The Salvation Army has launched celebrations for the 125th anniversary of its activities in Switzerland, in the capital Bern.
The speaker of the House of Representatives, Christine Egerszegi, said the organisation's work was more necessary than ever in a society where many people fell through the social welfare net.
Speaking in front of the parliament building on Saturday to more than 2,000 Salvationists and friends, Egerszegi said the army comes to the help of those in need.
"For 125 years, your members have given a helping hand to those who life has not dealt an easy hand," she added.
She pointed out that while Switzerland now has a social welfare system that was non-existent when the organisation started its work, the state could still not help everyone.
Because of demographic change, civil society has to rely on the support given by associations working in the public interest. "Institutions such as the Salvation Army care for people who have fallen through the social welfare net and try to give them back some dignity," said Egerszegi.
The organisation operates a number of facilities for homeless and other people in Switzerland, namely 36 social hostels, five counselling centres, eight halfway houses for asylum seekers and four asylum coordination centres.
Bridging the gap
The worldwide head of the Salvation Army, General Shaw Clifton, told Bern's Bund newspaper that the organisation's work was more necessary than ever in rich western nations, where plenty of people still needed help for essentials such as food and clothes.
"The gap between the haves and have-nots continues to widen," he said. "The Salvation Army is needed to bridge that gap."
Clifton admitted that with fewer than 5,000 members in Switzerland, the army was probably boxing above its category in trying to help some many needy people. But he also pointed out that the organisation has never been so big internationally.
According to the general, the Salvation Army is the second biggest provider of social aid worldwide after the United Nations.
The organisation's 125th anniversary is being marked with a congress over the weekend, a gala dinner as well as street concerts in Bern.
swissinfo with agencies
Salvation Army Switzerland
Revenue 2005: SFr183 million (one third from donations)
Officers: 443 (including over 200 who have retired)
Active members: Around 4,600
Volunteers put in some 40,000 days' work a year.
The Salvation Army operates in 111 countries around the world. As a church and charity organisation, the Salvation Army demonstrates its Christian principles through social welfare.
The organisation has 1.6 million members and 16,000 church and community centres worldwide.
It is funded through donations from its members, the public and government grants.
Salvationists in Switzerland
The Salvation Army began work in Switzerland in 1882 when Catherine Booth, daughter of the founder of the organisation, arrived in Geneva.
Initially, it was not accepted but continued its work despite adversities. After three years, it opened branches in Zurich and Basel.
The Federal Court recognised it as a religious organisation in 1889.
On November 1, 1901 the Salvation Army opened its headquarters in Bern. Before then, it had been directed from the Paris headquarters.
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