The Church of St. Peter and Paul in Bern was well filled on Sunday afternoon, 29th October. Many Swiss Old Catholics wanted to express their thanks to their retiring Bishop Harald Rein. Many representatives from ecumenical and interreligious circles were present to thank him, whom they had experienced as a tireless pioneer of the community.
Bishop Harald is known not only within his own Christian Catholic Church, but also beyond it in the religious world of Switzerland, as a church leader who forged connections and alliances. He was and is convinced that churches and religions must not allow themselves to be paralysed by the secularisation tendencies in our Western culture. Religion and the church are important, and it is up to them to creatively build a presence in the world that makes this clear. But a bishop does not do this on his or her own. He or she can be expected to have a vision, but it is the church as a whole that must shape it.
No church without a bishop and no bishop without a church! Bishop Harald had chosen the reading from the second book of Kings about Eli’s cloak. The prophet leaves it behind on earth when he is taken up into God’s heaven. This is because the prophet’s mantle belongs to the ministry and the community that the ministry serves, and not to the person himself. Bishop Harald explained this in his sermon. He compared the prophet’s mantle to the crosier, which he would return at the end of his last Eucharistic celebration as the first pastor of his church. As is customary here, it will remain on the altar until a successor is consecrated. The election of his successor will take place on 25th May 2024 at the Ordinary Synod of our Swiss sister church.
At the personal invitation of Bishop Harald, Bishop Emeritus John Okoro from Austria and I were present. We have fond memories of working with Bishop Harald. He is one of the bishops who repeatedly championed the international vocation of the Union of Utrecht in the Bishops’ Conference. He succeeded in persuading his church to make a larger financial contribution so that the Union’s possibilities would be a little greater. As Secretary of the International Bishops’ Conference, he also faithfully participated in international ecumenical meetings. He was instrumental in ensuring that the Old Catholic voice was heard, so that Old Catholic inspiration reached a wider circle. For this foresight and commitment alone, the Union of Utrecht should be grateful to this active secretary of the Bishops’ Conference!
Text: Archbishop Emeritus Joris Vercammen