2016-10-31 13:30:00

Pope's visit to Sweden can give new emphasis to ecumenism

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis is in Sweden for a joint commemoration of the Reformation, together with leaders of the Lutheran World Federation. On Tuesday he will also celebrate a Mass for All Saints Day with the small Catholic community in Sweden and other Nordic nations.

On this visit, Francis follows in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II who, in 1989, became the first pontiff to visit the region since the Reformation.

Among those helping to coordinate that visit of the Polish pope was Bishop William Kenney who was then serving as vicar general of the Stockholm diocese. Today he is auxiliary of Birmingham in the UK and co-chair of the international Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue.

Philippa Hitchen spoke to him to find out more about the Catholic community in Sweden and what he is expecting from this second papal visit to the country…..


Bishop Kenney say the Church there is unusual in that the majority of its members are not Swedish, but rather are immigrants from various generations who’ve come to Sweden as workers or as refugees. During his time there, he says, about 70% of Catholics were born in another country, with many more coming from the Middle East today, not least from Iraq.

Bishop Kenney says he hopes the visit will give “a renewed emphasis to ecumenism” since the Catholic Church there has been largely “overwhelmed” by “immediate pastoral concerns” of providing Mass, sacraments and catechesis.

Asked about tensions between Lutherans and Catholic, he says that some of the difficulties today may come not from the Reformation period, but from much more modern matters such as the ordination of women or human sexuality.

As co-chair of international Catholic-Lutheran dialogue group, Bishop Kenney says progress is being made on issues around Baptism, with a document expected in the next two years. The 1999 Joint Document on the Doctrine of Justification, he said, was like ‘the bomb of the Holy Spirit” which helped us realize that the issues which we thought divided us, don’t any longer and we’re now trying to work out what is the effect of this is. The problem in all countries and in all churches, he adds, is people have become “satisfied with themselves” with “no sense of a crisis of unity”.

Speaking of John Paul II’s visit to Sweden, Bishop Kenney says there were fewer difficulties than in Denmark as the situation differs from country to country in the region. He notes that people there are very receptive to social teaching of the Church, while many are looking for meaning in their lives so “the Churches have an opportunity there”.

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