“Our guests want to participate in our community”

The Church of St. Mauritius in Zermatt is obviously very popular. The church pews are always well occupied during Sunday Mass, and, on high holy days such as Christmas and Easter, both locals and guests crowd into the wooden pews. There are a number of reasons for this – among others because Zermatt has a great religious tradition.

The Mauritius Church has seats for around 480 people. Zermatt itself is traditionally Catholic, and the proportion of Catholics in the municipality is around 80 percent today. But how many Catholic parishes in Switzerland can claim to fill the church at High Mass? Father Stefan Roth has an explanation: “We find that people are more introspective in their leisure time than in their daily lives at home. Questions thereby increasingly arise – questions about life or about spirituality.” This animates people to visit churches and chapels. The Zermatt parish priest observes his parishioners. He notices how holiday guests sit in the church, lost in thought, and enjoy the stillness. Many also light a candle. Stefan Roth knows that “many people have more contact with the church here, in the world of the mountains, than they do at home.” He believes that time, leisure and the experience of nature lead to the inner person.

Spirituality for all

With the Tourism Ministry, which is an integral part of overall pastoral care, the Catholic Church of Zermatt helps to smooth the path towards spirituality for the guests. The most important pillar here is the Mass. “In the Mass, we speak directly to our guests from home and abroad“, says Father Stefan Roth. This includes the warm welcome and farewell, wishing the guests a wonderful stay in Zermatt. On high holy days, these wishes are also offered in English and French, while the texts of the Epistle and Gospel are available in French, English and Italian at the Sunday Masses during the season: “Spirituality has to do with the heart”, says the parish priest. And that’s why we speak to the visitors in their native language. Appointments can also be made for a meeting with the parish priest or a pastoral assistant. Many guests have a fixed appointment with the parish priest every year: “Many German guests ask for this”. The spiritual openness that many people feel during their holidays is also expressed in the confessional or in conversations about the meaning of life”, explains Stefan Roth.

Mutual strengthening of the community

But there are also other reasons why the Zermatt Mauritius Church is so alive: More than 30 members of the church choir usually accompany the HIgh Mass every second Sunday, and various groups are also involved in the daily life of the church the whole year round. “Faith is a living community”, says parish priest Stefan Roth. “and our guests want to participate in this”. Thanks to the open nature of the parish priest, the guests also feel really welcome here. But he also stresses: “We welcome the guests, invite them to spend some time here, to pray or to reflect on the values in their lives. But we don’t want to make demands on them.” Because so many external guests flock to the church, the local believers conversely feel themselves confirmed in their visits to the Mass. The community thereby produces a mutual strengthening of Faith. There is also a third group that is very close to the heart of the parish priest: the guest workers. Masses are therefore also celebrated in Italian, Portuguese and Croatian.

Lights as a symbol of spirituality

“When a guest experiences the mighty world of the mountains, this awakens spirituality in many people. But not in the narrow religious sense or in the sense of the Holy Mass.” That could be the reason that so many candles burn in the many chapels around, for example, in the chapel on the Gornergrat: “Many Asian people light candles here because light is an important symbol for them”, says parish priest Roth.

Around 62,000 candles were lit in the parish church in the centre of the village in the years 2010. The other figures speak for themselves: Gornergrat 44,000, Winkelmatten 18,000, Blatten 13,000, Zum See 3,000 as well as hundreds of other small red candles in the other Zermatt chapels. A total of almost 150,000 lights therefore burned in the last year, lit by locals and by guests from Germany, Great Britain, Japan, the USA and many other nations. A tourist resort is also a place of lasting encounters. Around 60 percent of the couples who marry here originate from the Swiss-German lowlands, from French-speaking Switzerland, from Germany, Great Britain and the USA. Many got to know each other in their holidays here. Within the context of the Pastoral Care for Tourism, this sacrament is also celebrated in French and English.
There is also a great tradition in the English Church
The English Church has stood in the Chrum area, just off the pulsing life of the Bahnhofstrasse, for more than 140 years. It is an important part of Zermatt's history and the tradition of alpinism, of hospitality and cosmopolitanism. The community is also celebrated here with services and ceremonies. Guests from English-speaking countries really appreciate this. Even today, the English Church is a reminder that it was above all Englishmen and women who climbed the Zermatt mountain peaks in the 19th Century. And, like the Catholic Church, many mountaineers who died in accidents are buried near the walls of the church.

The activities of the Zermatt parish priest

The driving force behind the Pastoral Care for Tourism in Zermatt is Stefan Roth. He has looked after the parish of St. Mauritius since 2003. He originates from Wiler in the Lötschental Valley, and was previously the Regens (Head) of the Fribourg seminary. In the years before this, he was the parish priest in Saas Fee und Brig for seven years in each case. He is also very active in the Episcopal Commission for Tourism, Leisure and Pastoral Care.

Working together with the Commission for the Reform Church, he has put together a website for Swiss Tourism about the religious landscape in Switzerland. The information available includes information about churches, cathedrals, religious memorials, customs and celebrations. The site is still in construction and more information is planned, as well as further language versions.

Celebrations at Christmas 2011

Catholic Church of St. Mauritius

24th December 2011
5 p.m. Children and Family Service
11 p.m. Midnight Mass (with choral accompaniment)

25th December 2011
7.00 a.m. Early morning Mass
9.30 a.m. Holy Mass
11.00 a.m. Holy Mass with bell chimes
6 p.m. Orchestral Mass

Evangelical Reform Church In the Theo-Saal of the Catholic parish centre

24th December 2011
9.30 p.m. Christmas Service

25th December 2011
10 a.m. Service with Communion

31st December 2011
9.30 p.m. New Year’s Eve

Church of England St Peter’s Zermatt (The English Church)

24th December 2011

5 p.m. Family Carols
6.45 p.m. Family Carols
11 p.m. Midnight Communion

25th December 2011 10 a.m. Mass (no evening mass)