Apostolate in Scandinavia by Father Brendan King

From the Newsletter of SSPX in Britian -April/May 2002 issue


There is so much bad news around these days concerning the political scene and the Church that good news when it does come is truly refreshing and encouraging. This article is about good news from a totally unexpected quarter. There are tangible signs that traditional Catholicism is taking serious root in Scandinavia, a region of Europe that we are not in the habit of associating with religious fervour and yet the Society of Saint Pius X has been drawn into what may well become a very fruitful area of apostolate.

Before going on to outline how the apostolate began and its subsequent development, a little background knowledge would be useful. Sweden, on the extremities of Northern Europe, was too remote to come into direct contact with Imperial Rome, though Tacitus (c 100AD) does mention a seafaring people in northern lands (probably Sweden). The Scandinavia peoples however, came into contact with Catholic Rome just before the year 1000AD when missionaries planted the faith from Germany and interestingly enough from England. By the 13th century Catholicism was well established in Sweden and the next century (14th) saw the birth of the great Swedish mystic Saint Bridget who personally founded many religious houses in her homeland as well as playing a key role in the return of the papacy from Avignon to Rome. Tragically Catholicism was swept away in the early 16th century with the reigning monarch Gustav Vasa turning to the Lutheran Faith more from political expediency and opportunism than religious conviction. There followed almost four centuries of spiritual desert for Sweden as the Catholic Faith was almost eradicated. Sweden experienced no Counter-Reformation as England did, the few priests who penetrated her closely guarded borders were either executed or exiled. Any Lutheran who converted to Catholicism faced execution or banishment. This state of affairs continued until the early 20th century when the laws were relaxed against the Church and new missionaries, notably German Jesuits, established themselves and began making converts. Up until Vatican II the Church made steady progress with parishes established in Stockholm, Gothenburg and most of the large and medium sized towns. Sweden is one very large diocese with Stockholm the Episcopal residence and an auxiliary Bishop resident in Gothenburg. Sweden is three to four times larger than the UK but with a much smaller population of 8.5 million. The native Swedish Catholic population is about 200,000 but this number has been increased by immigration to nearer 300,000 during the last 20 years.

At present Sweden is governed by a Socialist coalition which has been in power more or less for the past two generations. There is no recognised, serious Conservative movement in Sweden and the prevailing mentality amongst most Swedes today is socialist and liberal, “the state will provide” and “everybody is free to do what they like”, except criticise the system. The official Lutheran Church, until recently the State Church, is not taken very seriously by most Swedes. There seem to be clear indications now that the younger generation are turning away dissatisfied with the socialist and liberal ideas of their parents and searching for spiritual values which they realise were once Swedish values before the Reformation arrived.

It is just such a small group of young Swedes from Stockholm who initiated the society’s apostolate in Scandinavia. The beginning was in early 1998 when a young man from Stockholm by the name of Jonas De Geer (himself a recent convert) was visiting Paris and assisted at Mass in Saint Nicholas de Chardonet. Anyone familiar with that Church will appreciate that the young man was quite impressed by what he saw and on his return to Sweden contacted Bishop Fellay and told him he had some friends and they were interested in inviting the Society to Sweden. Bishop Fellay suggested that he write to Father Black as the group were good English speakers so there would be no language problem. This was done and Father Black visited Stockholm one weekend in March 1998 and said Mass in a private apartment for about 20 people, the majority of whom were male and under 25. I remember Father Black preparing a talk about the crisis in the Church, the New Mass, Vatican II etc. only to find when he got there that they knew all about it, so he spoke about something else and answered questions. These young people had really done their homework and were not satisfied with the watered down version of Catholicism being offered by the Conciliar Church.

The following month, April, saw four members of the group come to London for the Holy Week ceremonies. One of them was supposed to go to Rome and be baptised by the Pope for Easter but he chose instead to come to London and was baptised by Father Black at Saint Joseph and Padarn’s at the Easter Vigil! Father Black made a further visit to Stockholm in May for the feast of Saint Erik, king and martyr. He also baptised a baby girl, daughter of the young man who visited Saint Nicholas in Paris some time earlier. There was something of a lull during the summer before I made may first visit in October of 1998. Again there were about 20 people at the Sunday Mass many of whom were enrolled in the Brown Scapular and another baby was baptised. It was becoming clear that these young people were very serious about bringing the Traditional Mass to Sweden on a regular basis.

Looking back on the development of our mission in Sweden we can clearly see two periods. From the first visit in March 1998 until September of last year 2001 and from September up to the present. In that first period, the society only visited Stockholm with its 20-25 members, steadily consolidating the work with Holy Mass, confessions, several baptisms, talks and conferences, but the visits were irregular as and when the priests from London could come. There are however some visits that stand out, for example the first reception into the Church of a young man in Stockholm who is now incidentally preparing to enter the Seminary to try his vocation. That was in April 2000. Also that same month a young lady was received into the Church at Saint Saviours, Bristol who had come to England with three other Swedes to assist at the Holy Week ceremonies. That same young lady was married to a young male member of the group in July 2000 in a magnificent Church in Stockholm rented for the occasion. This wedding was a wonderful occasion with approximately 100 people present (the majority of whom were Protestant) at a sung Gregorian Mass in a splendid Gothic setting. This young couple had their first baby baptised in Stockholm last July. The previous month, June 2001, two adults had been received into the Church bringing the number of converts up to that time to five.

In the October of 2000 Father Schmidberger, First Assistant to Bishop Fellay, was invited to visit Stockholm. He offered Mass and gave a conference on the crisis in the Church and the society’s work and greatly encouraged the group to be apostolic and to undertake a crusade of prayer for the return of Scandinavia to the Catholic Faith. This visit of Father Schmidberger was very providential because our activities were being noted by the local Bishop who had made available the indult Mass once a month celebrated by a diocesan priest who was very hostile to us. Also, interestingly enough, but to nobody’s real surprise, Father Bisig of the Society of Saint Peter began to visit Sweden, establishing himself in the South of the country and visiting Stockholm occasionally.

There was a lull in the Mission during the winter of 2000-2001, with our next visit the following March and further visits in April, June and July. In August of 2001 we had our first ever Swede in the pilgrimage to Walsingham, Hakan Linstrom, the same one mentioned earlier who is on his way to the Seminary. The group in Stockholm had taken as their patroness Our Lady under the beautiful title “Spes Nostra” and they were in the habit of meeting together once a week to pray the Rosary and to encourage each other in the Faith and practice of their religion. This regular habit of meeting and prayer would nourish their souls as they eagerly awaited the return of the Mass and Sacraments. Little did they know, or anyone else for that matter, that their fervent prayers were to bring a sudden and unexpected development to the Mission in Sweden.

In September last year Father Schmidberger arranged a tour of the Baltic States, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, a region served during the previous year by another English missionary Father John Brucciani then based in Poland. Father Schmidberger decided to visit Scandinavia on his return, since as he put it, he was more or less in the area. Making use of the contacts he had already established, he arranged to visit, Lund in the South of Sweden, Gothenburg in the West and also a small group in Copenhagen. At first the group in Gothenburg were not interested as they had been served by the Society of Saint Peter and were quite satisfied with their ministry. Shortly afterwards, there was a sudden change of mind and Father Schmidberger was encouraged to come and say Mass for them in a Church that they rented especially for this visit. They assured him that they would look to the Society of Saint Pius X for their sacramental and spiritual needs for the future and would support the Society in its apostolate of converting Sweden to the Catholic Church. This grand tour of Southern Scandinavia began in Lund then on to Gothenburg and terminated in Stockholm.

When he visited England in early October (2001) he talked enthusiastically about his mission and was particularly pleased with the visits to Lund and Gothenburg. He recommended that I repeat his visit later that month though he added that he wasn’t insisting. I understood the diplomatic tone of his voice and decided I had better make arrangements as soon as possible. The trip was easy to arrange and because I had promised to visit a family in Northern Denmark (Aalborg) I added this place to my itinerary between Copenhagen and Gothenburg. This family deserved a visit because Mr & Mrs Wimberley had visited Stockholm for Mass earlier that year and were very interested in establishing Tradition in Denmark. So I followed in the illustrious footsteps of the Second in Command breaking out from the “beachhead” in Stockholm and saying Mass for a combined total of about 50 souls. The Danish groups in Copenhagen and Aalborg are very small with six or seven in each place but there is every hope that these numbers will increase. Lund, the University town in Southern Sweden numbers about fifteen with the majority of them, like in Stockholm, young and male. There are however, two young families who form the nucleus of this group. The group in Gothenburg is unique as it is much more representative of a typical Catholic parish with young and old and a good mix of men and women. This group numbers about 25 souls. The group in Stockholm now has a nucleus of between ten and fifteen as some have moved away because of work or study commitments. The former leader of the Stockholm group is at present in a priory in Germany waiting to enter Zaitzkofen Seminary in September.

These successful September and October visits were followed by further visits in November and December, but Denmark was not visited in November, whereas time permitted a visit to Copenhagen just after Christmas in addition to visiting the three Swedish centres. Apart from the obvious duties of celebrating Mass and hearing Confessions, a lot of time was spent preparing two young men for reception into the Church in October, November and December. They explained that they had undergone a kind of catechism course given by local Dominicans but found the instruction wanting and one in particular was left in no doubt that he would never be baptised so long as he had traditional/conservative tendencies and showed so much enthusiasm for the conversion of Lutherans and atheists to Catholicism. Here we see clearly the spirit of the Modern Church and the fruits of false ecumenism and religious indifferentism. These two men followed the orthodox and wonderfully clear exposition of the Catholic Faith in their Cafferata catechisms with no ordinary zeal. It was my great joy to receive these two young Swedes into the Church in Stockholm on the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul January 25th 2002.

Without a doubt, the climax of nearly five years of apostolic effort in Sweden was the visit of Bishop Tissier de Mallerais at the end of January 2002. I flew into Copenhagen on January 22nd and made the short journey across to Southern Sweden by train, a journey of less than one hour. I said Mass for a few members of the group that evening, stayed the night and then the following day took the train to Stockholm. The following day I received the two young men into the Church (as mentioned above) and in the evening met the Bishop at the airport and took him to an informal dinner reception in the fine apartment of the patriarch of the Stockholm group, a former member of the Swedish parliament and sometime Swedish ambassador to the Holy See. The next day, January 26th, we had the Confirmation of five young Swedes, three men and two women in a rented Church in Stockholm followed by a sung Gregorian Mass with a congregation of 27 people, the numbers augmented by friends and relatives of those being confirmed. Later that evening, in a Stockholm blizzard, the Bishop and I took the train for Gothenburg. Having spent the night with our hosts I said Mass early on the Sunday morning with Bishop Tissier offering a Sung Mass in the Church in Gothenburg for an appreciative congregation of twenty-eight persons. The Bishop gave an informal talk that evening to twelve people on the work of the Society and how our apostolate could be developed in Scandinavia.

The bishop returned to Econe where he is stationed at present, very pleased with what was quite a strenuous weekend for him but happy to have been the instrument of so many graces for the development of this new Traditional apostolate. Undoubtedly, this Episcopal visit closed the first chapter of the Society’s Scandinavian Mission and opened full of expectation and hope a new one.

The same morning I left Gothenburg by ferry accompanied by Mr Peter Wimberley of Aalborg, Denmark to spend a night with him and his family and offer Mass for them. Three and a half hours by boat and one by bus saw us reach Aalborg by mid-afternoon. The sea crossing is a distance of approximately 50 miles. My last visit to Aalborg was the previous October and Mr Wimberley had contacted several of his friends whom he knew to be sympathetic to tradition, inviting them to assist at the true Mass in his home. This “advertising” had come to the attention of the Bishop in Copenhagen who was alerted to the imminent arrival of a “rebel priest”, acted with unaccustomed vigour and speed by telephoning the local P.P. ordering him to find out who had been invited to this unauthorised Mass. Consequently those invited were spoken to by the priest and told they ought not to attend because the Bishop did not approve. This action was discouraging and gratifying at the same time because it meant on the one hand that only the family would be at Mass, as one by one the “invited” made their excuses in Gospel fashion and on the other what seemed to me (and my hosts) to be an informal and low key visit was clearly ruffling episcopal feathers in far away Copenhagen! We are taking all of this as a good omen, and the January visit bore this out.

The evening Mass on Monday, January 27th was attended by the five family members, one man from Southern Denmark and one lady who had been dissuaded from coming in October but had since burned her scruples and was overjoyed at finding again the traditional Latin Mass. Having said Mass in Aalborg the following morning I travelled on to Copenhagen to get the return flight to London, grateful to Our Lord and His Blessed Mother for another fruitful mission to Northern lands.

In February it was our Superior, Father Emily, who took the field, or rather the air and visited our growing Scandinavian flock. He was the first priest to try out a new schedule, flying to Copenhagen on Friday, February 22nd saying Masses in Lund on the Friday evening and Saturday midday and then going on to Gothenburg by train Saturday evening and saying Mass in there on Sunday afternoon. Stockholm had Mass on Monday evening and Tuesday morning. Our Stockholm group now seemed to have found the ideal location for Mass, the basement of an 18th century apartment block. This building is situated in Stockholm’s old town, Gamla Stan, which has retained its medieval character and charm with its narrow, winding cobbled streets. This basement was part of the Dominican Convent in Catholic times and has been renovated to serve as function rooms, but retains its medieval and ecclesiastical style. Our group can rent this basement at reasonable cost and its central location is ideal with the added attraction of its pre-reformation origin.

Just when Father Emily thought he was on his way home, Mr Wimberley of Aalborg, Denmark phoned him to ask him if he would extend his visit and say Mass in Aalborg that night. He explained that on his return home from the Gothenburg Mass, he met on the ferry a family from his local parish and told them about the traditional Mass. They were very interested and said they would like to come for the next one. Hence the phone call. Father Emily quickly made travel arrangements and offered Mass at the Wimberleys in Aalborg that evening. I mentioned that in February we had seven people at Mass in Aalborg but this time the number doubled to fourteen as the family mentioned above were true to their word and came to Mass. They appeared to be very moved by what they saw and are looking forward to our next visit.

At the time of writing I am planning to go to Denmark and Sweden for Holy week with the Sacred Triduum in Gothenburg preceded by visits to Stockholm, Lund, Copenhagen and Aalborg. May I recommend this mission to your fervent prayers. The Society is planning a pilgrimage to Sweden this coming July to encourage the development of the Faith not only in Sweden but throughout the whole of Scandinavia. We will visit Stockholm and Vadstena where Saint Bridget established many monasteries, seeking her intercession. Please support this pilgrimage either by coming or by your prayers and sacrifices.

Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us – St Bridget (Sweden), pray for us - St Knut (Denmark), pray for us - St Olaf (Norway), pray for us - St Henry (Finland), pray for us.

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