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Cardinal Anders Arborelius is a history-maker: A convert to the Catholic faith and a Carmelite, he is the first Swede since the Protestant Reformation to become a bishop. In 2017, Arborelius also became the first Swedish national to be elevated to the College of Cardinals.

Cardinal Anders Arborelius talks with Bishop Karin Johannesson of the Church of Sweden. Credit: JD Flynn/Pillar Media.

Arborelius believes that Sweden is experiencing a “post-secular” era — that after a period of secularism, people are searching for spiritual depth, and that the Church can respond to that need.

The cardinal also has a keen interest in ecumenism — and has been long engaged in ecumenical dialogue with the Church of Sweden’s Bishop Karin Johannesson.

Johannesson was in 2019 appointed the Church of Sweden’s Bishop of Uppsala; she was before that a professor at Uppsala University, focused on philosophy of religion.

Johannesson is the author of the 2023 book, “Thérèse and Martin: Carmel and Reformation in a New Light,” which discusses the place of St. Thérèse of Lisieux in Lutheran-Catholic ecumenical dialogue. Cardinal Arborelius wrote the book’s foreword.

On Sunday, Arborelius and Johannesson sat down with The Pillar to talk about ecumenism, Swedish society, and the Church’s missionary mandate.

Cardinal Anders Arborelius. Credit: JD Flynn/Pillar Media.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

So what does St. Thérèse have to do with ecumenism?

Cardinal Arborelius:
Well, that is for Bishop Karin to answer — because she has really been a very important person in terms of bringing Thérèse to the ecumenical dialogue.

Bishop Karin Johannesson:
Well, I think she has a lot to do with ecumenical dialogue, because as a Lutheran, I have been reading the Carmelites since I was quite young, at least a teenager.

And does that make you unique among the Lutherans? 

Bishop Karin Johannesson:
I don't think I'm that unique, no, because I meet pastors in the Church of Sweden, and [monastic] sisters and so on, and they know Thérèse very well — and it's been said for quite a long time that St. Thérèse and Martin Luther had similarities. 

I wanted to explore those similarities, and so that’s part of the book that I wrote about Thérèse and Martin Luther.


We tend to think of Martin Luther in terms of his theological positions. St. Thérèse we tend to think of in terms of her pieties. 

Where do they intersect with each other?

Bishop Karin Johannesson:
I think that we sometimes read Martin Luther in the wrong way, or not as deeply as we should read him — because in fact, his theology is quite focused on pastoral care, and preaching, and on helping people who are very scared of God. People who think they can't find a loving God or a gracious God. 

So if you read him in that way, Thérèse and Martin will become better friends, I think. 

How does that fit into the work of ecumenism?

Bishop Karin Johannesson:
Well, Thérèse fits into ecumenism because she has important thoughts on grace. 

Thérèse says that “everything is a grace,” and, of course, Martin Luther’s view is “grace alone.” 

So I think they can be very good friends there.

I also think — and this is something I've been working on during the last year — I think that we Lutherans need to discover some kind of healthy asceticism, because today we make do with a lot of resources. Really, we have to stay little, to have this littleness. 

And I think that is a message for the whole church, and really for the whole world, in St. Thérèse. You don't have to become a very famous person, and you don't have to be perfect — You are loved by Christ.

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Of course, St. Thérèse understands her asceticism in terms of spiritual mortification — offering things up in union with Christ on the cross. Does that fit into Lutheran theology, or does that become the place of tension?

Bishop Karin Johannesson:
Yes, that's the place.

But I wrote my book in the mode of “receptive ecumenism,” which is a trend in ecumenism today.

Instead of focusing on dogmatic issues, we try to ask the question: “What can we learn in our tradition from another tradition? Can we come to an ecumenical dialogue with the questions and challenges that our own tradition is dealing with?”

And I think that we Lutherans are wrestling pastorally with questions about prayer. There are those in our tradition who say that you can’t do anything to come closer to God, because everything is grace alone — faith alone. 

But a lot of people today want to do something to grow closer to God.

There is a spiritual longing, and people come to the Church of Sweden and ask what they can do. They ask if we have spiritual training, or something similar. And we tend to say “No, that sort of thing is not part of our tradition.”

But that is the wrong way to do it. So I think we in the Church of Sweden can learn something from the Carmelite tradition for finding a grace-inspired asceticism.

Cardinal Arborelius, does that resonate with your experience as the bishop of Stockholm?

Cardinal Arborelius:
Well, I would say yes — this receptive ecumenism has become very important in our country, because we came to a point when we saw that if we only reflect upon the dogmatic differences, we really cannot go further.

As we try to find things that are similar, the dramatic differences are not so accentuated. When we try to see that there are needs and openings on both sides, many things can happen.

And that's — I think — typical in our part of the world. 

In Sweden, we live as believers in a very secular setting. We're all [seen as] a bit weird, strange people [in Swedish society].

That means that we have to stand together and show to the outside society that as believers, we are doing more than fighting between ourselves. 

People say that religion is all about conflict, and it never comes to an end. So it’s very important in our part of the world to show that while we cannot say everything in the same way, in many things we have a common voice. 

I would say that in our part of the world, spirituality and social questions are the two main themes important for ecumenism.

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What are the ends of ecumenism — the purpose of ecumenism — as you see it?

Cardinal Arborelius:
Well, we would say the classical goal is that we will come to full, visible unity. 

But of course, there are steps on the way. 

I think it's important to stress that we have come to a point where we can say that we have a friendly spiritual relationship. We can pray together, we can work together, we have respect for each other — respect for all of the differences. 

It’s also important to realize that we cannot condemn the other because they have other points of vision. So that's an important step. And if we are really at home there, I think it's possible to go further to discuss the more tricky questions.

Bishop Karin Johannesson:
I took part in an ecumenical dialogue in Sweden around 2017, and there we realized that when we say that the goal is full, visible unity, we don't mean exactly the same thing with that concept. 

So we can even begin by talking about what we see and understand as full, visible unity. That could certainly be one part of our work. 

But on a practical level, I think one thing that sets Sweden apart is that we have a lot of Catholics living all across Sweden, but they don't have parishes.

The Catholics don't have parishes everywhere, but the Church of Sweden does have parishes everywhere. So as a Lutheran bishop, I don't only meet with the Catholic bishop, I also meet the parishioners when they go to church in the Church of Sweden — because if there is not the Catholic Mass around they come to, the Church of Sweden. And if I visit a parish, they will come and they will say, “Hello, nice to see you.” 

And sometimes they will say that: “Oh, we have a bishop, we have our cardinal. But you can be kind-of a bishop for us too.” 

So there's a good grassroots to ecumenism when we meet in that way. 

You have talked about the way that the Church of Sweden receives from the Catholic Church, through St. Thérèse. This notion of ‘receptive ecumenism’ describes a reciprocity. 

So what does the Catholic Church in Sweden receive from the Church of Sweden?

Cardinal Arborelius:
Well, I would say the understanding that the Church is part of the nation, and can be part of the Swedish identity. 

That's very important, because most Catholics are immigrants. And when they come to Sweden in the beginning, they feel this is a society without God. They feel that God is not present here, that no one believes in God. 

For those immigrants, it's a kind of miracle to meet a Swede who believes in God — and all the more to see there is a church here, even if it's a very secular country. That can be a very hopeful experience. 

But the challenge is that not everyone will meet in Sweden, because Sweden has become a very segregated society. I speak with young Catholics who are brought up in Sweden, but all of their friends are either Catholics or Muslims, because they live in an area where there are very few others. 

For instance, in the metropolitan area of Stockholm, we have been able to buy three churches from the Lutheran church, because the Swedes move out and there are so many immigrants — in those neighborhoods are now the Muslims, the Catholics, the Orthodox, and others. So that's one of the biggest challenges that in many parts of Sweden, we don't meet each other. 

Of course, as Bishop Johannesson said, out in the countryside, people do. But in the big cities, there tends to be segregation. 

I heard from a person who said that Stockholm is regarded as the most segregated capital in Europe. I didn't believe it, at first. But now we have a very strong nationalistic party, and they want to use the Church of Sweden for their goals. So that's kind of a difficulty. And that's why it's so important to say that we can stand together on social issues, about migration, for instance. 

Sweden has changed its policy of migration, and today we will have great difficulty bringing in priests from the third world. Of course, we have so many African, Asian and Latin American immigrants. 

So that's why it's so important that we have ecumenical counsel, Lutherans, Catholic Orthodox, and free churches — and on this question, we can speak with one voice about immigration. That's very important. 

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What are some of the other issues about which you are able to speak together? 

Cardinal Arborelius:
Climate. Also for the homeless, for the elderly.

On many of the social issues, it's more difficult — for instance, abortion. But on euthanasia, I think we can speak with one voice. 

We try to collaborate, of course, because it has more impact in Sweden if all the churches can say the same thing together. 

And sometimes we can also speak together with the Muslims and the Jews, because we have to add that there are also excellent interreligious relationships. And Bishop Johannesson is very active there now as well.

Cardinal Arborelius, you’ve talked about the growth of the immigrant population in Sweden and within the Church, and about the stratified segregation in Swedish society. 

Does that same kind of segregation exist in the Church itself, between ethnic Swedes and the immigrant Catholics — Poles and other people — who have come to Sweden?

What are the attitudes among Swedish Catholics about immigrants in the Church?

Cardinal Arborelius:
Swedish Catholics are very few. I mean, native Swedish Catholics — very few. 

So we always say that the native Swede has to integrate himself in the Catholic Church. 

For some it can be too difficult. We have every year about 100 converts of different backgrounds — And for some Swedes, it's very difficult to realize that they are in the minority in their own Church, in their own country. 

Of course, some see richness, because they see the worldwide global Church in every parish.

Our major groups are Polish, Croatians, Arab-speaking and Spanish-speaking. But more and more also African — so I've had confirmations at which all children were from Africa. 

So we could say that one of our main issues is just to bring everyone together. And in some parishes, it functions excellently. In some parishes, when we have discord, it's not about dogmatic issues, it's about when people can use the parish hall. 

That's the problem — that we don't have enough spaces, enough churches, and I have to add that we rely upon and use more than 100 Lutheran churches regularly for worship. 

For instance, now in Stockholm we have a big Polish mission, and they use one of the biggest Lutheran churches three times every Sunday. The Ukrainians now as well, and some Arab-speaking communities do the same. 

And for us, the main issue is to transmit faith to the next generation. The next generations [of immigrant families] tend to be less integrated in the Church. Many of them tend to be more Swedish than the Swedes. 

And then of course, to be Catholic, I often get asked if I’m a “real Swede.” It’s often thought that if you're Catholic, you must at least have a Polish grandmother. But unfortunately, I have no Polish grandmother! 

So really, our main challenge is to create a unity, and it has to happen in every parish. 

Of course, that's easier, for instance, in northern Sweden where there are not so many people, and everyone has to come to the same Mass. 

But in the big cities, Polish Masses tend to be more popular than Swedish Masses, and there are liturgies in Arabic and other languages. But now we have begun to get vocations from the second generation of immigrant families. So this year I will ordain a Carmelite of Filipino origin, who was born in Sweden. We also have a Croatian seminarian to be ordained, and then a typical Swedish Catholic — he has a Polish name, but he doesn't speak Polish, the family comes from Argentina. So we have many mixtures.

We also have many mixed marriages. And that is also an ecumenical challenge. And that can be very good, but it can also be difficult. For instance, we have many Filipino women that come to Sweden and marry Swedes. 

That can be very good, or some can be very badly treated. There are some with horrible stories in Sweden. Though some can be very lucky because they meet one of those shy and very decent Swedish men, who didn’t easily find a wife. 

And then of course, we have the problem of criminality, because in some suburbs of Stockholm, we have a terrible situation where so many young children and youth enter into criminality, even killing each other. And of course, they are in those neighborhoods either Muslim, Catholic, Orthodox. And that's the problem for the second generation of immigrants. 

Of course, some do very well in Sweden. Some get on, and some have a very difficult situation. They often have lost the roots of their parents' religion, the ethical dimension and so forth. And they're not accepted by society, and they tend to enter into the drug business. 

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I presume that leads to a kind of reflexive anti-Catholicism in broader Swedish culture, or at least it could.

Cardinal Arborelius:
Yes, of course, for the nationalistic party.

But we have a very good economic ecumenical cooperation in the prisons. That's very important. Sometimes I say that our prisons are the most religious part of our society.

As you talk about the need for unity — is there some common piety or devotion for Catholics in Sweden?

Cardinal Arborelius:
Well, we could say St. Bridget. She's also on the ecumenical level, actually. And I think it's important to say that in the Lutheran Church, there are also many people who venerate St. Bridget. 

There's also a Church of Sweden bishop who belongs to Focolare. And there are Lutheran Benedictines, and there are also members of the Third Order of St. Francis in the Lutheran Church.

Bishop Karin Johannesson:
And we share the challenge to bring faith to the next generation. That is the focus also for the Church of Sweden — We wrestle with this too. 

So in the future, I would like to do something together just asking: “What is it to be young and be a Christian?” 

We have to explore that more. This autumn we will go to a meeting with Taize brothers in Rome, and we will travel together from Sweden, and hopefully there will be people from different Christian traditions in the same bus — just to get to know each other.

I think this can really help young people, because they feel very strange in Sweden if they are believers. 

During Covid, I met two women. They were working in the emergency room, and they eventually realized that they were both Christian. 

One was Catholic, and I think one came from the [Protestant] free church, and they said that as they worked they were praying the people would survive. And then they realized that each of them was praying, so they decided to pray together. But in Sweden, you can't do that so that everybody knows.

So they went a bit into a corner and, finally they could pray together.

Beautiful. So it's stories like of that connecting people, that’s where we start.

And how do your churches pray together?

Cardinal Arborelius:
There are many retreats and ecumenical prayers of all kinds.

Bishop Karin Johannesson:
In Lund, there are young people praying together from the Catholic and Lutheran church, regularly.

Cardinal Arborelius:
Yes. In Lund, after the visit of the pope, the Catholic parish and the Lutheran cathedral parish organize vespers together. 

There are several of these initiatives. 

Then it's important also to stress that also other Christians are involved: free churches, the Orthodox. I think that's very typical of Sweden — The multilateral ecumenism is very broad. 

Among our main concerns as Catholics is to be more integrated into Swedish society. And one help is that we get Lutheran ministers who become Catholic. We have about 10 of these former Lutheran ministers, who are able to be ordained with a dispensation from the Holy See. 

Through them, the Church can bring a lot from the Lutheran heritage into our Catholic identity, through their way of serving the people.

Bishop Karin Johannesson:
And we have the same thing, sort of.

It's not the Catholic priests from Sweden, but priests who had left the Catholic Church somewhere in Africa, and then moved to Sweden, where they realized that perhaps they could become a priest, and pastor a parish in the Church of Sweden.

So it's quite a new experience for me, because they are members of the Church of Sweden, and they know a lot of theology, and they know all the liturgy and the pastoral care and everything. But in the Church of Sweden, it's very important that they speak Swedish, perfectly. Normally the problem that they have to learn Swedish to a very high level. And if they are refugees, there is also the problem that they don’t have all the paperwork, probably, from their ministry.

But I think in the future, this can be a richness in our diocese, and in other dioceses as well.

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Your Eminence, you have a unique vantage point from the Diocese of Stockholm. You talk about Sweden as a ‘post-secular’ culture — that is, that people are looking for spiritual realities. And you have very few Swedish Catholics, your diocese largely consists of immigrant Catholics. Your mission is really a mission ad gentes, in many ways.

And so, perhaps what is true now in Sweden portends the future in much more of Europe. So what do you see for the Church in Europe, from that vantage point?

Cardinal Arborelius:
Well, we see that, for instance, we have a lot of connections with Germany because we used to have many German priests, and my predecessor was German. And we still receive a lot of financial help from Germany. 

The Germans see that their situation has become very similar to ours — especially the big archdiocese of Berlin and Hamburg, where immigrants are much more active in the church than the native Germans. 

In fact, we can see that in most of the big cities of Europe, in many ways the Church is built up by new waves of immigrants.

You have not been shy about offering some reflections on the state of the Church in Germany. How has that been received?

Cardinal Arborelius:
Our bishops’ conference has written some letters, which find some points of difference.

Of course, some were very happy and some were not very happy — it’s always like that. 

But we see that in Germany, they have to step down from where they are.

After the second World War, there was no authority in any organization except the churches, and so both the Catholic and Protestant churches became very involved in affairs of state. Indeed, they took over so much social work, and they had so much cultural influence, they became very much part of society. But as the society is becoming more secularized, they too are becoming very secularized.

And I know in the Church of Sweden, they also speak of the interior secularization that if you are too much involved in society and culture, this can happen.

We've seen that in some Catholic places, for instance, French Canada, Belgium, Flanders, they have been very quickly secularized.

It's easier for a minority religion to remain faithful, where they already are a bit outside of society.

For us, there is a related problem. 

For instance, very few Catholics go into politics because all the political parties are in favor of abortion and they will not stand up for that. There is a temptation to remain in a kind of ghetto.

But being a prophetic minority is actually a vocation to be embraced.

And we see that in Germany, the [demographic] trends mean that the Church is to become a minority. And some are very interested in how they can survive in that way. 

The German bishops have said before they are always so surprised that there are so many young people in our churches — and yet we think they are few. But if we compare to Germany [they are many], there the Masses have mostly elderly people.

And of course for Germany, now is a very important moment. 

And I know that many German Catholics think they should accept to become smaller, have less influence, have less power in society — as we are — if they want to [survive]. 

All over Europe, it's the same challenge. And sometimes it's easier to survive as a Christian minority.

And I think for the Church of Sweden, it's the same.

Bishop Karin Johannesson:
We have a twinning agreement with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Poland, and that is a tiny little church. 

They are much smaller, and so they are very impressed by the Church of Sweden. But it's very interesting to have that kind of friendship because then you will get to know you are in the same tradition, but it's a very different situation. 

I spoke last year to a parish priest in Poland and he said, there are several Catholics coming here nowadays to our church to join our parish.

He said that many of them come because they want to be part of a church that is not close to the state, and they see that as part of our Lutheran identity. And yet, the Church of Sweden was a state church until recently, and in Sweden, there are people leaving the Church of Sweden for the Catholic Church for the very same reason — to be part of a church that is not close to the state. 

So it's very important, I think, to have an international outlook sometimes, in order to understand your own tradition. And those Polish Lutherans are a very small minority, but they reflect on how to be Lutherans when they are not that integrated into society, and we learn a lot from them. 

So I think also in the dialogue with the Catholic Church, we've been talking about their experience of being a minority church — how does that influence us and how we talk about each other, how we feel and what we experience in Swedish society. And that is helpful for us [amid declining membership] because we have always believed that we would have nearly 100% membership, or that was our goal somehow, and everything else would be strange. But now we have to think in another way.

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Can you talk more about the challenges of being a minority presence as an ecclesial community? There can be the temptation to develop a ‘fortress mentality,’ which is adversarial — thinking of the faith as ‘us vs. the world.’ 

Both of you seem to take up a different approach to living as a minority presence of Christ in the world.

Cardinal Arborelius:
I think for us as Catholics, it's a bit different in Sweden. 

We have always been a bit outside of society, but for us, the situation has become better and better in recent years. 

Since the year 2000, we are recognized as a religious body in Sweden. Before that the Church was a private foundation, but we can now get the help of the state with taxpayer fees

For us, this is a development and we can buy churches and wherever we open a church, people come. 

It's a time of development in a positive sense. Of course, we have the challenges, — [passing on the faith] to the next generation, living in a secular space, but still it's a more hopeful situation than before. 

For centuries, the Catholic Church was prohibited in Sweden, and even up the 1950s, some professions were not possible for Catholics. 

So for us, we must say it's a more hopeful situation. We have some difficulties, to be sure, but as a rule, we grow every year with a few thousands — even if maybe 1,000 people leave the church every year, 2,000 or 3,000 people are registered in our parishes. 

So there is growth, a new possibility to develop the Church’s mission.

Even with that growth, Swedish Catholics constitute only 2% of the country’s population, at most. So what is the spirituality which emerges in that context — when so few people in the nation hold the Catholic faith?

Cardinal Arborelius:
It would not be the case to say that in Sweden we have one common Catholic spirituality. 

People have brought to Sweden many traditions from home, but they’re in a new context. So if you’re a Polish Catholic, or a Croatian Catholic, or an Eastern Catholic, you have to adapt to a new situation. And some have their hearts back home, and that leaves the challenge of encouraging people to be present, to feel involved in the Church’s life in Sweden.

We have also spiritual movements, like the Neocatechumenate. So there are a lot of different spiritual outlooks.

But those who remain Catholic are usually very eager to do so. And for young people who grew up in Sweden as Catholics, the main thing is to encourage them to be involved in the Church. 

Bishop Karin Johannesson:
Before I became a bishop, I was at the university in Uppsala and for a decade at least, we were talking about what was happening with the young people that came to study to become pastors.

One thing we realized was that this ghetto mentality was quite dangerous for us, as Lutherans, because when they felt like they were not that accepted in society, they wanted to be like experts in things that society didn't ask about. They went into this ghetto mentality — And they would become very insular even in their studies, when the church needed them to be more like missionaries — because we have a message to the world. We want to proclaim Christ to the world.

We were talking earlier about ‘receptive ecumenism’ — and the two of you are engaged in ongoing theological conversation. Is there some cross-pollination between your theological traditions in your own conversations now?

Bishop Karin Johannesson:
Well, I have been thinking about this synod process. I think that the Catholic Church is highlighting the priesthood of all believers, as we would say in Lutheran language. 

And that I think would be an interesting connection to know if we understand this in the same way or what we can learn from each other. 

And I end my book by writing that I have written a book about what we as Lutherans can learn from the Carmelites But it would be great if some Carmelite or Catholic could write a book — “What can we learn from Lutherans?” 

Because I don't think it's my task or work as a Lutheran to tell the Catholic church what they need, but I am interested in knowing what you, the Catholics, would like to know more about in Luther. 

Last week I was talking to some Lutherans in Sweden back home, and I suggested that we Lutherans tend to tell everyone to read Luther like we do — but the Carmelites don’t tell me to read the Carmelites just as they do — so we Lutherans have to be more open to how others would read Luther, without saying the way he should be read — and sometimes we tend to do that.

And I have met some Catholics who know a lot about Luther, and yet they say, “Oh, I don't know that much,” because they are afraid that I will criticize them. But that's the wrong attitude I think from the Lutheran side.

Cardinal Arborelius:
Yes. I have to say, well, I don’t know that much about Luther! And I never studied Luther.

But I would say there is one thing that could be very important — that when we speak about grace, Catholics sometimes have a tendency to give more stress to the human work — what we do in the Church — rather than to God. 

It can be a temptation that for us, the Church is so important — I remember a convert telling me that she had gone to confession, and said: “I confessed that I have loved the Church more than God.” 

Of course that's an extreme example. But that could be especially a temptation for converts, when we have discovered the Church and we are so much in love with the Church.

But I think Luther could be helpful to us just as a reminder to remember that God is sovereign, and that he is doing everything. 


Pope Francis seems to diagnose a contemporary problem among Catholics which he keeps calling neo-pelagianism — It sounds that you’re saying Luther’s emphasis on grace might provide a sort of corrective there?

Cardinal Arborelius:
So I think it would be very interesting, as Bishop Karin said, if we could find some Catholic scholars who could give all their life to study Luther, because it's really quite rich to explore that. 

For instance, we have also been discussing very much the Mariology of Luther because some state that he is in favor of the Immaculate Conception and the semper virgo.

 And that would be very interesting to understand if it's true. That would be very interesting.

Bishop Karin Johannesson:
I used to go to the Luther Congress, it's a worldwide congress held every fourth year. 

And once in Helsinki there were two men standing a bit out of the crowd, looking very friendly. So I went over to chat with them, and they turned out to be the two Catholics at the Luther Congress. So there are Catholic scholars, and normally they are focused on the history of the Reformation — So they are studying Luther’s 95 Theses, and how the break entered into the Church. 

Your Eminence, as the Church prepares for the October synod on synodality, what do you hope will be the contribution of Sweden to that effort? Or the contribution of the Nordic dioceses which make up your episcopal conference?

Cardinal Arborelius:
It's interesting to see the results of the synodal process in our Nordic dioceses. 

One of the issues that was very clear was that we have to promote unity more on all levels. 

And I think that's a very important issue to see, that there is also an obligation to work for unity within the church, among other Christians — but also in our societies, which tend to be more and more and more polarized. And I think it's not something specific to our Swedish situation, but all over the world we see that this polarization is very acute and can be very dangerous.

So that's a task for a Church which calls itself the one, holy catholic, and apostolic Church. So I think it could be very important to help the Church to work more intensely for unity on all levels. 

The other result of our synodal process was that we need more knowledge about the faith, because we see that in Sweden, many people come from traditional Catholic backgrounds, but they don't have so much knowledge about their faith. 

And then, of course, they tend to think either that everything is the same whether you're a Catholic or a Protestant, or they tend to think that everything else is of the devil — those are the two temptations when you don't have enough knowledge of the faith.

And, of course, that implies also that the spiritual dimension is important also in parish work — to help people learn to pray, to come closer to God, to be more united to God. 

We see that it’s a very, very important issue in our parishes to help with personal spiritual direction. It's very important and sometimes it's lacking. 

So there are some issues that we could try to promote. 

What is the antidote to that polarization?

Cardinal Arborelius:
Well, I think it depends … but I'm always very critical when people say “I'm a traditional Catholic” and “I'm a liberal Catholic.” If I have said that, I have brought political definitions into my religion. And that can be very dangerous — it makes of the Church some kind of parliament with different parties. In the synodal process, for it to work, we have to look for what is foundational and in common. 

We also have to let go of our preferences, because that can be a very real temptation. 

I’ll take a silly example from our parishes. Some people here want to have this picture made by St. Faustina in every single church, for them that’s the most important thing, to have that. Some people want to have the old Mass everywhere, all of the time. 

It can be a temptation to think that my preference has to be universal, for everyone. But of course, that’s not catholic.

So there can be a tendency, therefore, to bring kind of a party system into religious faith. And that’s very dangerous, because it’s not truth.

Eminence, you sit on the Dicastery for Bishops at the Vatican. And in that work, and your own pastoral experience in Sweden, what do you see the Church really needing in her bishops today? 

Cardinal Arborelius:
Well, we need bishops who listen to the people. That's very important. And bishops who help people to come closer to Christ. 

I would say that when we speak about Thérèse, that is her gift — that she has helped so many people to grow into a personal relationship to Christ in the Church. 

Being in the heart of the Church means having a deep personal relationship to Christ, and a bishop should know that our parishes can help people to grow in their faith, hope and charity. 

And, of course, some people think you can do a lot as a bishop, but you cannot. You can do something to promote some values of importance within the Church, but you can not do everything. So as a bishop, you have to be very humble, and you have to know that you can not do everything. But what you can do, you have to do in order to promote faith, hope, and charity at all levels of the Church.

In the dicastery, if you get a dossier, you have to know that a bishop has the capacity to do that. 

Of course, I can’t speak about the work of the dicastery. But I think the bishops are aware that we can always do better, with consultation especially, in order to find good episcopal candidates. 

It's not so easy to find good candidates all over the world. But maybe it is a good idea to mix between the countries a bit — That's not terrible. 

If we got an African bishop in Stockholm now, it could be a very good thing. 

And Bishop Johannesson, as a fellow traveler, but not a Catholic, what does the Catholic Church need in her bishops? What observations could you offer?

Cardinal Arborelius:
That is a good question!

Bishop Karin Johannesson:
I would say that it's true that the Catholic Church needs bishops who listen to the people, but also those who listen to the Spirit. In that combination, you begin to see what is happening on a deeper level.

And then not to run away, not to run too fast, but not to be afraid — it’s finding a balance, I would say.

In the Lutheran church, we say often that bishops need to cooperate more. We think that a bishop is doing everything alone in the diocese, or maybe working together with others in the diocese, but we need to work together more globally.

I have often thought that an association for bishops of different traditions in Sweden would be very important, so that we could work together as Christians whenever it’s possible.

Working together is so very important — for bishops, and for all of us.

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