The literal highpoint of the Heritage Tour this year was arriving at Caux, one thousand metres above sea level. As we drove through Montreaux at the eastern end of Lake Geneva, it was too early in the day to be bothered by the traffic of the annual Jazz Festival .
Most of the group took the funicular train from Montreaux to the Caux station almost straight up the mountainside. Others of us drove the vehicles up the six kilometres of steep winding road and spectacular panorama towards the huge turreted hotel that was our destination.
Mountain House was built over a century ago for the world’s rich and famous. But for the last sixty years, it has been a significant centre for the reconciliation of the nations. Purchased after the Second World War by the sacrificial giving of some sixty Swiss families involved with the Moral ReArmament movement (MRA), this magnificent six-storey hotel has hosted countless conferences and consultations bringing folk from all walks of life and faith together.
This summer, for example, a series of conferences is under way addressing the root causes of human insecurity. The movement, now renamed Initiatives of Change, holds that ‘at the heart of civilisation lie core values of honesty and integrity, purity of heart and motive, selflessness and courage, love for people, and forgiveness’.
The day we visited, delegates were arriving for a six-day conference on ‘trust and integrity in the global economy’. The first event of the summer series had just concluded two days earlier, on the theme of ‘global servant-leadership’.
These values were originally articulated by the movement’s founder, a Lutheran evangelist named Frank Buchman, an American of German ancestry. And it was this man and this place which helped create the climate of forgiveness, reconciliation and trust enabling French and German leaders, in particular, to take the first concrete steps towards what has now become the European Union.
Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister in the post-war period, was one of these leaders. While he himself was prevented from visiting Caux until 1953, he had developed close ties with Buchman much earlier.
Schuman had once considered entering the priesthood, but had chosen ‘to aid atheists to live rather than Christians to die’. He remained single and lived modestly.
Over a private dinner in a friend’s home in 1949, Schuman had confided to Buchman his frustrations with the indifference of his prime minister towards a more united Europe. He mused out loud about leaving politics and retreating to a monastery to write.
“Will you advise me?” he asked the evangelist. “What should I do?”
Buchman asked Schuman what his heart was telling him to do. Schuman admitted that deep down that he knew he had a part to play in ending the hatred between the French and the Germans.
“But I shrink from it,” he added. “I do not know whom to trust in the new Germany.”
Well before the war, Buchman had developed extensive ties with Germans he knew to be trustworthy. Soon after the war he had arranged with the authorities for several thousand leading Germans from industry, politics, trade unions and education to visit Caux. His goal was for them to meet with their counterparts from other nations, developing relationships of forgiveness and trust.
“We have had some excellent men in Caux,” replied Buchman, and offered the foreign minister a list of names.
Schuman wrote in his host’s guest book, ‘This evening spent with Dr Buchman has been a treasured first step which will lead me, I very much hope, to Caux.’
A few months later, Schuman wrote a foreword for a book of Buchman’s speeches about ‘apostles of reconciliation and builders of a new world’.
At Buchman’s encouragement, Schuman began to reach out to Konrad Adenauer, the West German Chancellor and a frequent Caux visitor. Despite initial mistrust, the two men discovered common ambitions for rebuilding Europe on Christian foundations, with Franco-German reconciliation at its core.
These ambitions culminated in May 1950, in Schuman’s proposal for France and Germany to initiate a European Coal and Steel Community. Adenauer called Schuman’s proposal ‘the cornerstone for uniting Europe’.
Elsewhere Schuman expressed his dream of Europe as a community of peoples deeply rooted in Christian values. When finally able to visit Caux in 1953, he left with greater hope of that possibility. “This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life,” he said.
For those of us on the Heritage Tour, Caux was indeed a great experience-one of many places we visited which had helped to shape today’s Europe.
Till next week,
Till next week,