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
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.
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,
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
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
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
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?