“Joining forces against secularisation and materialism”

Some words from Bishop Arborelius of Stockholm in the Week for Christian Unity, from Tertio. Sweden is overwhelmingly Protestant which makes the Catholic experience of this Week rather different than in, say, Italy. Thoughts on ecumenism inside and outside the Church.

By Emmanuel Van Lierde

Half of the 163 priests in Sweden are members of a religious order, including the bishop of Stockholm, Anders Arborelius (1949). He entered the Carmelite order in 1971 and received his philosophical and theological education in Bruges. That is why he speaks Dutch and often likes to visit Belgium. Next Wednesday he will speak at a conference on ecumenism with his order in Ghent.

“Living a contemplative life as a bishop is a continuous challenge. But I see it as a great help and treasure in performing my duties. Through prayer we learn to trust in God, diminishing our earthly cares. And many Christians from other denominations are open to the Carmelite spirituality, which means that my being a Carmelite is a boon to ecumenism. It is striking that we have a large number of contemplative convents in this Lutheran country. The appeal of those convents is one of the strongest trump cards of our church,” the bishops says.

The dialogue with other Christian churches is evident to him. “When you are a Catholic in a  Lutheran country, you automatically enter into a relationship with Lutherans. Of course there are dogmatic differences and recently some ethical disputes were added to that. We have different opinions on homosexual relations and abortion, but that does not stop us from praying together, to enter into dialogue or share our lives.” In the past decades Arborelius saw how the Catholic Church was integrated better into Swedish society. “Unity is not just as assignment between the various Christian church communities. It is equally a task within churches. Most Catholics i Sweden come from abroad and so our first job lies in uniting all those nationalities. We can improve their integration, as a church, and they can in turn contribute to evangelising society.”

The greatest challenge for all religious groups is the increasing secularisation which especially hits the Lutheran church. “As Christians, we’d better join our forces, because Europe is rapidly falling for secularisation and materialism. We can’t allow the values of solidarity, frugality and adoration to be lost, although I am convinced that the person of Jesus Christ will always fascinate people. Faith will not disappear.”

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