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Missionary news

News   -  10  ( 10.01.2005 )

In the Northern Countries
of Europe


Damaso Zuazua, ocd - Secretary for the Missions


Finland a country of Laplanders and long winters


Finland is called Suomi by the Finns, meaning northerly.  It is, after Iceland, the most northerly nation in Europe.  About one quarter of the territory is located north of the artic circle. For this reason the winters are long: six hours of daylight in the south, 52 days of darkness in the north.


But the Finns do not mind the wintry conditions. It is part of their culture, tradition, economy and industry. It is something they sing about, they love, use and develop.  All the territory of 337,032 square kms is affected by the cold weather: the 80,000 islands, 188,000 lakes, the waters which cover 10% of the land mass.


The 5,159,646 inhabitants know how to live throughout the long winters. A Finnish author described his people as “thoughtful, obstinate, introverted and peaceful”. I would add the word ‘musical’; these people love to sing, like the Basque people. There are three official languages.


In 1153 the King Erik IX and the Archbishop of Uppsala, St. Henry, began to evangelize this land. In 1527 King Gustav Vasa imposed Lutheranism on the people. Today the Lutheran Church makes up 85% of the Christian population. The Orthodox Christians are the second largest group. There are about 10,000 Roman Catholics. The country won independence from Russia in 1917 and since 1995 has been part of the European Union.


The most popular figure is that of Santa Claus. This legendary incarnation ‘lives’ in the north. Gustav Vasa founded Helsinki in 1550, whose present population is just over 546,000.


Carmelite Presence


The first Carmelites arrived in Scandinavia in 1410 when they founded the first priory in Landskron.  In 1462 they founded the Province of Denmark, which had 11 priories. The Province was suppressed with the Lutheran ascendancy in 1530 (Ambrosius a St. Teresa, Monasticon Carmelitanum I, Rome 1950, p. 293).


Let us talk about the more recent history.  Anastasia, the daughter of the General Carl Gustav Mannerheim (1867-1951), who is considered the father of Finland, was for a few years a Discalced Carmelite in a convent in England.  In the 1980’s the Finnish Lutheran scholar, Seppo Teinonen, translated many of Teresa’s works into Finnish. He then became a Roman Catholic. I had the privilege of meeting him here in Rome.


In the Carmel in Finland there are presently three important elements:


1. The Carmel in Espoo


Espoo is a city on the outskirts of Helsinki.  The origins of Carmel in this place go back to 1980.  The writer Luis Bouyer visited the Carmel of San Rafael, California, (USA).  He assured the community that the Bishop of Helsinki wanted a contemplative community for his diocese. Mgr. Paul Verschuren confirmed, personally, his aspirations in a letter.  In 1988 the first two Sisters arrived. The following year they moved into a large wooden house (many Scandinavian houses are built of wood) together with other sisters from Carmel by Sea. It was a very basic building with 10 rooms, located in the centre of a forest and beside a lake. In 1994-95 a chapel was built. 


Since the original foundation some of the sisters have died.  The present community consists of four American sisters and one Kenyan. They are hoping that another will come soon from Zomba Carmel, in Malawi, Africa.


Sitting in the chapel, with my head in my hands, I asked myself about the future of this Carmel, situated in a secularized and very Lutheran country, with few Roman Catholics, and only two native Priests and just one seminarian,…In the end, the answer came to me clearly in the prayer: “Your future will be in hope, to live in hope, your miracle will consist in hope…” This conviction was a certain one and surely it is the solution. Carmel in Finland has this function: to be a sure point of reference for inter-religious dialogue, in the intense search for spiritual values by the Lutheran Church, and by society.


2. The Secular Order


The Secular Order began with one member back in 1970 and two in 1992. It then began to grow. The present president followed a course on Carmelite Spirituality in Avila, Spain, and this proved to be helpful. The OCDS now publish a monthly newsletter and appear frequently in the pages of the diocesan newsletter.


The Carmelites from Sweden help the OCDS. First it was Fr. Anders, until he was made bishop of Stockholm, now another Carmelite visits them. In all there are 9 members, who meet on a monthly basis in Helsinki.


They are trying hard to get the OCD Friars to begin a presence in Finland. The local bishop is ready to offer the ecumenical centre, next to the Nuns, for this purpose.


The OCDS group in Helsinki is linked with a similar group in Tallinn, capital of Estonia. The two groups come together each year for their annual retreat. The group in Tallinn is composed of 6 young members; all of them had become Roman Catholics as adults. They began to meet in 1994. The local bishop is very keen to have them in his diocese and for them to promote Carmelite spirituality.


3. Ecumenical and Monastic Carmel


Inter-Religious dialogue in Finland is well established and secure.  The idea of an ecumenical Carmel was born, I believe, in Spain.  At least, there it was first known, where there are other ecumenical centers. A Finish Lutheran lady, Hannele Kivinen, who lives in Spain, transferred the concept to Finland.  She has given talks to groups of Finns visiting Spain about Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. She remains today a bridge between the Lutherans and Carmel in Spain.  This is how the first Ecumenical Carmel was born. Between committed members and many supporters there are as many as 100 participants.  Many in Finland support this venture and its content of Carmelite spirituality, including Priests, lecturers in theology, both male and female deacons.  It is a new beginning which holds much promise for the future.


The Ecumenical Carmel celebrated its first general assembly in Toledo in June 2005. Fr. Francis Brändle, of the Castile Province, was the spiritual guide. The group will continue its journey of discovery of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross.


But the hand of God seems to be indicating that the time has come to think about an Ecumenical Carmelite convent. The same lady, Hannele, is the driving force behind this. She has met with various Carmelites. She has translated the Spiritual Canticle into Finnish in 2005. She has good and direct contacts with leaders in the Lutheran Church in Finland. The Lutheran Bishop of Espoo is the President of the Monastic Carmelite Ecumenical Commission. He is very interested in the project with which he wants to animate his Lutheran faithful. He wants to know what the Order thinks about the idea, as “we do not want to create any conflict” he told me “on our ecumenical journey”.  “The convent should be built under your jurisdiction and you will be in charge…”  The Bishop was very pleased with my positive response. But admitted to me that he had a doubt: “What will be the reaction of the Order?” I replied: “It will be supportive of the idea, dear Bishop…Carmel can collaborate spiritually in your Lutheran-Carmelite foundation…”


We shall follow events with great interest. Hannele Kivinen has completed a course at the Carmelite Centre in Avila (ICTA), and has kept up her contacts with members of the Carmelite family.  She is thinking of spending some time in a Carmelite convent in Spain in order to know Carmel from within.


The Ecumenical Monastic Carmel, for the moment Lutheran, is it not a sign of the spiritual vitality that St. Teresa of Jesus infused into her Carmel?  Is it not a great service to the Church that Carmel should help to revitalize or deepen the biblical roots of the Lutheran Church?


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