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Arborelius: “Sweden looks forward to Francis’ arrival,” set to be an ecumenical event

The bishop of Stockholm described the small Christian community as a minority within a Protestant majority population in the framework of significant secularization. Bergoglio will open the busy schedule of events marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The event is promoted by the Lutheran World Federation and by the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity

Next October 31 Pope Francis will be in Lund, Sweden, to attend a commemoration marking the opening of the packed schedule planned at global level in the framework of celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The Swedish event is an initiative of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in conjunction with the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity “to highlight 50 years of continual ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans, along with the gifts deriving from this cooperation”, reads a joint statement released by LWF and by the Pontifical Council. The commemoration envisages two major events. A celebration in the historical cathedral of the city where the LWF was founded in 1947, will be based on the liturgical “Common prayer” that draws inspiration from the 2013 document “From Conflict to Communion”, in which, for the first time Lutherans and Catholics undertook a joint reflection on the 500th year-period since the Reformation. A second event, planned for young people, will take place in Malmö. A three-hour meeting will be devoted to the presentation of “activities focusing on Catholics and Lutherans’ joint witness and service to the world.” On the morning of November 1st Pope Francis will celebrate Mass for Swedish Catholics. The bishop of Stockholm Monsignor Anders Arborelius, discalced Carmelite, drew an outline of his religious community for SIR.

 Could you give us a snapshot of the Catholic Church in Sweden, its strengths and weaknesses? The Catholic Church in Sweden is a small minority, representing approximately 1.5% of the overall population, namely 115 thousand registered faithful – although many more live in the Country, they are not officially registered Catholics. Most Catholics are immigrants or second-generation migrants. They are divided into four groups: Poles, Croatians, Latin-Americans, and Middle-Easterners. There are very few native Catholics, but new conversions are registered every year, most of which by people with medium-high levels of education.

Thus the Church can truly be said to be universal and multicultural

And nonetheless there is a feeling of unity, although it can be difficult to unite the various groups. Many prefer to listen to Mass in their native languages or rites. On the other hand, thanks to immigration, the Church is growing, and more churches are needed. We recently managed to purchase Protestant churches, and one hundred are presently used, hosted by Protestants, in places where we have none of our own. We can also count on a relevant number of contemplative monasteries. This openness to the spiritual realm is a typical trait of our situation.

What can you tell us about ecumenical and interreligious cooperation? The activity of the Council of Churches appears to be very intense…

In Sweden there is a very harmonious relationship among the different Churches – both at human and personal level. There are obviously difficulties on the dogmatic and ethical planes, but cooperation on social issues is good. Spirituality is the most fruitful aspect of ecumenism. Moreover, the Council of Churches is united in its efforts for refugees. Interreligious dialogue is equally positive, notably with Jews.

How would you describe Swedish society? What are the greatest needs you have perceived? Sweden is a post-Protestant, secularized society. But it has been this way for a long time and people are growing increasingly interested in issues linked to religion. Materialism and hedonism are widespread, so is an individualist attitude that has caused much loneliness and depression.

Thousands of immigrants have arrived into your Country. What’s the current situation? Are there enough jobs, money, healthcare services and schools for everyone? Is Sweden equipped to face the challenge of integration?

Some 160 thousand new migrants arrived in Sweden last year, and although the Country registered difficulties in terms of reception, civil society displayed utmost support. Sweden is a rich Country. I personally believe that we have the opportunity to welcome them all. At the same time, anti-immigrant sentiments are rapidly spreading.

What is the attitude of the Swedish people towards the Pope’s upcoming visit? They are all deeply interested in the visit. On the whole, the population appreciates the Pope at personal level. His visit is set to have a remarkable ecumenical bearing.

What are your expectations? I hope that the Pope’s visit may strengthen the Christian faith of many people in Sweden, whichever Church they belong to. He will be here for everyone, not only for the Catholic population. He will also help us Catholics grow in terms of unity, thereby increasing the awareness of our mission to spread the Gospel in actions and words.

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