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«Die Welt war meine Gemeinde»- Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft

A Theologian for Europe between Ecumenism and Federalism

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Edited By Filippo Maria Giordano and Stefano Dell'Acqua

Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft (1900–1985), Dutch pastor and theologian, was one of the most significant personalities in the Protestant Ecumenical movement. Deeply influenced by Karl Barth, and filled with a strong Ecumenical spirit, he was closely involved in the founding of the World Council of Churches, of which he was elected General Secretary. During the Second World War, many Protestants became convinced of the need for an international political system which, beside uniting the nations and peoples of Europe, would guarantee them fundamental freedoms and mutual respect for their historical, cultural and confessional traditions.
The directors of the WWC were strongly committed to federalism, partly because of the political traditions of the states from which their member churches originated (Switzerland; Great Britain and its Commonwealth; the United States), and partly because of their conviction that a simple confederation of states, based on the model of the League of Nations, would be completely incapable of containing national ambitions. In spring 1944, Visser ’t Hooft welcomed into his Geneva home the representatives of the European Resistance, who, under the leadership of Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, signed the International Federalist Declaration of the Resistance Movements. These historic transnational encounters, aimed not only at coordinating military action or seeking diplomatic contacts but at exploring ways to «build» peace and re-establish the future of the Continent on new foundations, marked a profound break with the past.
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My Grandfather

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Caspar VISSER ’T HOOFT

When I close my eyes and immerse myself in memory, I can see my grandfather sitting in his deep chair, in the closed veranda of his house in Chêne-Bougeries, a verdant suburb of Geneva. I am sitting in a chair opposite him, a low Moroccan yellow copper table stands between us. He is reading. I am reading. He tells me what he is reading. He wants to know what I am reading. He followed a kind of very strict daily schedule. He started the day by reading his little New Testament Bible, in Greek, of course. He made notes. He read the commentaries. I have this little pocket New Testament now. This lasted one hour. After that, he opened the newspapers: the Tribune de Genève and the Dutch NRC-Handelsblad. And when he had finished with that, he often took up a novel. He read and re-read the classics. I was not a passionate theologian, even during the first years of my study of Theology. That came later. My fields of interest were history and literature. And that is where I found my grandfather, or rather that is where he found me. What stimulating conversations we had!

I have known few people who were as open-minded as my grandfather. Until the end he was keenly interested in whatever was happening in the world around him – and the world around him was the whole world. And he was particularly interested...

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