View From Rome
03 November 2016
View from Sweden
Francis’ decision to commemorate the Reformation in Sweden was primarily about healing an old rift with the Lutherans. At the same time, his visit shone a light on the Swedish Catholic Church, a small but growing community which shares some historical similarities with its counterpart in Britain. This is because, like the UK, Sweden was a Catholic country up until the 1500s and became Protestant thanks to King Gustav Vasa who dissolved the country’s monasteries and became head of the Church of Sweden. Today, according to the country’s Act of Succession, the Swedish monarch must be a Lutheran.
Since 1873, Catholics have been able freely to practise their faith and the numbers are increasing steadily. Officially, the Church has 113,356 members, although it is believed there are up to 200,000 in the country, which has a population of 9 million. Each year, about 100 people are received into the Church. Numbers have been bolstered by immigration – particularly from the Middle East – and as a result 100 Lutheran churches are used by Catholics, and in some cases have been sold to them. While Swedes are nominally members of the Church of Sweden, attendance has been in steady decline since the 1970s.
Bishop Anders Arborelius, the first Catholic bishop of Swedish origin since the Reformation, told me that in one Lutheran church in Stockholm Polish Catholics have Mass celebrated three times on a Sunday while just south of the city his diocese is planning to build a new church for Chaldean Christians from Iraq and Syria.
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