Zurich's main railway station is a buzzing multicultural metropolis with consumers and commuters jostling along the multiple platforms and shopping arcades. Amid the bustle, a multi-denominational church opened its doors on Sunday - the first one in Switzerland to be housed in a railway station.
The church, set up under the station's main concourse, is instantly recognisable because of its stained glass windows. Inside, symbols of the world's main religions - Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism - bear witness to its multi-confessional status.
The chapel, occupying a space formerly used by Western Union financial services, will be open during the daytime and is cared for by two chaplains and volunteers.
The group managing the church will be there to assist people wishing to pray or talk. The chapel may provide an oasis of calm, but Roman Angst, one of the two chaplains, stresses: "We don't want the chapel to become a waiting room."
Individuals with specific problems will be referred to other services. "We can't offer support to the homeless, alcoholics or drug users as we can't be a social service", added Angst's colleague, Toni Zimmermann.
The chapel is not available for weddings or baptisms either, and no religious ceremonies will be held there.
"The church corresponds to the type of services a multicultural platform like a railway station should have on offer", said Urs Schlegel of the Swiss Federal Railways. Stations in Paris and Munich already have their own prayer chapels, as do many airports, including nearby Zurich Kloten.
The chapel is a test project, which will run until the end of 2004. If there is a strong demand, it will put down roots permanently.
Financed by the Protestant and Catholic churches, its running costs are estimated at around SFr380,000 ($212,000) a year.
swissinfo with agencies
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