Four Languages – One Baptism

Archdeacon Peter Potter reports; “On Easter Monday about 100 people gathered in the church of Riva San Vitale near Lugano, the oldest Christian building in Switzerland. They were there for a special service at which leaders of the six churches signed a new agreement on the mutual recognition of baptism.

“The service started in the fifth-century baptistery and everyone squeezed around the massive font, over two metres in diameter and carved from a single piece of rock weighing over six tonnes. The font is still in use today, although they place a smaller bowl inside it! Pastor Gottfreid Locher, President of the Swiss Reformed Federation ceremonially filled the bowl at the start of the service. Bishop Harald Rein of the Old Catholic Church dipped the paschal candle three times into the water and a Lutheran minister sprinkled the congregation from the font.

“Afterwards we moved in procession into the church. Prayers were said in the four national languages, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Fribourg gave the homily and members of three other churches gave a short testimony on the significance of their own baptism. The text of the San Vitale Declaration was read out and then formally signed by representatives of the Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, Swiss Reformed, Methodist, Lutheran and Anglican churches. Representatives of the Orthodox and Baptist churches, together with the Salvation Army, were also present. They had taken part in the discussions on the declaration and supported it in principle but, for technical reasons were unable to sign. The declaration affirms the importance of baptism as initiation into the Christian faith and recognises that the rite can be validly administered in a variety of ways. It also states that people do not need to be baptised again if they move from one church to another.”