The Bonifatiuswerk of German Catholics opens a new church on 5. November in Erfurt its nationwide diaspora campaign. In an interview, the Bishop of Oslo, Bernt Eidsvig, describes the situation of the Catholic Church in Norway.
Bonifatiuswerk: How is the Catholic Church in Norway developing at the moment??
Bishop Bernt Eidsvig: The large immigration has decreased. However, there are very many immigrants of Catholics from Poland, Lithuania and recently also from Croatia. However, the situation has become a bit more stable. Compared to the rest of Europe, our church is still growing very fast. To cope with such growth requires a lot.
Bonifatiuswerk: How many Catholics currently live in Norway and how many priests are available to you for pastoral care?
Eidsvig: About 160.000 Catholics currently live in Norway, making up about 3.4 percent of the population. In pastoral care – including the priests in the monasteries – there are 100 priests on duty. Proportionally, this is a very good number of priests. I think if you had such an average in Germany, you would be very satisfied. The great challenge we face is language diversity. In larger parishes, Masses are already celebrated on Sundays in four to seven languages. We can’t serve all languages, though. Another challenge is the huge parishes in terms of area. A parish priest can have up to seven outposts. In order to celebrate the service in these parishes, the pastors have to travel distances of up to 500 kilometers.
Bonifatiuswerk: What other special features distinguish the Catholic Church in Norway??
Eidsvig: Our church is a migrant church, not a Norwegian church. Only 15 percent of our faithful are born in Norway. In a way, this makes our church very exciting and alive. For us, every Sunday is like Pentecost in Jerusalem. However, it is a great challenge for pastors and pastoral workers to serve such a heterogeneous group.
Bonifatiuswerk: Where do you see the biggest challenge?
Eidsvig: In my opinion, we are confronted with the same challenge and at the same time with the same question all over Europe. How can we reach children and young people and integrate them into our faith community. We have to find new ways in youth work and project work as well as in catechesis in order to address the children and young people with a contemporary language.
Bonifatiuswerk: The new Episcopal Church – one of Norway’s great lighthouse projects – was consecrated in Trondheim. What projects to focus on next now?
Eidsvig: Especially in the southeast of Oslo we need another church. There are a lot of Catholics living there and more are constantly coming in. The way from there to the center to the next church is very long. We have to do something urgently, because about five to seven thousand believers do not have their own parish church. We have not yet found a way to realize such a church, because the building projects in Oslo are frighteningly expensive and cannot be financed by us alone.
Bonifatiuswerk: About four years ago you developed a new pastoral plan for the diocese of Oslo. What goals do you set for yourself and where should the development of the diocese go?
Eidsvig: Pastoral plan focuses on children’s and youth ministry, catechesis and expanding language Mass offerings. Another goal is to further expand pastoral care services. For many of our Catholics from Eastern European countries, the opportunity for confession is very important. It is precisely at this point that we need to expand our pastoral activities.
Bonifatiuswerk: What would you wish for the development of the Catholic Church in Norway??
Eidsvig: Our church has always been a very heterogeneous church. It is growing steadily, but a necessary growing together needs more time. My hope is: we must all now see what we have in common, what we can do together, what we can understand together and also carry out together. As already mentioned, this is very difficult due to the many different languages. We do not have a single language. We find the greatest common ground among Catholics who come from Poland. They make up about 51 percent of our Catholics. This group in particular needs a lot of self-reliance. You cannot integrate a minority into a majority, or vice versa, a majority into a minority.
Bonifatiuswerk: Since 1974, the Bonifatiuswerk has been supporting the faithful in northern Europe. Why is the Catholic Church in Norway dependent on support from Germany??
Eidsvig: There are many reasons. On the one hand, support from the state is very low. We do not have a tax system like the one in Germany. Many of the Catholics, especially from Eastern European countries, have very low incomes. They cannot support the church financially. And our society has not yet internalized that we all, as believers, must share the church. We work hard to stand on our own two feet. And I hope the day will come when I can say, now we can do it ourselves. But the day is unfortunately not yet here.
The interview was conducted by Patrick Kleibold.