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First Catholic Mass celebrated in Geneva cathedral since Reformation


Benny Marty Shutterstock

John Burger - published on 03/12/22

Priest thanks Reformed Church for its invitation, focuses on mixed couples, who live ecumenism in their daily lives.

There’s been a cathedral on the site where St. Pierre in Geneva, Switzerland, sits today since the 4th century. The present cathedral building was built around the year 1160. This month, St. Pierre made history again, when a Catholic Mass was celebrated within its walls for the first time in nearly 500 years.

In the time of the Reformation, the cathedral fell into the hands of John Calvin and his Reformed Protestant Church of Geneva. The last Catholic Mass to be celebrated here was in 1535. 

Father Pascal Desthieux, the episcopal vicar of Geneva, was the main celebrant of the liturgy March 5, with about 1,500 people in attendance. 

The event, on the vigil of the first Sunday of Lent, was first planned several years back as an act of ecumenical hospitality, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented it from happening until now. Fr. Desthieux said that Geneva’s Catholics were touched by the Protestant community’s invitation, according to Catholic News Agency. He asked for forgiveness for “faults against unity,” including acts of mockery or caricature to the Reformed community. The priest also underlined the desire to “enrich each other with our differences.” 

The priest greeted couples from religiously mixed marriages “who live ecumenism in the most intimate way.” He called on those present to “resist the forces of division in our lives between us and among us Christians.”

Also during the service, a representative of the Protestant community, Daniel Pilly, asked pardon for past acts that led to division among Christians.

In a letter published on the vicariate’s website in 2020, Desthieux described the cathedral as the “central and symbolic location of Geneva’s Christian history.”

Following the Reformation, the cathedral became a location “emblematic of the Calvinist reform,” he said.

St. Pierre’s website says that on May 21, 1536, less than a year after the Mass was “abolished” in Geneva, the citizens of the city adopted “the Reform” and that Calvin, originally from Normandy, “was called in July to implement it.” Calvin preached at the cathedral until his death in 1564, “establishing over the years the reputation and influence of the place, which remains today a reference for Protestants throughout the world.”

The cathedral displays a wooden chair that Calvin used.

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