A pleasant meeting, criticism allowed – Scandinavian bishops on Ad Limina

The bishops of Scandinavia are wrapping up their ad limina visit to Rome these days. Tomorrow will be the last of their six-day program, which included an audience with Pope Francis on Thursday. It is the first time the entire conference met with Pope Francis to discuss the state of affairs in their countries.

The Nordic Bishops’ Conference is made up of the bishops of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland, and has six members: Bishop Czeslaw Kozon of Copenhagen, Bishop Anders Cardinal Arborelius of Stockholm, Bishop Bernt Eidsvig of Oslo and Trondheim, Bishop Berislav Grgic of Troms∅, Bishop David Tencer of Reykjavik and Bishop Teemu Sippo of Helsinki. This ad limina is the first time that they have a cardinal among them: Stockholm’s Cardinal Arborelius, and one of the daily Masses celebrated by the bishops took place in the cardinal’s title church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. In an interview with Domradio, Cardinal Arborelius commented:

“One could say that that is my home in Rome. As cardinal one is connected in a special way to Rome, to Peter, the Holy See. And that is why every cardinal has the privilege of a church of his own in Rome. I feel somehow at home here, which is a strange but beautiful experience.

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[In this church] they really try and bring the social teachings of the Church to life. People in need are helped here, and that is a prophetic message for the entire Church. We should be concerned more about those in need.”

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The bishops visited most of the dicasteries of the curia, starting with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (pictured above). Prefect Cardinal Robert Sarah encouraged them to use the liturgy as an instrument of evangelisation and to promote its appreciation. Archbishop Arthur Roche, the secretary, lauded the high standards of the translations of the liturgical texts into the various Scandinavian languages.

On Thursday the bishops met with Pope Francis for ninety minutes in an informal setting. Joining them was Bishop Peter Bürcher, emeritus bishop of Reykjavik. Cardinal Arborelius:

“[Pope Francis] was very personable and said, “You may speak very openly with me and even be critical. It is allowed to criticise the pope here, but not beyond the walls of this room. But he said so in jest. It was a very open and also pleasant conversation.”

Some of the topics discussed were the question of youth and how they may be integrated in the life of the Church, with an eye on the upcoming Synod of Bishops assembly on youth and vocation; but also the situation of migrants, which is especially noteworthy for the Church in Scandinavia, as she grows there thanks to immigrants. Pope Francis also asked about the celebration of the sacraments, vocations, ecumenism and the life of priests in Scandinavia. The bishops and the pope also looked back on the papal visit to Lund, which, the bishops said, left a great impression, among both Catholics and Lutherans.

Bishop Czeslaw Kozon of Copenhagen, and also president of the bishops’ conference, summarised a part of the audience with the pope in this video from Vatican News:

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^On the first day of their ad limina visit, the Nordic bishops celebrated Mass above the tomb of St. Peter, underneath St. Peter’s Basilica.

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From the tundra to the desert – Bishop Pétur retires

 It is no surprise, but for the small Church in Iceland a seismic event nonetheless as Bishop Peter (Pétur in Icelandic) Bürcher announces that he has offered his resignation to Pope Francis. At 70 he is still 5 years under the mandatory retirement age, but, as he himself puts it, the “glacial cold of the high North” badly affected his health, which was further compromised by pneumonia. He now follows the advice of doctors to exchange the barren cold of Iceland for the warmer climate of the Holy Land.

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Bishop Bürcher will remain in charge of the Diocese of Reykjavík until the Holy Father decides otherwise, but he will travel to Israel when the situation allows it. He will eventually take on duties for the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, in agreement with Patriarch Fouad Twal.

The Church in Iceland is a small but growing one, with promising developments for the future, including new monastic communities (something that the bishop has long worked for) and new churches.

To the faithful in his diocese, he writes:

“Already now I would like with all my heart to thank you in Iceland and everywhere. I offer you my deepest gratitude for your understanding and for your faithful cooperation in the proclamation of the Gospel, in the celebration of faith and the Sacraments as in the service of all our brothers and sisters. As one of my fellow-bishops said, I can also say: I am happy to be a bishop and I am often a happy bishop. I have been able to plant, another will water and another will be able to reap. Thanks to God for all.”

Bishop Pétur was born in Switzerland and auxiliary bishop of Lausanne, Genève et Fribourg from 1994 to 2007,and in that latter year he was appointed as the fourth bishop of Reykjavík.

The Diocese of Reykjavík was established as the Apostolic Prefecture of Islanda in 1923, split off from the Apostolic Vicariate of Denmark. In 1929 it became an Apostolic Vicariate and in 1968 a full Diocese. It has had one native bishop in the person of Johánnes Gunnarsson, who was Vicar Apostolic from 1942 to 1967. Other bishops have been from Germany, the Netherlands, the United States and, lastly, from Switzerland.