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New Cardinals. Arborelius (Stockholm): “My appointment is a gift to the small, Swedish Church in the periphery”

Born in Switzerland to Swedish parents, raised in Lund, converted at the age of 20, a degree in Foreign Languages, Anders Arborelius entered the Carmelite order, after which he completed his studies in theology and philosophy in Bruges and in Rome. He was nominated bishop by John Paul II in 1998. His humbleness and generosity are recognized by everyone, along with a deep ecumenical commitment. The face of a growing Church within a strongly secularized society. The Pope’s recent visit left a mark

“Whoever has met bishop Anders recognizes his extreme mildness and the simple yet profound spirituality that radiates from him. Anders Arborelius rarely utters a redundant word. Some time ago I had the great pleasure of being his guest at Götgatan. He was very generous and humble, more interested in listening than talking about himself.” The writer John Sjögren thus described Anders Arborelius, who will be made cardinal by Pope Francis in the Consistory of next June 28, in an article published by the daily “Svenska Dagblad”. Born in Switzerland in 1949, Anders Arborelius grew up in Lund, Sweden. He entered the Catholic Church in 1969. He joined the community of Discalced Carmelites in 1977. In 1998, after more than twenty years of monastic life, John Paul II appointed him bishop of Stockholm. He has a degree in modern languages (English, Spanish and German) obtained at the University of Lund. He studied theology and philosophy in Bruges and Rome. His Episcopal motto is “In Laudem Gloriae”, to the praise of his glory, because “all that I am and will be is an expression of the glory of the Triune God”, he wrote on the website of the Diocese of Stockholm. “In our  time we often forget that our first duty and our privilege is to honour and glorify God” and thus grow “bigger, freer, and happier. Helping people discover all of this is one of my greatest wishes.”

Your Excellency, how are you? I am well! I am just a bit startled by all the news. But I received a lot of support and many prayers. Catholics in Sweden are very happy that the Holy Father has thought about them and about our small and humble Church.

Did you really know nothing about this appointment before Sunday? No, I did not. Surprisingly enough, being a bishop entails dialogue, but not the same occurs in cardinalship. It came as a surprise. On Sunday a priest read the news on the Internet. He showed me the video of when the Pope uttered my name and this appointment. Initially I couldn’t believe it. But when I learned that it corresponded to the truth I was astounded and I realised how small I was before such a demanding task, at the same time I was grateful to the Pope because with this decision he strengthened our local Church, along with those of Mali and Laos. The Holy Father has a special preference for peripheries also inside the Church.

How will it change your life as a bishop? 
I really don’t know exactly. Life here in Sweden will remain the same. My work remains the same. Perhaps we will receive greater public attention because now there is a Cardinal. Naturally, the journeys to Rome will increase, but I still don’t know to what extent I will be involved.

The cardinals of Pope Francis tell the story of a particular Church. Yours is a small, yet multicultural community. Which sign does it bring to the universal Church? Sweden is the most secularized Country in Europe. But it’s also a Country where the Church is growing thanks to immigration and conversions. It’s possible to be a Church in a minority situation, to proclaim the Gospel and help the faithful grow in sainthood also in an environment such as ours, which nonetheless is marked by great openness and interest for spiritual life. So maybe we can be a sign of hope for other Churches that witness the growth of secularisation.

This is also an ecumenical recognition… I believe that during last year’s visit the Pope saw the harmony among Christian Churches and with non-Christian religions here. For example, the Ecumenical Council includes the presence of Churches from all traditions: from the Pentecostal Church to the ancient Assyrian Church. We are committed to working and living together. Naturally there are many differences, but we have identified a path to proceed together on many aspects

Your Eminence, your personal story includes a conversion. How did it come about? I was baptised and raised within the Lutheran Church, but I was never very active. I had many contacts with the Catholic Church since I was a child, to which I felt attracted in every way, thus the passage was not that radical.

Were Lutheran faithful happy about your appointment? 
I received many messages of congratulations from the archbishop, and from the bishops and pastors of various Churches. They all see it as an honour for Sweden. The Swedish people are somewhat nationalistic, so when one of their citizens is given a recognition they all feel honoured.

Among other things, I am planning a trip to Rome on June 14 with Lutheran Archbishop Antje Jakelen to present the Pope with an icon of Saint Francis as a sign of gratitude for his visit to Lund.

You are also the first-ever Cardinal from a Nordic Country…
That’s true! These Countries never had a Cardinal throughout the course of history, not even in the Middle Ages. The fact that Northern Europe, that is scarcely known in the Catholic world, now has a special presence within the universal Church, is an important event.

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