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Catholic Church in Finnish History

Middle Ages

The Catholic Church has old and strong traditions in Finland. In addition to the Turku cathedral, numerous beautiful gray stone churches – such as the Church of the Holy Cross of Hattula and the Hollola Church – resemble today’s Finns from the flourishing of medieval Catholicism.

The last Catholic bishop before the reformation was Arvid Kurki (1464-1521), who was killed on his trip to Sweden. During the times that followed, Identifying yourself as a Catholic could have been a life threatening. On the other hand, many Catholic customs and habits lived among the people for decades, even hundreds of years. You can find traces of them even today.

New time

A 1799 Catholic church dedicated to St. Hyacintus was launched along the Waterfall Port of Vyborg. It was done by the Polish Dominican fathers who had come to the custody of Catholics belonging to the Russians who were placed here in Finland. Catholic soldiers also celebrated the Holy Mass in Helsinki, including a small wooden church erected in Suomenlinna.

When Finland became independent in 1917, the idea of ​​establishing Catholic churches in Finland as an independent church area was also born. Until that time, they had belonged to the Mohilev archaeological hippie, whose bishop’s seat was in St. Petersburg. The Church’s central government agreed to change, and in 1920 the Finnish Apostolic Papal Authority was established. Which make the new  Finnish Apostolic Papal Authority to be 98 years old in 2018.  It is fantastic that there are today about fifteen thousand Catholics registered in the Catholic Church in Finland. According to some estimates there are another 10 000 non-registered Catholics in our country or a total of some 25 000. We Catholics come from many countries and regions and speak some 30 different languages.

After the Lutheran reformation in the 1500’s the Catholic Church was banned in Sweden of which Finland was a part of until 1808/1809. There were at that time no Catholics in the country, no masses, no confessions, no sacraments and no education – ”Nada”.

In imperial Russia a small catholic community was established in 1709 in Viborg near Saint Petersburg called Saint Hyacintius. It was run by Dominican munks and priests and catered mainly for Polish soldiers serving in the imperial Russian military and for foreign catholic diplomats. In 1917 when Finland gained its independance from Russia the Catholic church in Viborg was governed by a bishop residing in Saint Petersburg. This soon changed due to the violent revolution in Russia and a bloody civil war in Finland. An Apostolic Vicar was appointed for Finland 1920. In 1929 a law was passed securing religious freedom in the country. A few years earlier in 1923 Finland got its first catholic bishop Michael Beckx. He belonged to the SCJ as have all catholic bishops in Finland after him. Finland had the status as a missionary diocese until 1977. The following bishops were Gulielmus Cobben (1934 – 1967), Paul Verschuren (1967 – 1998), Josef Wröbel (2000 – 2008) and Teemu Jyrki Juhani Sippo (2009 – ).

Today the Catholic Church in Finland has eight parishes covering the whole country. There are several religious and secular orders as well as some 16 associations. For more detailed information you are recomended to visit KATOLINEN.FI.

The diocese is a multicultural, multilingual and very international entity. One can divide the development of the church in Finland into phases. The first phase was from 1709 until 1929 when religious freedom was introduced by the state. This was a period of slow development when the church mainly catered for a small number of foreigners, mainly poles and catholic diplomats. The second phase covers the period from 1929 to 1964/1965 or until the Second Vatican Council.  This was a period of moderate growth. New institutions were established like the English School, new churches were built (Saint Mary’s in Meilahti), new parishes established, a summer camp for youth and retreats was set up Espoo and later in Lohja (Stella Maris), associations like Academicum Catholicum, the Saint Theresa ladies’s club, the Catholic scouts, Juventus Catholica youth group, the Ecumenical Centre first in Vantaa and later i Espoo and many others. It was a period of motivated activity and solidarity within the growing church. A feeling of unity and purpose dominated the mainly volutary work and hours spent for the church. Especially the swedish speaking finns like prof. Jarl Gallen and the head of the Ecumenical Centre father Robert de Caluwe and the American sisters were active during this period.

The third period covers the from 1964/65 to 1998 which was a period of further consolidation of activities. Stella Maris in Lohja was a centre of activity as well as the popular pilgrimage from Turku to Köyliö to visit the place where Saint Henry the patron saint of Finland was martyred. New parishes were established and the first larger group of immigrant catholics arrived, this time to escape the tyranny of the military dictatorship in Chile.

The fourth phase from 1998 until 2009 was a period of conflicts and disunity. It was a period when the bishops seat was empty for some time. Little development took place in the church and it stagnated.

The present period from 2009 when bishop Teemu took over has been a period of rapid growth, a significant number of new priests coming to the diocese and new parishes have been established.  The Opus Dei has secured its position in Finland e.g. then general vicar of the diocese is from that order. The Neocathecumenal Way has a very vibrant seminary for priests at the prievious sight of the Ecumenical Centre in Espoo and has priests in most parishes.

Large numbers of new catholics have joined the church from several countries respresenting many divergent cultures. Strong entities are the vietnamese, tagalogs, poles and africans.  African Catholic Chapliancy is an excellent example of positive growth and religious unity.

Today the Catholic Church in Finland in culturally richer then ever before, it is growing every year and new callings for religious life are the highest ever. This richness should be more evident within the churches many organisations and associations. In this way the church can better cater for the different religious and cultural need of its members. Communication is critical for understanding.

We are one – ”do not be afraid”.