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The Icelandic Church. Mons. Tencer (Reykjavík): “Although we live in a rich society, we receive little support by the State”

The diocese re-established by Paul VI in 1968 extends across the national territory of the island of Iceland, that is covered by the Bishops Conference of Scandinavian Countries. It is inhabited by approximately 14 thousand Catholics, representing 4% of the overall population (amounting to approximately 334 thousand). They were only 900 in 1960, until immigrants started arriving from Catholic Countries such as Poland, Philippines, Lithuania. There are six parish churches in addition to the Cristo Re Cathedral, and 15 priests

Msgr. David B. Tencer, Slovakian Capuchin friar, is the bishop of the diocese of Reykjavík. He came to Iceland in 2004 to serve as parish vicar in Stella Maris parish in Reykjavik. He was appointed parish priest in St. Thorlac parish in Reyðarfjörður. He received his bishop ordination in 2015. The diocese re-established by Paul VI in 1968 extends across the national territory  of the island of Iceland that is covered by the Bishops Conference of Scandinavian Countries. It is inhabited by approximately 14 thousand Catholics, representing 4% of the overall population (amounting to approximately 334 thousand). They were only 900 in 1960, until immigrants started arriving from Catholic Countries such as Poland, Philippines, Lithuania. There are six parish churches in addition to the Cristo Re Cathedral and 15 priests. There are also three male and four female religious congregations distributed across five convents. The small religious community is very active, ranging from Caritas to a theatre for children, from the pro-life movement to an organization that focuses on alcohol addiction, from the missionaries of charity to the Neocatechumenal, Charismatic and Focolarini groups. The goal for Msgr. Tencer is to show people that “faith is not a Sunday morning hobby but a way of life.”

What decision was taken with respect to the legislative proposal to outlaw male circumcision?

Actually no decision has been taken yet: the legislative proposal is still being debated. But thanks God many people took an interest in the issue, also from abroad, and so did you media representative with news reports. Thank you! We realised we were not alone and that it wasn’t only our own concern. The proposal was somewhat artificial, it was not on the government’s agenda. In my opinion the issue was exploited to address the broader theme of religious freedom and the relations between religions and national legislation. A part of the population believes that religious rules also have an influence on non-believers. In reality the opposite is true, as non-believers intend to influence the life of believers in illegitimate ways. I personally don’t consider it such a major issue.

How does the small Church of Iceland disseminate her voice in the public arena?

We’re not that small! The population is not very large but we represent 4%, the largest proportion in all Nordic countries.

We would rather avoid open confrontation, but when we feel touched by an issue we make it clear and we don’t live out our faith only behind church walls,

Religious faith is not a Sunday morning hobby. It’s a way of life.

In 2017 you conducted an online survey to gauge the situation in parishes and initiate a process leading up to the definition of a pastoral plan for the diocese. At which stage is it today?

We are finishing the material work, but we already see the signs of its thrust in our diocese. We received various proposals and the Catholic community, along with its overall context, has started to deepen its reflections. For example, the laity are starting to understand that the life of the Church involves them too and they took an interest in it. In this respect we promoted a meeting for youths on Palm Sunday that was attended by 100 young people. Last year only 40 participated and I think that the latest achievement is a result of that work. It’s a great difference in terms of numbers and personal involvement. Thanks to the project we now have two seminarians who are studying in Poland and who intend to carry out their service in our diocese! It’s another tangible pastoral fruit.

You came to Iceland as a missionary and now you serve as a bishop. Has it all changed?

The mission is part and parcel of every vocation inside the Church. To be a Christian means to be a missionary. Indeed, also the bishop must be a missionary and show his faith also externally. When we had the meeting with young people, the coordinator for catechesis Unnur Gunnarsdóttir proposed this activity. After the recitation of the Rosary we released into the skies a rosary crown made of inflated helium balloons. Some people called Unnur saying they had seen the crown of balloons in the sky over Greenland, 300kms away from us. This is the purpose of a missionary life: it’s not enough to invite people to come to Church to show them who we are, we also need to go out and show them our Christian life.

What are the needs in Iceland?

It is widely believed that in Iceland there are good living standards, it’s a well-organized Country, also with regard to the social system and assistance to the poor. However, it’s not enough. We must start planning our presence in more areas with more people. With this goal in mind

We are trying to support our vocations and the building of churches.

The Church is poor even if we live in a rich society because we receive little support from the State. However, our needs are not confined to material support. We also need prayer and people who wish to offer their life to the mission in Nordic countries, that are somewhat forgotten in terms of their need for faith and religion. I thank all those who are trying to help us!

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