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Mormons In Switzerland: When A Minority Religion Blends In To The Scenery

In a country that has banned the building of Muslim minarets, Mormons have set up a new community center with its own, unmarked tower. The locals don’t seem to mind.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints plaque in German
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints plaque in German
Helene Arnet

At first glance, the slender tower near the Bonstetten-Wettswil railway station looks like a minaret that is missing its crescent. Indeed, the tower shows no symbol at all. In the future, a modest plaque will explain which religious community has found a home here: the Mormons. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is building a new community center with a chapel in Bonstetten, a small town in the Swiss canton of Zurich. Starting this winter, about 120 people will come here for Sunday services.

At first, the Zurich Mormons were a little skeptical about the new construction, says Christian Gräub, spokesman for the religious community. The tower in particular caused some commotion – because it resembled a cell phone antenna.

"When we assured people that the tower will have no bells and loud speakers, the concerns died down," says Gräub.

The city's administration is just as calm. Municipal clerk Primus Kaiser says: "We examined whether the proposal fulfills the legal requirements and asked a few more questions."

The project did not make strong waves in the city, and few seemed afraid that Bonstetten could turn into a center for Mormons to come to live. Christian Gräub does not believe that many Mormons will move to the area because of the new community center. He said: "Bonstetten's easy accessibility played an important role in choosing this location."

An American religion in foreign settings

The new community center replaces the center in Zurich-Altstetten that was built for 60 people and has long exceeded its capacity. In the Zurich area, Mormons are not suffering from the widespread decrease in membership other denominations are facing. Many international companies attract American Mormon employees.

"This means that we are a fairly international community," says Gräub.

In the canton of Zurich, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has community centers in Schwamendingen, Diesldorf, Wetzikon, Winterthur and Richterswil. Overall, there are about 8000 Mormons in Switzerland; the congregation in Zürich has roughly 600 members.

Christian Gräub leads us through the skeletal structure of the new community center and explains what happens during the three-hour service. First, congregants meet in the modest chapel for the communion service. Mormons don't have priests as in other Christian denominations. The community leader, or bishop, and his two advisors lead the service. The chapel has room for about 200 people. In the future, "worldly" events such as dances and theater performances can take place there, too. And those will be open to the public, since the community center is not a temple just for deeply religious Mormons. After the service, attendees go to different classrooms for Sunday school where they read, study and discuss the Holy Scripture with a teacher, using approaches adapted for each age-group. After that, men and women meet separately in groups to talk about their roles in the community.

Gräub points to a small pool. A spa in the community center? No, although activities there should be soothing. We are looking at the future baptismal font. In the tradition of John the Baptist, Mormons baptize by dipping the whole person in the bath from the age of eight upwards.

"They should be able to make independent decisions and distinguish good from evil," Gräub explains. The baptism of adults is very common.

Christian Gräub is a sober-minded man, who responds calmly to even the most critical questions. His family is a fifth-generation member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His great, great grandmother joined the faith in 1897 and was one of only a few Swiss Mormons who did not leave the country for the US. He works in the management of a small construction contracting company and has been living in Wettswill for 10 years.. His four children attend the local elementary school or kindergarten.

In everyday life, Mormons are not recognizable by their religious affiliation, even though their faith demands a lot of them. Gräub, for example, spent two years as a missionary, as expected by his church. One year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he was sent to East Germany and remembers how difficult he found it at first to start talking to strangers. "But I got used to it quickly. It led to many interesting conversations," he says.

Today, he serves his community as a teacher, choir leader and organist, and frequently gives speeches during services. Once a month, he and his wife visit the Mormon temple in Zollikhofen.

Asked about the secret ceremonies that are only available to devout Mormons in the temple, he says: "There is a cloistral atmosphere that helps with silent contemplation."

When he visited the Mormon state of Utah in the US for the first time, he was surprised by how small a role religion played in the daily lives of many people. In Utah, people are Mormons in the same way they are Catholic or Protestant in Switzerland.

"Mormons here, on the other hand, have to be very religious and be engaged in the life of our community," he says.

Read the original article in German.

Photo - Rainer Ebert

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.

[*Italian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."

🇸🇩💥  IN OTHER NEWS

Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com!

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