With the help of the Archdiocese of Cologne, a new church in Södertalje, 30 km south of Stockholm, for 5000-6000 Chaldean Catholics, who fled to Sweden from the conflict areas of the Middle East, was consecrated on 8 December. Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne flew to Södertalje for the consecration.
While the consecration was performed by the Catholic Bishop of Stockholm, Cardinal Anders Aborelius, the service was ecumenical, Cardinal Woelki told domradio.de. “The Chaldean Catholics, who are the largest Christian refugee group in Sweden, invited Armenian and Syrian Catholics but also Syrian Orthodox, Melkites and Maronites”, Woelki said. “We celebrated in the Latin rite but as Arabic was the mother tongue of most of the parish members, the liturgy was interwoven with their own, familiar hymns from Syria, Mosul or Baghdad”.
In 2000, 13,000 Christian families had lived in Baghdad and Mosul, he recalled. “Today there are only about 100 of them left,” he deplored. Refugees from the Middle East had been coming to Södertälje since 2003 and continued to come. More than 40 per cent the population of this southern Swedish town now came from the Middle East and there were now large Christian communities, the cardinal said. Most of the Christian refugees were convinced that, as Christians continued to be persecuted in the Middle East, they would not be able to return.
The Church in Sweden was committed to integrating refugees and offered language courses, advertised jobs and lent churches for immigrants to hold services in their own rites and languages.
As there was no religious instruction in Swedish state schools, priests and catechists gave religious instruction to young Catholics on Saturday mornings. Up to 500 young Catholics were receiving instruction in the Chaldean parish in Södertälje which now had a new church, Woelki said.
The archdiocese of Cologne contributed 500,000 euros (£440,000) towards the new church in Södertälje and the Cologne archdiocese’s master-builder, Martin Struck, provided the necessary architectural advice.
PICTURE: Cardinal Woelki ©PA