In this interview, Bo Theutenberg, a member of the Grand Magisterium and former Regent ad Interim of the Lieutenancy for Sweden and Denmark, talks about the new stage for the Order in these two countries where Catholics form an active minority.
What position does the Order of the Holy Sepulchre occupy in Sweden and Denmark where the Catholic Church is a tiny minority? How do the Knights and Dames carry forward their Christian mission to be leaven in the Scandinavian countries?
Catholics are a minority in the Nordic countries. In Sweden, out of a population of about 10 million inhabitants, there are only 150,000 registered Catholics. These countries have been Protestant since days of the Reformation, that is since 1527 when the king broke off all relations with the Catholic Church. Generally it can be said that Lutheranism prevailed until the twentieth century. The Religious Freedom Act was promulgated in 1951 and the Swedish National Church existed until 2000 when it was then equated to all other religious communities operating in the country.
Only two Catholic Orders of Chivalry are active in the Scandinavian countries – the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and the Order of Malta – which are often viewed with suspicion, curiosity and even criticism. We are therefore called to be very open about our activities, to explain and inform about the origins and purpose of the Order, as well as to present Catholicism clearly, inviting everyone, especially the press, to follow our initiatives.
As for the participation of Catholics in my period of regency of Lieutenancy I made a decision to reduce the contribution for membership for young people under the age of 35 years in order to foster their presence. There are many ways to encourage general interest in the Holy Land from the increased publicity of our activities. Even the ecclesiastical members of the Order can contribute through their witness in the daily life of the Diocese they belong to.
The Order of the Holy Sepulchre is united in Sweden and Denmark, beyond national borders. How was this beautiful experience of being Church born and what message might it convey to the whole Order?
In a region of the world in which religious issues are set aside, an excellent way to achieve our goals is to join forces with the Catholics of the neighboring countries, as has been done by Sweden and Denmark via the decree of last October 2016 by which the Lieutenancy for Sweden- Denmark was created. Due to the geographical shape of Sweden, for example, it is easier for Catholics residing in the southern part of the country to meet with the Bishop of Copenhagen (thirty minutes by train) than to go to Stockholm, Sweden’s capital, which is an hour by plane.
Currently in the new Lieutenancy, the Lieutenant is Swedish and the Grand Prior Danish. The basis of the Nordic Catholic cooperation is particularly supported by the presence of the Scandinavian Bishops’ Conference. When the Lieutenancy for Sweden was established in 2003, the idea was to bring together all the Nordic countries except Finland, especially for the strong language difference, and the integration of Sweden and Denmark moves in this direction.