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Cardinal Anders Arborelius, bishop of Stockholm, Sweden, was created cardinal by Pope Francis at the consistory on June 28, 2017, and took possession of his titular church in Rome, St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs, on December 6.
On this occasion, the only Scandinavian cardinal granted an interview to I.MEDIA.
What was the impact of Pope Francis’ visit to Sweden in October-November 2016?
Cardinal Arborelius: It was a very important visit for everyone—especially for Catholics, who were encouraged, but also for other Christians, who are increasingly looking to Pope Francis as a symbol of Christian unity. In a certain way, they can identify with his message, with his person. This does not mean that they accept all the Catholic dogmatic aspects, but they regard the pontiff as the person who leads dialogue among all Christians.
Why do you think the only bishop of Sweden was chosen by Pope Francis to be a cardinal?
This is a sign that the Catholic Church is truly part of Sweden, after centuries of marginalization and persecution. People are becoming more used to seeing Catholics in society. Until now, Catholics were more in the cultural and intellectual sphere, and very little in the area of political or social organization. But now, it’s possible for a Catholic to reach these positions. The Swedish ambassador to Italy, for example, is Catholic.
It also means that Sweden and the other Nordic countries have become part of the Universal Church, and that our experience can be important to other parts of the world. At present, Scandinavia is the only region in Europe where the Catholic Church is really growing. In parts of Sweden, the Lutheran church praises us, and even sells us churches that we need to celebrate Mass!
What are the drivers of this growth in the number of Catholics?
There are two elements: immigration and conversions. About 80 percent of Catholics in Sweden are first- or second-generation immigrants. Formerly, Catholic immigrants who wanted to become truly Swedish left the Catholic Church because they were regarded as foreigners due to their faith. Nowadays, it is possible to unify these two aspects: to be Catholic and Swedish. As for conversions, they are not so numerous. Most are former Lutherans, including some ministers of the Lutheran church. Converts also come from other Christian denominations, and there are also atheists and Muslims. This is a group of very diverse people, but most of them are educated people.
Those who become Catholics really want to find the Truth, because relativism is very strong in Sweden. They no longer know what is true or what is not true, what is good and what is not good. The Catholic Church has kept its Tradition since the origins of Christianity, and that too is very important to many people. The universal and timeless nature of the Church is very attractive.