2016-10-30 12:00:00

Sweden's Catholic Church awaiting Pope's message of faith

(Vatican Radio) The Catholic Church in Sweden is hoping Pope Francis will bring a message of faith, hope and unity to a very secular society. The Pope arrives in the southern city of Malmö on Monday and travels to nearby Lund to take part in an ecumenical prayer service with leaders of the Lutheran World Federation in the cathedral there.

Later in the afternoon, he returns to Malmö for an event in the main sports arena jointly organised by Caritas Internationalis and the Lutheran World Service. The theme of the event ‘Together in Hope’ is focused on common witness and service to those most in need.

On Tuesday, the Pope will celebrate Mass for the Solemnity of All Saints day in Malmö before returning to Rome in the afternoon.

Oblate Father Fredrik Emanuelson is episcopal vicar for evangelization in Stockholm, the only Catholic diocese in the country and has been helping to coordinate this papal visit to Sweden. He talked to Philippa Hitchen about the country’s tiny Catholic community and the about the challenges of ecumenical collaboration…


Fr Emanuelson says the Catholic Church in Sweden has an “enormous cultural diversity,” with immigrants of 2nd,  3rd and even 4th generations making up the majority of people in the 44 parishes, mainly located around the big cities.

There are also a dozen or more national missions with people gathering around priests of different nationalities, cultures or languages. A key pastoral challenge therefore, he says, is “to live as a Catholic community in  unity” the relationships between parishes and national missions.

Officially registered Catholics number only 113.000, Fr Emanuelson says, there are known to be many more unregistered throughout the country.

Dialogue between Church and society

The Swedish Lutheran Church was a state church from 1593 up until the year 2000, when there was separation between State and Church. It is still by far the biggest Church, but Fr Emanuelson notes that “the reality of believing, practicing Christians is Sweden is just a fraction of that membership”. The real challenge today, he says, is not so much dialogue between Churches but between the Gospel and Swedish society.

Message of faith and hope

Asked about the message the Pope can bring on this visit, Fr Emanuelson says he hopes it will be a message of faith and hope in a country where social welfare is well advanced, yet where there are new challenges with the many refugees from the Middle East. He says Swedes “have to be careful to live up to values that we call our core values and, as Churches, to help in a practical way and to be prophetic witnesses in leading the way”.

3 elements of commemoration

Speaking about the ecumenical events on Monday, Fr Emanuelson points out that the initiative stems from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and Lutheran World Federation but is also being hosted by the Stockholm dioceses, “so we have 3 different levels, global, national and local level and 2 different churches. He describes it as “a very courageous thing to do” and explains the way the events are “taking the cue” from the 2013 report ‘From Conflict to Communion’. That document details the 3 main elements of commemoration -  thanksgiving for the official dialogue which began 50 years ago and has brought the Churches much closer together. The 2nd moment, he continues, speaks of penance and of recognizing “the pain and the hurt we’ve caused one another”, encouraging us to look ahead and “to ask how can we mend and have purification  of memory”. The 3rd moment, he says, is “in service and witness to live the Gospel in Sweden and the world today”.

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