From the Worldwide Faith News archives

WCC - A farewell and a new start at Casa Locarno

From "Sheila Mesa" <>
Date Tue, 25 Jun 2002 10:04:38 +0200

World Council of Churches
Feature, Feat-02-07
For Immediate Use
25 June 2002

"A place to carry in one's heart"
A farewell and a new start at Casa Locarno

Rainer Lang

While others are talking about their plans for the future,
Magdalena Keller finds it hard to say goodbye. For about 17 years
- from 1982 to 1999 - she was the director of Casa Locarno. Now
this place of many meetings will be closed, and the house high on
a hill above Locarno, on the Swiss shore of the Lago Maggiore,
will be sold. It was purchased by the World Council of Churches
(WCC) and HEKS, the aid agency of the Swiss Protestant Churches,
in 1947.  

For three days, from 24-26 May 2002, the members of the Casa
Locarno association, Casa staff, guests and friends had a
farewell party in Locarno-Monti and the neighbouring town of
Ascona. There was an evening get-together, a lecture by WCC
general secretary Konrad Raiser, moments of celebration and
fellowship in the house, during walks together and around the
dining table, and an exhibition entitled "Saying farewell in
dignity; setting out on new paths with courage".  

"Casa Locarno on the road"

The original idea of the Casa as a place for meeting and
reconciliation between people, confessions, nations and religions
will now live on in a programme called "Casa Locarno on the
road". Beginning in 2003, the Casa Locarno concept will be
carried on at various meeting and conference centres in central
and eastern Europe.  

Konrad Raiser expressed his joy that this time of farewell also
marked a new beginning. He reminded his listeners that the Casa
had been very important to a great many people for many years.
"I'm glad the name of the WCC is associated with Casa Locarno,"
he said, noting that it had been more than just somewhere to go
for a rest or a holiday. Far from their hectic lives at home,
people had reached out to one another across language, cultural
and religious barriers. What the ecumenical movement is about,
said Raiser, was lived out here in a concrete, human way.  

In his lecture "Overcoming boundaries in Europe", Raiser looked
at "the continuing heritage of history". Very few boundaries have
not changed in the past 1000 years, he noted. But one - between
the eastern and western parts of the old Roman Empire - has
become a boundary between different social, political and church
structures. Raiser sees overcoming this boundary as the crucial
ecumenical task in Europe today. The future "Casa" programme, he
feels, can make an important contribution towards Europe's
growing together. One thing that is needed, he notes, is to
recognize Muslims as an integral part of Europe, and here there
is a special role for communication between Christians and

Franz Schule, central secretary of HEKS, introduced the "Casa on
the road" concept, designed to operate especially in eastern
Europe. A first encounter has already taken place in Poland.
Schule can imagine holding encounters in the Caucasus
countries between Orthodox and Lutheran churches, and with
Muslims, or in the Romanian border area. But he expects that the
topic-oriented meetings recently tried out in Casa Locarno, such
as "Women's Casa" or "Youth Casa", will also be continued.
Programmes can be organized locally or regionally. Schule sees
this new beginning as "a seeking and an adventure". "Our vision
now is the development of a network of Casas, small and large,
all over Europe," he says.  

With regard to Casa's new mission, Raiser called for new
ecumenical supporters. The WCC can serve as the umbrella
organization, giving legitimacy to new forms of encounter, he

It was hard to say goodbye to Casa Locarno. Yet everyone agreed
that so much has changed in Europe in the past half-century that
Casa Locarno in its old form has been outgrown.  

This is Casa's present director, Susann Kunzler's, perspective
as well. After the 1989-90 changes in Europe, there were fewer
and fewer guests from the West, she reports. Franz Schule recalls
that the Casa was founded in response to post-World War II needs,
the human and other kinds of brokenness, and became a place of
ecumenical encounter between East and West.  

An experience of history

History's course always had a direct effect on Casa Locarno,
says Elisabeth Werner, who ran the Casa from 1961 to 1982. The
after-effects of the war continued to be felt for a long time.
She remembers well the nights she spent at the bedside of a sick
guest who had survived a concentration camp. Magdalena Keller
also suffered in sympathy with West and East Germans in their
difficult and painful encounters at Casa Locarno after the fall
of the Berlin Wall.  

All this is recorded in the guestbooks where many famous names
and signatures, including those of the theologian Karl Barth and
the former president of the German Federal Republic, Gustav
Heinemann, can be found.  
Peter Novak from the Czech Republic stands in the garden and
looks wistfully down into the valley. Casa Locarno is an imposing
building high above the Lago Maggiore, with a splendid view of
Locarno and the opposite shore of the lake. The beauty of the
Ticino casts its spell again over 29-year-old Novak, a medical
nurse who worked half a year here as a volunteer four years ago
after reading about Casa in the Czech Hussite Church newspaper.
He still loves the landscape. "It was just so nice," he says

Friendships begun here lasted, according to Hannedore Steger,
the Casa housekeeper, who especially enjoyed working with young
people. Across language barriers it was often particularly
difficult to find ways of communicating, she recalls.  

Most of the more recent guests came from eastern Europe - from
the Czech and Slovak Republics, from Hungary, Romania or Estonia.
The last volunteers to work in the house also come from these
countries. For example, 23-year-old Susanna Sold, a pastor's
daughter, is from Romania. Her parents were here last year.  

Volunteers used to be called the "Casa children". Mieke Korenhof
 from the Netherlands is one of them. She came here in 1962-63
and is now a theologian in Germany. At a time when people could
not travel as much as they now do, there was nowhere else you
could meet so many people from different countries and religious
milieus in such a short time, she remembers. At the Casa, she
experienced the growing together of the ecumenical movement, and
made many friends. Forty years later, "It's a place to carry in
your heart" she says.  
Rainer Lang is a communication officer for Action by Churches
Together (ACT) International.

Photos to accompany the Feature are to be found on the WCC web

For further information, please contact Media Relations Office, 
tel:  (+41.22) 791.61.53  

The World Council of Churches (WCC) is a fellowship of churches,
now 342, in more than 100 countries in all continents from
virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is
not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The
highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately
every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in
Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general
secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.

World Council of Churches
Media Relations Office
Tel: (41 22) 791 6153 / 791 6421
Fax: (41 22) 798 1346

PO Box 2100
1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland

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