Visiting the Salesians of St John Bosco in Stockholm

Fr Ireneusz Skubis and Lidia Dudkiewicz talk to Rev. Marian Chojnacki, SDB, the Rector of the Polish Catholic Mission in Stockholm.

Recently the new symbol of Stockholm has been the arena for indoor sports and events called Globen (Globe), a huge golf ball-shaped building for several thousand spectators. This is the biggest ball shaped building in the world. John Paul II celebrated Mass there during his visit to Scandinavia in 1989. ‘Globen’ was designed by Berg Architects. It is worth mentioning the names of Axelson and Borowski, the latter has become Warsaw’s chief architect.

Rev. Ireneusz Skubis, Lidia Dudkiewicz: – We are in the Polish Catholic Mission in Stockholm run by the Salesians of St John Bosco. They have had many experiences with evangelization work in this Scandinavian country. It was in 1930 that the first Salesian priest Herman Burczyk arrived in the Kingdom of Sweden and began his priestly ministry. The Salesians who are now working in the Polish Catholic Mission have already got to know this place and the Swedish language. Would you introduce the inhabitants of this house, members of the small Salesian house in Stockholm?

Rev. Marian Chojnacki, SDB: – Besides me, in our Salesian house in Stockholm there live Rev. Dr. Mariusz Chamarczuk, director of the religious community and chaplain for Catholic youth in Sweden; Rev. Wlodzimierz Kruczkowski, administrator of the house, educator in St John Bosco’s oratory ‘Quo vadis’, teacher of religion and organist; Rev. Zdzislaw Lepper, director of the oratory, taking care of the Association of Polish Catholic Youth in Stockholm; Rev. Ryszard Flakiewicz, manager of catechisation, educator in the oratory, Rev. Bogdan Wegnerowski, retired priest who was the rector of the Polish Catholic Mission for seven years, and at present, regardless of his old age, eagerly visits the sick, celebrates Masses for them, hears confession and ministers the sacrament of the sick. He also provides spiritual support for marriages and families.

– When and with what thoughts did you come to Sweden?

– For the first time I came here in July 1988, but on 16 December I got aboard the plane and simply ran away. Only two years later I returned here and have stayed here for good. I have lived here for 17 years and I have been rector for ten years.

– Were there any Polish pastoral structures when you arrived in Sweden?

– Yes, there were. Fr Pawel Banot was the rector of the Polish Catholic Mission and I was to help him. The structures of Polish pastoral ministry had existed before but it was Fr Jan Buczkowski, SDB, who dynamicised it, hiring the neo-Gothic Protestant Church of St John the Evangelist in the centre of Stockholm in 1978.

– Please tell us about the Polish Catholic Mission. Which part of Stockholm do you live? Where do you celebrate Masses? What does the pastoral life look like?

– We are in southern Stockholm, at the Catholic Cathedral of St Eric, the parish priest of which is the Polish priest Marian Jancarz from Krakow, the brother of the heroic chaplain of ‘Solidarity’ in Krakow-Nowa Huta. There was another Polish priest, Rev. Grzegorz Janski from the Diocese of Opole. Every Sunday we celebrate Polish Mass in the cathedral at 5 p.m. The diocesan bishop lives here as well. For the first time in the history of the Catholic Church in Sweden we have a Swedish Carmelite friar, Bishop Anders Arborelius. The Catholic Church in Sweden was only legalised in the year 2000 and this fact explains a lot. Earlier the Catholic Church, treated in a marginal way, did not even have the same rights as the sects. It is also worth knowing that the Vicarius of the Diocese is Fr Miroslaw Dudek, a son of the Polish post-war immigrants, prisoners of some German concentration camp. Although we live in the neighbourhood we do not conduct any pastoral ministry in the Stockholm cathedral. We celebrate Masses in one of the most beautiful Protestant churches – the Church of St John the Evangelist. It is a Protestant church, located in the city centre, so it is very convenient for people. Every Sunday we celebrate Mass at 9, 10:30 and 12 a.m. and on Fridays at 6 p.m. There is a ‘Polish nave’ in the church; it has its own altarpiece, which we put for each Mass. A copy of Our Lady of Jasna Gora is in the altarpiece and recently, the sub-prior of Jasna Gora and Rev. Colonel Jan Golonka, the custodian of votive art collection at Jasna Gora, put special robes on the icon. This is a special sign of unity with Poland. We celebrate daily Mass in the neighbouring chapel – at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Twice a year, in Lent and Advent, we have one-week retreats given by priests invited from Poland. These are meetings for Poles and Polish immigrants from central and northern Sweden. In order to give more time for those who come from distant places we extend the retreats so that they embrace both Sundays.

– What are the other forms of meetings with Polish people? Can we talk about an organised form of pastoral ministry for various age groups, i.e. for adults, youth and children?

– We catechise 600-700 children and young people at school, which we hire twice a month, on Saturday. 17 teachers of religious instruction are involved in catechisation (priests, nuns and laymen). Besides, we run a Salesian oratory, which is open every day, and on Saturdays we offer pre- and post-confirmation lessons for young people. There is also a marriage preparation course but we rather do not administer the sacrament of matrimony here since the couples go to Poland for weddings. The oratory is a meeting place for children and young people of different nationalities, mainly from the district of Södermalm in southern Stockholm and from the vicinity. Various Catholic associations and organisations as well as Polish immigrants’ communities have their meetings there, too. Our house has a place for prayer, a meeting room, a sports hall and computer room. There is also the Divine Mercy Chapel, belonging to the Polish Catholic Mission in Stockholm. We conduct regular sacramental ministry, especially at Christmas we visit our believers’ houses. Our priests visit those who invite them. Moreover, once a month we visit the Polish people living in Skärholmen, Jakobsberg (30 km), Uppsala (70 km), Eskilstuna (120 km), Linköping (280 km), Norrköping (180 km) and Gävle (200 km).

– Polish people are pilgrims. Can you notice that in your pastoral ministry?

– Our pilgrimage ministry, which draws many believers and gives them opportunities to have deep religious experiences, is functioning well. Fr Ryszard Flakiewicz organises trips for old people. Recently they have followed the path of the Holy Father John Paul II in Poland. Even our friend, the pastor of the church we hire for our services, and his wife joined that group. Other Swedes also join our groups. Catholic camps for children, organised in Poland, are very popular with people. Fr Zdzislaw Lepper takes young people, who have received the sacrament of confirmation, to Lourdes. Currently, we are organising a trip to Vilnius, to Our Lady of Ostra Brama. Fr Ryszard Flakiewicz is organising a summer trip to Italy for altar boys so that they can see the places connected with Saint John Bosco. We also have ministry for scouts. Fr Wlodzimierz Kruczkowski serves as the chaplain for scouts belonging to the Independent Polish Scout Troop ‘Forest School’ – Kaszuby, which was created in 1991 and goes to camps with them. Now our Superior Fr Mariusz Chamarczuk is organizing a youth group for the World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008. This is the largest group from Sweden, which has been registered for the Youth Day.

– Can you give some statistics concerning the ministry of Polish Salesians in Stockholm?

– Every Sunday there are about 2,500-3,000 people attending services, and about 30 people attend Mass (the morning Mass and the evening Mass) daily. Some of them are tourists and some work here illegally, without residence permit. They often come to us, asking to help them find some accommodation or job. Unfortunately, we cannot accommodate them in our house since we live in the building that is owned by the cathedral parish of the Stockholm Diocese. The building hosts our office and archives of the Polish Catholic Mission in Stockholm as well as the Salesian Pastoral Documentation Centre in Sweden. Each priest lives in a small room: 3 x 3 m, or even 2 x 1.5 m. One of us had to hang his bed so that he could put a desk. However, these are unimportant matters since we have come here to help others and conduct pastoral ministry and not to seek comfort. This year we catechise about 650 children, ca. 100 young people and ca. 60 people participate in the marriage preparation course.

– We had the opportunity to visit the main place where Polish people gather on Sundays in Stockholm, i.e. the above-mentioned Protestant Church of St John the Evangelist in Stockholm that is hired to the Catholic congregation. We noticed a very important trace of the dramatic history of our fellow citizens during World War II. There is a monument to the Katyn Victims, situated at this church, in the cemetery, which one can easily notice...

– The monument was erected here, in the centre of Stockholm, in 2001. About 1,000 Polish people and many guests, including the representatives of diplomatic services and Polish immigrants’ associations, attended the dedication ceremony. It was Rev. Monsignor Zdzislaw Peszkowski, chaplain of the Katyn Victims’ Family and the Association of Polish Scouts in Exile, that blessed the monument. At first, from 1975 the monument to the Katyn Victims was in the district of Östermalm, near the headquarters of the Council of Polish Refugee Community. It was the first monument to the Katyn Victims in the world. The present monument, the gift of Poles in Sweden, is a modified version of the first one, with a new epitaph in Polish and Swedish. Numerous Polish people come here to reflect on the tragic lot of our nation. Every year, on the Katyn Victims’ Sunday we go in a solemn procession, carrying banners, to the monument to put flowers and light candles. On the last Saturday of October Polish people also gather in the Catholic part of the cemetery Haga Norra where Mass for all the dead is celebrated on the occasion of All Saints Day, and the Polish Ambassador to Sweden and the Consul General as well as representatives of various organizations lay wreaths at the memorial.

– Summing up our conversation please define the role of the Polish priests, especially the Salesians, who minister to the Polish community in Sweden, to those who have lived here for long and to those who stay here for short periods, which is connected with their jobs and studies at Swedish universities.

– Our role is obvious: reaching people and providing pastoral care we fulfil our mission and vocation, and regardless of the form of our activities, the most important thing is the religious aspect. Bishop Anders Arborelius, OCD, of Stockholm, expressing his support for the new initiatives of the Salesians in Stockholm, said that ‘this is a difficult city in which one can easily lost his morality and spirituality.’ So our Salesian methods of working with the youth in this big Scandinavian city have been welcomed and appreciated. Our new initiative is the oratory aiming at organizing a friendly environment for young people: those who study and work, those who are lost and those who courageously look to the future. They feel safe, surrounded by friends, in the oratory; they simply feel at home. According to St John Bosco the oratory was to connect the most important environments of young people, so it should be their home, school, parish and even a sports yard. This is the task of St John Bosco’s oratory ‘Quo vadis’, which has existed since 2003 and where we conduct pastoral and educational work. It turned out that the Salesian oratory functions well here in spite of the much multi-cultural environment.

–...What’s more – one can feel this family atmosphere at the threshold of your house in Sweden. Certainly, this is also very important to the priests who want to work effectively and help others live in a beautiful way in this difficult city where one can easily get lost. May God bless your work!

"Niedziela" 1/2008

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