plänkestr.) 20
2502 Biel/Bienne
Tel. (032) 322 47 22
Fax (032) 322 53 42
Roman Catholic Church

rue de l'Eglise 5
1870 Monthey
Tel. (024) 471 38 46

Roman Catholic Church
rue St-Hubert 4
2340 Noirmont, Le
Tel. (032) 953 11 45

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