Ancient Catholic Heritage Reborn
Europe’s Fastest Growing Churches Are in Scandinavia
Scandinavia might not be the first place you think of when you mention the Catholic Church. But the northern European countries have a long Catholic heritage, one that is documented in 100 years worth of publications that were recently donated to the Vatican Library by a New York-based association of Scandinavian Catholics.
Recent waves of immigration have augmented the Church population in Scandinavia.
The St. Ansgar’s Bulletin, the only English-language publication about the Catholic Church in Scandinavia, is ceasing publication after 100 years of circulation. It has been published by the St. Ansgar’s Scandinavian Catholic League in New York.
On May 28, Viggo Rambusch presented the century’s worth of bulletins and an archival CD of St. Ansgar’s publications to the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.
The bulletin was started in 1910 by Rambusch’s grandfather, Frode Rambusch. A Danish immigrant and convert, he and three friends founded St. Ansgar’s Scandinavian Catholic League at the request of New York’s archbishop at the time, Cardinal John Farley.
Frode Rambusch founded the Rambusch Decorating Co., of which his grandson, Viggo, is honorary chairman and senior project manager. The company has designed many churches and other public places.
Over the years, St. Ansgar’s Bulletin has brought readers the significant history of Scandinavian Catholicism, saints and personalities from the ninth century onward, such as writings on Norway’s patron saint, Olaf, and St. Bridget of Sweden, who had almost daily revelations from Our Lord and Our Lady.
Equally important, the bulletin has kept readers informed of developments in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland and the recent growth in the Catholic Church in those primarily Protestant, secularized countries.
“There was a rich Catholic tradition in Scandinavia from when Denmark converted until about 1540, when the king of Sweden wanted the wealth accumulated in monasteries and cathedrals,” explained Viggo Rambusch, who serves as the league’s treasurer.
Catholicism was banned, monasteries and cathedrals confiscated, and bishops martyred.
A turnaround began in 1850, when the practice of Catholicism was again permitted in Scandinavia. After the Second World War, the Vatican established dioceses in each country.
“Catholicism is on the rise again, which is different than in many other places (in Europe),” noted Rambusch, attributing the growth in Scandinavia primarily to immigration. He said in the southern part of Stockholm there are 20,000 Chaldean Catholics because many Iraqi refugees now reside in Sweden.
He said the Chaldeans are buying older churches and converting them for Catholic worship.
Other ethnic Catholic immigrants also account for the growth of the Church in Scandinavia, explained Rambusch. Many Vietnamese refugees live in Norway; 400 are in Norway’s Catholic cathedral parish alone. The Vietnamese now have one priest ordained there and several seminarians.
Filipinos began arriving years ago, as did many Poles. Rambusch pointed out that Copenhagen’s Bishop Czeslaw Kozon was born and educated in Denmark, but his mother’s family immigrated from Poland, and his father was a Polish refugee after World War II.
In 2009, there were 230,000 registered Catholics in Norway, about 5% of the population. Latest figures from 2008 show that of registered Catholics in Norway alone, 29,500 were born in Poland.
Sweden’s Catholics make up 2% of the population, yet the secularized country has one of the fastest-growing Catholic Churches in Europe. Here, too, Poles make up the largest group of Sweden’s approximately 200,000 Catholics. Nearly a third of the priests are from Poland.
The ninth-century spirit of St. Ansgar, patron of Scandinavia and its first Catholic missionary, seems rekindled. On his feast day celebrated Feb. 3, the St. Ansgar’s Scandinavian Catholic League holds its annual Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.
Although the Bulletin will no longer be published, the league will continue its work, sending all donations it receives to the Scandinavian Church.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.
St. Ansgar’s League, c/o Rambusch Company, 160 Cornelison Ave., Jersey City, NJ 07304.