The adventure of the Peier family began on Christmas evening of 1947. “I met Anneli,” Fritze, a Reformed Church pastor, remembered, “and I was really struck by her. Here was my future wife, it would be no one else. Together with her I would build a family based on the scriptural words: ‘Where two or more are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Mt 18:20)”. And that is what happened. From their marriage, celebrated on Assumption day of 1949, six children were born.
But another adventure was awaiting them. In 1968, they took part in an ecumenical meeting of the Focolare Movement in Italy with Christians – Lutheran and Catholic – of Germany. They were touched by the Word of God put into practice. “We gathered together to hear, directly from Chiara Lubich, the extraordinary adventure of the beginnings of the Movement,” they would remember. “After hearing about the beginnings, we could not sleep. We spent the whole night re-reading all the sentences of Jesus in the Gospel that Chiara had cited. It was as if a completely new light had illumined our existence and it seemed that our souls had always been waiting for this moment.”
Since the past relatives of Anneli had been of the Mennonite tradition, and those of Fritz of a Catholic or Old Catholic tradition, and their fellow believers that of the Reformed Church, the whole matter of religion was a problem very much felt in the family. This meeting with the Focolare became the answer to all that.
The Peier family asked Chiara for an ecumenical meeting for the Reformed and Catholics of Switzerland and, thanks to the deep relationship that they had established with her, beginning in 1969 they initiated a series of meetings that were then held in alternating years in Italy and Switzerland between the Reformed and Catholics.
With a faithfulness that was contagious, Fritz and Anneli bore witness to the Ideal of unity and are considered to have been the pioneers of the ecumenism of the Focolare Movement in Switzerland. They themselves confirmed it: “Chiara urged us to be involved in the life of families and in parish work. It was the beginning of a frequent exchange of letters with her, and also of deep one-on-one meetings with her, and a deep friendship.”
And also thanks to them some fundamental steps were taken, such as that of 2001, when Chiara was invited by the Reformed Church of Zurich to speak in the very same cathedral where Ulrich Zwingli began his preaching. “God brought about the miracle of His presence in Grossmünster, making us feel that His people were already one in love. I particularly want to thank those of you who prepared the terrain so that the graces of these days could be received,” Chiara wrote to the Peier family.
It is admirable to see the sincere way that they give close attention to daily relationships. Anneli said: “I understood that it should not make any difference to me whoever might be the neighbor next to me. I set aside all the psychological preconceptions that I had customarily used to evaluate persons, so that I could simply try to see Jesus in them. This attitude bore extraordinary fruits.”
And Fritz commented: “For my work in the parish this meant working even more intensely for ecumenism. I had a great desire to learn what our Churches had in common.” And during his life he tried to put this Scripture sentence into practice: “Not to abolish, but to fulfill” (Mt 5:17), a sentence which Chiara had suggested to him as a program for life.
Fritz became gravely ill in February of 2009 and right before dying, he expressed his deepest desire: “Never stop being a family! The encounter with ‘the Friend’ should be communitarian.” And to his vicar and intimate friend, Peter Dettwiler, he said some months before: “At my funeral, I would have you simply say that what Fritz became was all due to God and
to his dear wife.” When he told this to Anneli, Dettwiler remembers that she, smiling, added: “That part about the wife you can leave out.” Exactly a year after her husband’s death, Anneli too reached heaven at 84 years of age. “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” (1 Peter 1:22). This is the sentence that Chiara had chosen for her and it summed up her life.