1996: Cardinal Franz König - 'On each visit I learn something new'

By Georg Hartl

07/10/2021
Cardinal König in Caux.png

 

One of the enduring images of the 50th anniversary of the Initiatives of Change conference centre in 1996 is that of the Dalai Lama greeting the 90-year-old Cardinal Franz König.

Cardinal Franz König, Archbishop of Vienna between 1956 and 1985, had been an enthusiastic participant in Caux conferences since the early 1970s. ‘On each of my visits to Caux I learn something new, thanks to the great openness of mind of each person I meet,’ he told a conference in 1979. ‘Even as a bishop, I too need change, a “review of life”. The living example of those I see here inspires me.’

Even as a bishop, I too need change.

Cardinal König greets Dalai Lama in Caux in 1996, watched by Heinrich Rusterholz, President of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Switzerland. Credit: G. Williams
Cardinal König greets Dalai Lama in Caux in 1996, watched by Heinrich Rusterholz,
President of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Switzerland. Credit: Greg Williams

 

At the time, König was head of the Catholic church’s efforts to build bridges with the communist countries of Eastern Europe, holding the title of Secretary for Non-Believers. This, he quipped on one occasion, was not the reason he came to Caux.

I am convinced that the spirit of God is at work here.

‘Since the end of the second world war, Caux has been a place where people of different races, political opinions and classes have come together, often from seats of conflict that were threatening the peace of the world,’ he said in 1987. ‘Again and again a breakthrough has happened. I am convinced that the spirit of God is at work here.’

 

Father Bots, Michael Gonzi, Don Cardinal, Franz König 1973 in Caux, credit: Danielle Maillefer
With (first row, left) Michael Gonzi, Archbishop of Malta, and (2nd row, centre) Canadian First Nations leader, Don Cardinal, in Caux, 1973

 

As Archbishop of Vienna, he was known for his efforts to restore relations between Austria’s Social Democrats and the Catholic Church, which had been ruptured during the Nazi times. He and Bruno Kreisky, Federal Chancellor from 1970 to 1983, maintained a dialogue of utmost respect, despite serious differences over some issues.

He was also active in the global ecumenical movement after the Second Vatican Council, and in particular built bridges with the Eastern Orthodox churches. His commitment to building relationships with other religions was recognized by Muslim theologians when he was invited to lecture at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, a centre of Islamic scholarship.

 

Franz König, Jean-Marc Duckert, Andrew Stallybrass, Sydney Cook, 1973 , Caux
Cardinal Franz König speaking in Caux, 1973

 

In the 1960s and 1970s some leaders of the Catholic Church regarded Moral Re-Armament (now Initiatives of Change) with a certain skepticism, but König accepted invitations to Caux with interest. He clearly felt at home there, serving coffee to startled breakfasters and engaging deeply with those he met. His pastoral calling shone through all his encounters.

Much depends on changing our heart and thinking.

During one conference, he had breakfast with a group of young people. One came from an extremely difficult family background, had had a troubled youth and had found a new beginning in her life. König was deeply impressed by her story. After breakfast, to the surprise of his hosts, he asked if he could take the roses from the table. He handed them to this young woman, with his best wishes for her future.

 

Franz König and Philippe Mottu in Caux 1986, credit: Danielle Maillefer
With one of Caux's pioneers, Philippe Mottu (left), in Caux, 1986

 

In the 1980s, the Cardinal called on Caux to bring people together to address the environmental challenges facing the world. This led to a series of dialogues at Caux on the preservation of creation, attended by scientists and theologians as well voices from politics, industry and environmental journalism.

‘God has put the desire to create into his creature,’ König told the opening session of the dialogue in 1989. ‘Could it be a key for the future to awaken in each individual the desire to become creative in the preservation of Creation?’

 

Victor Weisskopf, Eduard Kellenberger, Franz König, 1989, Caux
Cardinal König (right) with participants in the 1989 dialogue on the preservation of creation at Caux:
(left) American nucelar physicist Victor Weiskopf and (centre) Eduard Kellenberger, the father of microbiology in Switzerland

 

He returned to the theme of the environment in his speech for Caux’s 50th anniversary. ‘There is a serious danger that progress in technology and communications will destroy mankind and his world. So much depends on changing our heart and thinking.’

‘In the last resort,’ he said at Caux in 1993, ‘we always come back to human beings and their spiritual search. We don’t just have a dark side – we also have a bright side. We can aim for good as well as for evil.’

 

Franz König in Caux, 1993
Celebrating his birthday in Caux, 1973

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Andrew Stallybrass 2017

Andrew Stallybrass remembers:

One evening, I walked down to supper in the Caux dining room with a Irish Protestant friend. He’d just been meeting with a group of British and was sad, angry, bitter even, that they’d talked about their national problems without once mentioning Ireland – at a time when the Troubles were in full swing.

I’d been elsewhere, and I had a supper planned, but wondered if I should cancel to try to repair an angry and bruised heart. My Irish friend went off and sat down alone at a small table against the wall.

I was aware that Cardinal König, just arrived from Vienna, was standing near me, and I could see a table of important people waiting for him in the bay window. Just before they saw him, he made a beeline for my Irish friend.

The two of them had supper together and the group waiting for him rightly felt that they couldn’t interrupt! The next day, the Irish friend told me that the evening had been a miracle of healing for him.

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________

 

This story is part of our series 75 Years of Stories about individuals who found new direction and inspiration through Caux, one for each year from 1946 to 2021. If you know a story appropriate for this series, please do pass on your ideas by email to John Bond or Yara Zhgeib. If you would like to know more about the early years of Initiatives of Change and the conference centre in Caux please click here and visit the platform For A New World.

 

  • Photo with Dalai Lama in 1986: Greg Williams
  • Photos with Father Bots etc + Philippe Mottu: Danielle Maillefer
  • All other photos: Initiatives of Change
  • Photo top with Karl Mitterdörfer in Caux, 1979
Featured Story
Off
Event Categories
75 stories 75th anniversary

related stories

Ningali Cullen speaken at the dedication of a national memorial to the Stolen Generations 2004

1998: Ningali Cullen – Journey of Healing

When Ningali Cullen came to Caux in 1998, she brought news of a growing people’s movement in Australia to acknowledge the truth about their history. ...

Maori queen

1997: The Māori Queen – ‘Our people are moving forward’

She was a queen with the vision of a better future for her people. Discover the story of Māori Queen, Dame Te Atairangikaahu, and her visit to Caux. ...

Marta Dabrowska.jpeg

1995: Marta Dąbrowska – ‘Summer comes and Caux comes’

In the early 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, large numbers of Eastern and Central Europeans came to the Initiatives of Change (IofC) conferences in Caux. Many, like Marta Dąbrowska from Pola...

4th Caux Round Table Global Dialogues 1989

1994: The Caux Round Table – Principles for Business

In July 1994, a set of Principles for Business was launched at Caux by the Caux Round Table (CRT), an international forum of business leaders which had been meeting there since 1986....

Ahmed Egal and Hassan Mohamud in Stockholm

1993: Somalia – ‘If you can have peace in Galkayo, you can have it anywhere’

Among the Somalis at Caux in 1993 were Hassan Mohamud and Ahmed Egal, both from Galkayo, one of Somalia’s most violent cities. At Caux in 1993, together with other Somalis, they drew up a list of pote...

Hope in the Cities - Dr Robert Taylor (left, John Smith and Audrey Burton at Caux 1992

1992: Hope in the Cities – 'Where healing can take place'

In July 1992, 80 Americans arrived at the Initiatives of Change Switzerland conference centre in Caux with an urgent question: how to address racism, poverty and alienation in US cities. Three months ...

Anna Abdallah

1991: Anna Abdallah Msekwa – Creators of Peace

The 680 women – and some men – who packed the Main Hall of the Caux Palace for the launch of Creators of Peace 30 years ago came from 62 countries and a mind-boggling variety of backgrounds: a Mohawk ...

King Michael of Romania, Queen Anne and young Romanians in Caux 1990

1990: King Michael of Romania – ‘Evil cannot last indefinitely’

In the summer of 1990, six months after the overthrow of Communism in their country, 30 young Romanians came to Caux. It was their first time outside the Eastern bloc, and they had been hesitant about...

Michel Orphelin acting in Caux

1989: Michel Orphelin – Theatre of the heart

In spring 1946, when the first small group of Swiss visited the derelict hotel in Caux which was to become the Initiatives of Change (IofC) conference centre, they realized its ballroom could become a...

1988 square.

1988: Joe Hakim and Marie Chaftari - ‘I am not a victim’

The Caux summer of 1988 at the Initiatives of Change conference centre began with a Mediterranean Dialogue, attended by people from all over the region, followed by a 10-day ‘youth training session’. ...

Mother Park

1987: Mother Park Chung Soo – ‘A new door began to open’

Mother Park Chung Soo, a Won Buddhist nun, has been called the ‘Mother Teresa of South Korea’. She was already involved in humanitarian work in Korea when she came to the Initiatives of Change confere...

Benches Work Week 1986

1986 - Work Week: A facelift for the Caux Palace

As plans for celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Initiatives of Change conference centre in Caux got underway, Eliane Stallybrass began to dream. In 1946 the pioneers of Caux had volunteered their...