Swedish Theologian and Ecumenist Speaks About Papal Visit

“Catholics refer to the Protestant Reformation as the ‘Great Tragedy.’ There's a reason why we call it thus. Christ's body mustn't be torn asunder.”

(photo: Register Files)

On the occasion of Pope Francis' recent historic trip to Sweden, Jesuit Father Magnus Nyman, a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Stockholm, Sweden and Vice-Rector for the Newman Institute, Uppsala spoke to the Register about the implications of the Pope's Apostolic Visit.

Fr. Nyman had been professor of the History of Science and Ideas at Uppsala University prior to his association with the Newman Institute, the only Catholic University in Scandinavia. The Newman Institute was founded by the Jesuit community in Sweden in 2001. He is currently teaching Church History there. 

He has written a number of books and many articles about the Reformation in Scandinavia and the slow reintroduction of the Catholic Church in Sweden. Due to Enlightenment ideas of tolerance and freedom, in 1783 an Apostolic Vicariate was established in Stockholm. He recently edited a book together with Jesuit Father Fredrik Heiding called Doften av rykande vekar, which deals with the Reformation in Sweden and the rather violent reactions among ordinary people to the new doctrine of faith. One of the contributors to that anthology is Professor John W. O´Malley, SJ (with two chapters dealing with the European background and Catholic Reform agendas). Father Nyman is also parish priest for Saint Giles Parish, Enköping.

1. What do you hope will come as a result of the Popes’ visit?

That more people will realize that the separation in Scandinavia from the Catholic Church―due to the “political” Reformation through kings that wanted to expand their power and used Lutheran teaching to reach their goals in all the Nordic countries―is something negative and against the will of Christ. 

From 1617 onward, a Swedish subject who professed the Catholic faith earned the death penalty. It wasn't until 1860 when Swedish citizens were permitted, with many restrictions, to belong to the Catholic Church.

Today vibrant Catholic community in Sweden, approximately 2% of the population, both immigrants and Swedes together, try to make the Faith visible in a highly secularized society. Many of our parishes have people from around 100 different countries. We are truly "Catholic" in the universal sense. 

2. What do you think of this year's celebrations of the Lutheran anniversary?

We Catholics, together with many Lutherans, will not celebrate this disjuncture. Instead, we will commemorate a historical tragedy. In fact, Catholics refer to the Protestant Reformation as the "Great Tragedy." There's a reason why we call it thus. Christ's body mustn't be torn asunder. We are meant to heal the breach that exists between us and not celebrate it.

3. Do you feel there is a real sense of desire among Lutherans for full communion with the Church?

Among some minor groups it is, but they are very few and most of them have already been received into the Church. As to the larger percentage of average Lutherans, I don't think that it is true, but many of them are our good friends today and good friends of the Catholic Church as well.

4. What is your involvement in ecumenical dialogue in Sweden? In other parts of Europe/internationally?

I'm a member of a small academic group of Catholics and Lutherans who regularly meet to ascertain if there is further need for more official dialogue between the communities. Unfortunately, there's been no dialogue for many years after the Lutherans officially accepted same sex so-called marriages. The results of our talks are yet to materialize.

5. What is the impression of the Papal Visit in Sweden’s news media?

Pope Francis is warmly accepted and admired among the majority of Swedes. I would say, Swedes understand him to be a loving, humble person and an extremely important world leader and Swedes are very internationally-minded. Swedes associate His Holiness with his attempts at peacemaking, engaging societies and nations to help create a better world, protecting natural resources, the preferential option for the poor and many other aspects of his personality and his duties as Pope. Thus, he's mostly been painted in bright, vibrant colors, so far.

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