Looking at Sweden

Fr Ireneusz Skubis and Lidia Dudkiewicz talk to Rev. Dr. Mariusz Chamarczuk, SDB, Superior of the Polish Salesian Community in Sweden.

Fr Ireneusz Skubis, Lidia Dudkiewicz: – You have been involved with the Polish community in Sweden since 1997. Within these ten years you could get to know the life in this interesting Scandinavian country. Would you be so kind as to show us the present situation of the Catholic Church in Sweden?

Fr Mariusz Chamarczuk, SDB: – The Catholic Church in Sweden has experienced a rapid growth since the war but it seems that she got a second wind in the year 2000, when the Church was granted equal rights as other religious congregations, and thanks to that she can freely, in the light of the law, i.e. completely legally, fulfil her mission. After the Swedish authorities had registered the Catholic Church the tax system for Catholics could be introduced. Because of that many problems were solved, namely maintenance and preservation of sacral buildings, financing pastoral activities and ensuring stable salaries for lay employees and the clergy. Besides, all formal matters, which had been half officially settled, could be dealt with in a legal way, in accordance with the Sweden law. And this is a very important achievement of the Catholic Church in Sweden, which functioned as a denominational foundation, but it did not have such position as e.g. the Jehovah’s Witnesses or religious sects as well as various Protestant Churches. In that hierarchy Catholics were one level lower than others. Currently, the Catholic Church in Sweden has one bishop, ca. 150 priests, 230 nuns; she is divided into 6 decanates and 42 parishes, where diocesan and religious priests from various countries minister to the faithful. The biggest Catholic community is in Stockholm and its vicinity (eight parishes): Göteborg, Malmö, Helsinborg, Jönköping, Västerls, Uppsala, Örebro, Linköping, Norrköping, Falun, and Gävle. Catholics of various nationalities gather in the churches located closest to the houses. Masses are celebrated in Swedish and other languages, depending on the immigrants. It is unofficially said that the Catholic Church in Sweden constitutes a great mosaic of about 70 nationalities. There are 150,000 believers (on 1 October 2007 there were 85,000 registered Catholics). Poles constitute one of the biggest cultural-national groups. Poles are involved in every Swedish parish. Parish councils, religious instruction in Swedish and English, various charities, work with the youth – one can find Poles in all these spheres. However, there are many fellow countrymen who look for Polish-speaking Catholic environment. They become involved in Polish pastoral centres, especially in Stockholm, Malmö and Göteborg, where there are the Polish Catholic Missions.

– It is estimated that after Poland’s accession to the European Union there are 40,000 Polish people in Sweden more than before. If there are so many newcomers there are certainly more problems they have taken with them. What is the situation of the young people who have come to Sweden? Have you been in touch with them?

– We can notice several groups of problems. We cannot give any statistics since they are inadequate and often contradictory. Some claim that you must multiply every official number by three but they exaggerate. I dare to state that ca. 3,000 Poles attend Polish Masses in our church. The newcomers include young people, talented people, e.g. students who want to earn enough to pay their fees. So they look for jobs to earn as much as they can within 2-3 months, working 14-16 hours a day. One can hardly see them since they only attend Sunday Masses and sometimes they come if they need something. For example, they ask to inform their families in Poland where they are and what is their situation. Some young people, working so many hours, make efforts to prepare for marriage. Some people come after their graduation and want to assimilate to the society as soon as possible, get to know the society and its language. They avoid contacting other fellow countrymen. They assume that it is better not to get involved in other people’s problems when they start settling down in this country. The most important thing for them is to make necessary contacts as soon as possible, to gain independence and stability. There is also a group of couples and young families who want to find a new, friendly and permanent living in Sweden. With the help of families or acquaintances who have lived in Sweden for a long time, they slowly assimilate in the Swedish community. They attend various courses; they learn the language. We must admit that they often have great chances to stay there for good. Many people have pulled themselves together in Sweden. If you have appropriate profession, ambition, strong will, want to work honestly and find an employer that gives you a legal job, you will quickly succeed. The Swedish people have a good opinion of Poles: they regard them as good, reliable and professional workers, who can complete work in a shorter time than a Swedish firm. Our fellow countrymen hurry to finish one job as they want to take up another and make a fortune in a short time. But this is temporary and cannot be a solution for all your life.

– So far we have got to know the situation of Poles living in Sweden, which is most important to us. But those who want to stay in Sweden for a longer time are interested what Swedes are like. It is true that it is a secularised nation?

– If I were to characterise the Swedish people in a few words, I would say that they are rational, have common sense, are well brought up, sociable, balanced, helpful, sensitive, creative and somewhat conventional, but certainly as a nation they are not religious. In my opinion, their high level of laicisation results from a well planned indoctrination of the modern secular state. For years Swedes have been brought up to treat all things related to religion as the sphere of fantasy, fairy-tale, non-professionalism, and being a religious person officially is something to be ashamed of. It is common to take up religious subjects only when there is none left and the party is bored and needs making fun of something. On the other hand, the subject called the study of religion is professionally taught in schools by experienced teachers. However, religion educates to religious syncretism and transmits dry information. It assumes that one need to get to know all religions to be able to find oneself in this blend of various religions. One of our pupils told us that her teacher of religion could present any historical figure in a marvellous way. When he spoke about Jesus all pupils in her grade wanted to be Christians. When he spoke about Islam all wanted to follow Muhammad and read the Koran. When he spoke about Hinduism they all want to be Hindu wise men, have the ability to levitate. The Swedish people are secularised in the sense that religion is not a reality that makes their lives worthier and more meaningful. They simple live differently – what counts is rationalism, economy, practice, the ability to adjust and to guarantee leisure time, the future, the space of freedom in which no one can interfere. However, I must add that the situation is different in big cities and different in towns and villages where people gather in Sunday services and where the parish activities of various Protestant communities are numerous. Among them are also deeply believing Christians who could be examples of how to follow Christ.

– Do people pray and how do they pray?

– Prayer in Swedes’ lives is rather occasional although such a generalisation harms those Swedes who have sincere faith and who do pray. They pray on the occasions of holidays, anniversaries, when they experience tragedies or need to solve serious problems... like many of us. You could see such people’s behaviour in the recent tsunami catastrophe in which many Swedes lost their lives in that fatal flooding. Suddenly the churches were packed, people looked for pastors. People prayed; sang psalms; organised mourning concerts. In churches and chapels people lit candles for those who died. That was the need of those days. When all things became normalised the sudden raptures were gone. But the tradition of regular prayer in various forms is still vivid in some schools, Christian movements and families, and the main form of prayer is reflection, meditation on the Word of God. However, these are unique situations, rather seldom, and unfortunately, because of the lack of healthy families, they do not influence the youngest family members, i.e. these spiritual experiences are not passed on to young people, children and grandchildren. You can simply notice the lack of mechanisms to transmit the values that characterise multigenerational families.

– And what is the attitude towards Islam?

– Islam – as the religion of immigrants coming mainly from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Egypt – is treated with great respect and fear. This results from political correctness that is applied everywhere and actually has become fashionable, being forced as a form of tolerance and integration with all people, including the followers of Islam. Our bishop has just spoken about an interesting phenomenon, which is occurring in Sweden nowadays. We can see that many women, who were very active in business, were independent, lived in their own comfortable world in which they could not find a place to have children, have converted to Islam. It turns out that some deep need to be submitted to someone made them choose Islam. They often take well-thought out decisions to be the third or fourth wives, wear headscarves, and being completed submitted to the new religion they have found what they missed. This is a shocking phenomenon, which many people find hard to understand.

– Our Readers would be interested in the life of Swedish families. What is the Swedish model of marriage and family...?

– The model of family does not differ much from the model that we can see in Western European societies, in the European Union, the so-called modern, post-modernistic countries. It is the model that adheres to the principle of having almost no mutual commitment, no responsibility and limitations. Marriages are unbelievably short; families are not very close although there are exceptions. The legal system warrants you to get married in several minutes, and to get divorced within a day, depending on the level of difficulties and the agreement between the parties. There is a modern law that protects the spouses against the negative consequences of divorce. The matter is settled in state offices. The parties receive documents, which they are to sign, and from that moment the relationship does not exist any longer. Therefore, marriage has been made the same as the so-called ‘free’ relationships. There are several forms of living in such relationships (regarded as fundamental social cells), for example living apart together – mutual visits (särboende). If someone needs a partner, wants to live with him/her for some time, wants to talk to him/her or has some other needs, he visits a boy-friend or girl-friend without any commitment. Another way of being together is living in one place (sammanboende). These people bring an appropriate application to the office and are registered as a relationship. This has immediate effect. People can but need not be together. If the situation changes they can break their relationship within one or two days. In such a relationship, regardless of its form, children function on the principle of agreement between parents: each takes up the responsibility he likes. It often happens that the mother lives in a different place than the father and children go from one to the other. Naturally, there are healthy marriages that do not accept this state of affairs. These are mainly married couples and families who build their relationships on the Decalogue.
Families usually have one or two children, three is too many. The system of financing children is such that a single mother can afford raising one or two children. She receives proper help from the state to provide for her children’s living until they are 15 or 16 years of age. Afterwards teenagers have the right to apply for loans for their studies, accommodation and because of that they can be on their own very quickly. They can pay off such leans even to the end of their lives. It often happens that they take other loans to pay off the first one. Young people leave their families very quickly and live by themselves, becoming completely independent from their parents but they fall into economic dependence on the state.

– We can see that taking into account the recent renewal of the Catholic Church Polish priests working in Sweden are not only very much needed to serve the Polish people, who come here for some time or for good, but also to serve other nationalities that have found their homes in this Scandinavian country as well as Swedes themselves. Therefore, we can certainly say that you are missionaries here.

"Niedziela" 50/2007

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl