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From the Vikings to today. The 1000-year-long history of the Catholic Church in Norway. A new spring among the fiords

A small steadfastly growing community, 25 parish churches and two new ones - including Trondeheim’s cathedral – consecrated in just one year. The thousand-year-old history of the Catholic presence in the Scandinavian country is encompassed in a book that will be given to Pope Francis during his trip to Sweden (October 31 – November 1) for the opening of celebrations marking 500 years of the Reformation.

Norwegian pilgrims leaving for Malmö, Sweden, to take part in the opening of the commemoration of the Reformation, will hand a newly-published book to Pope Francis: “One thousand years of the Catholic Church in Norway.” It’s the first time that “the entire history of the Catholic Church since the times of the Vikings, is incorporated in a single book”, said Liv Hegna, curator of the volume. The narrative begins with “the Viking’s pillage of the Lindisfarne monastery in England in 793, from which they stole sacred texts and furnishings” Hegna remarked, it continues to describe the Christianization carried out by the great King Olav II, the creation of the Episcopal see in Nidaros in 1153, the disappearance of Catholics from the Reformation to the 20th century, and goes on until the present times of the Catholic community, which grew from 8 thousand faithful in the 1960s to 140 thousand today.

A positive phase. “Things are going very well. There is great public and media interest towards the Catholic Church in Norway”, said Hans Rossiné, in charge of communication for the diocese of Oslo, enthusiastic about the recent success, also at media level, of the “Festival of cultures”, held in September, on the initiative of the Catholic Church in the capital to collect Caritas funds for Syria. Last year, Norwegian media outlets had been busily reporting the story of the registers: the diocese of Oslo had been accused of having registered in the period 2011-2014 more Catholics than those actually resident and owed the government about 4 million euro as a compensation of the higher contribution paid to the Catholic community on the basis of figures deemed to have been inflated. Rossiné clarified that since 2010 the curia has had to process 10 thousand new registration requests per year, on the basis of “unclear and dated” legal provisions “subject to various interpretations.” As a result of the inquiry, in a few weeks it will be decided whether it should be considered a legal offence. “We are sorry that the routine procedures were inadequate, but we believe that there was nothing illegal in what we did.”

Difficulties and renewed thrust. In the meantime the curia updated the system and contacted all those involved asking their authorization to register them. “Now even the Lutheran Churches of Sweden, Denmark and Iceland with communities in Norway will have to confirm every single member of their lists and are in strong conflict with the authorities “. Hence the “Catholic Church has resorted to compensation.” The verdict will be released in December: “If we will have to pay all that money it will be difficult for us, given our financial situation, but we have not yet made any plan.” In any case it has been a great stimulus for the Catholic Church”: “despite negative press coverage, there is widespread appreciation for the life of the Church, which moved forward.”

A new cathedral in Trondheim. There is special interest for the new Catholic Cathedral that will be consecrated in Trondheim on November 19 by the Cardinal Emeritus of Westminster, Cormac Murphy O’Connor, designated by the Pope as his legate. The old building was no longer big enough to host all the faithful. The historic Cathedral was torn down in the fall of 2014 and a new Lutheran Cathedral was built opposite it, which preserves the relics of Saint King Olav.

“It will be the only Cathedral consecrated this year in Europe”,

pointed out Rossiné. It’s the second new church in Norway in 2016, because another one was built near Oslo.” Given the increasing number of faithful there is need for new religious buildings and new priests serving all 25 parish communities in the Country.

Many nations, one community. Norwegian Catholics also wish to be more active in political life. “Dialogue with all political parties is being sought ahead of the 2017 national elections. We want our opinion to be heard too.” The Catholic Church has gained credit and was widely recognised as a “successful environment for integration” in terms of what she does at internal level and for the social services she offers through her institutions, notably by Caritas. The Catholic community consists mainly of Poles, Croatians, Lithuanians, Philippines, Vietnamese, Sinhalese, Eritreans and Chileans: the most numerous groups in a list of 180 nationalities. “It’s not easy to find a balance between cultural diversity, the independence of different nationalities and the one Church.”

Values, identities and dialogue. Ecumenical activity is equally at full speed. Relations with the Lutheran Church are “extremely friendly.” They have grown even stronger in the past years owing to the joint preparations for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The recent decision of the Lutheran Synod to celebrate same-sex marriages with religious rites had no consequence at ecumenical level. “We clarified our values and our viewpoints to this regard and there is no confusion.” There have been some creaks within the Lutheran church when some pastors announced their intention to enter the Catholic Church.” Each year, approximately one hundred Lutherans ask to enter the Catholic Church. The clarity of the Catholic Church is appealing in the public domain, with renewed focus on the theme of religions after years when it “had fallen to historical lows.” The topical relevance of the theme of “Islam” and its strong identity has brought the spotlight on religions and stimulated Christians to reflect on their religious values.

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