• Sweden edition
 
Religion in Sweden
Swedish prejudice 'baffles' Catholic convert
Directions to a Catholic church in Sweden. File photo: Moonhouse/Flickr

Swedish prejudice 'baffles' Catholic convert

Published: 24 Mar 2014 07:10 GMT+01:00
Updated: 24 Mar 2014 07:10 GMT+01:00

"I thought church was for old ladies and fools," says Rebecka, 45, about her teenage years when she revolted against her atheist parents. ”I was part of the flower-power movement that came to Europe, and I was interested in eastern spirituality, also shamans and astrology."

She quit high school and headed to the countryside to live and work in a commune.

"I wanted to live a more genuine life, that was natural and organic," she says.

Her parents were not happy.

"They were angry and reacted with all types of desperate attempts to get me back on the right track,” she recalls of her parents who worshipped rationality and science. ”They were outraged, they banged their fists on the table. So I cut off all contact.”

Something was not quite right, however. Her life swung from Sweden to Spain, where she had lived as a child, and then back to Sweden again. It would take an accident a few years later – Rebecka discretely declines to give details – for her to see that she had lost her way.

"While I was unconscious I saw a very clear picture of myself standing on a cliff. And then I heard a voice: 'All your life you have neither appreciated yourself nor your life. You're about to lose your life, but if you let go now you will regret it afterwards'," she recalls hearing.

As she had no concept of an afterlife - "or any clear idea of God" - the words 'You will regret it afterwards' played on repeat as she woke up in shock.

"That sentence hit me like a bomb."

"I realized that I'd been riding a wave of teenage optimism about what life would be like,” she explains. "But by 23 it hadn't taken me to the beautiful place that I'd believed in."

Instead, she was in a dark place, and knew something had to change. She returned to the countryside and worked on a farm, which she enjoyed, but her travels soon resumed. She found herself back to her childhood's Spain. She had spent a lot of time there dodging her parent's attempts to educate her about the country's heritage.

"I always refused to enter churches and palaces, I'd just stand outside waiting, but on this trip... I just got this notion that I should go to Santiago de Compostela," she says.

It was New Year's Eve. It was cold. Early in the morning, she took refuge in a church.

"I only have fragmented memories of what happened. I stayed in that church all day. I fell on my knees and just cried and cried," Rebecka says.

She had no clue, however, what the Catholics in the church were up to.

"They sat down, they got up, they sat down again, then they got up, they went up to the front of the church, they returned to the pew... I didn't understand anything,” she says.

But she knew one thing.

"I just felt bathed in love."

She let go of her life in Sweden and stayed on in a commune run by monks. Prayers morning, day, and night shuttled her straight into ”the practical”.

Eventually, she returned to Sweden, where she contacted the Catholic Church in Stockholm for help with her conversion. It proved a challenge because she was barred from communion. She could participate in the rituals, read the texts, and speak privately with a priest, but... no communion.

"For nine months, it was like a pregnancy,” she laughs more than two decades later. ”I wasn't interested in the theory back then, it was the practical I wanted to get at.”

"You were taught to wait. It was horrendous but it was part of this process of becoming more mature.”

Today, Rebecka is a guidance counsellor.

"I mean, if I hadn't converted, I’m not sure I’d be alive today,” she says of her depression in her early twenties. "In general, I think Catholicism has given me a broader and more in-depth knowledge of human beings.”

Her conversion had not been all plain sailing. however, especially not in a country that at the time had a state church and a large Protestant majority.

"There are a lot of stereotypes and many Protestants have a very clear picture of the Catholic Church as evil incarnate,” she explains calmly, pinning it on a historically rooted us-versus-them rhetoric in Christianity at large.

"They see the Vatican as corrupt and power abusive, which, it should be said, has been the case, absolutely, but the problem is that this is the only thing that people see,” she says. “Unfortunately you’ll find misguided people in every human endeavour, but average Catholics go to church because they love the spirituality and feed from it, quite independently of whatever might be going on in the Vatican.”

"In actual fact, it becomes a kind of racism that is incredible, with these stereotypes perpetuated in the media and being so very anchored in our collective cultural conscience,” she continues.

Rebecka also believes that Catholics are more harshly criticized for their views on sexuality, abortion and spirituality in general, than other groups

"You can openly discredit Catholics who are against abortion, but when it comes to Muslims and Jews, for example, it’s considered racist to express contempt for their beliefs. Also, if a non-religious group of young people argue against abortion, it's seen as an acceptable viewpoint,” she says.

"It's baffling.”

Yet while Swedish Catholics still face prejudice, Rebecka says there is a rising awareness in Sweden that many people need spirituality.

"There's a spiritual dimension that didn't exist when I grew up, when people thought religious people were stoners or cult members. Nowadays many people see it as a legitimate need,” she says.

Ann Törnkvist (ann.tornkvist@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
National
King Carl XVI Gustaf opens parliament
King Carl XVI Gustaf arriving on Tuesday afternoon. Photo: TT

King Carl XVI Gustaf opens parliament

BREAKING: Sweden's post-election parliament is meeting for the first time following a fanfare opening from King Carl XVI Gustaf. READ  

International
Sweden slammed for ecological footprint
Sweden should increase its renewable energy according to WWF. Photo:TT

Sweden slammed for ecological footprint

Sweden is among the world's top ten polluters according to one of the largest scientific studies looking at the impact of humans on earth, produced by the WWF. READ  

Society
Swede's necklace found after 52 years in lake
Ing-Marie Olofsson whose necklace was found. Photo: Private

Swede's necklace found after 52 years in lake

A 66-year-old Swedish woman got the surprise of her life when a fisherman returned the necklace she dropped in a lake at the age of 14. READ  

International
Apology for Swedish model's stolen photos
Malin Sahlén during a Top Model shoot. Photo: TV3/Nina Holma

Apology for Swedish model's stolen photos

A British newspaper has apologised after a freelance journalist stole a Sweden's Next Top Model contestant's photo and created a fake Twitter account used to trick a UK minister. READ  

Brand stories
Johanna N: beautiful jewellery with a story

Johanna N: beautiful jewellery with a story

Aged just 27 and already living off of her own designs, some may consider Johanna Nilsson lucky. But she doesn't believe in luck. She's the founder of a jewellery line blending sustainability, subtle style, and Scandinavian simplicity - and it's taking the world by storm. READ  

Sport
Heel injury sidelines Zlatan in Barcelona clash
Photo: AP

Heel injury sidelines Zlatan in Barcelona clash

Paris Saint-Germain star Zlatan Ibrahimovic will miss Tuesday's Champions League clash with Barcelona at the Parc des Princes due to a nagging heel problem, the French club have confirmed. READ  

National
Stockholm patient tests negative after Ebola fears
The Infection Clinic at the Karolinska University Hospital in Huddinge. Photo: TT

Stockholm patient tests negative after Ebola fears

A patient in a Stockholm hospital who was suspected of having contracted the Ebola virus was given the all clear on Tuesday morning. READ  

Elections 2014
New coalition agrees on defence and migration
A Jas Gripen. Photo: TT

New coalition agrees on defence and migration

UPDATED: The Green Party has committed itself to expanding Sweden's defence force, while the Social Democrats have compromised on work permits for migrants. READ  

National
Fresh Ebola case investigated in Sweden
The patient is being treated at the Karolinska University Hospital. Photo: TT

Fresh Ebola case investigated in Sweden

Doctors in Stockholm are checking a patient suspected of having contracted the Ebola virus. READ  

Elections 2014
Sweden Democrat wins Deputy Speaker spot
Björn Söder. Photo: TT

Sweden Democrat wins Deputy Speaker spot

Despite most Members of Parliament abstaining from voting, Sweden Democrat party secretary Björn Söder has been announced as one of Sweden's new Deputy Speakers. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Swedish scientists sneak Bob Dylan lyrics into articles
Lifestyle
The five best Swedish songs of the month
Gallery
People-watching: September 28th
National
When Italian style meets Swedish simplicity
Lifestyle
Review: Sweden's first alcohol-free nightclub
Blog updates

28 September

Spoiled Doyle (Blogweiser) »

"What you gotta watch out for in Sweden is the good stuff. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Re_EzUe6xpI In Sweden, it’s the good things you have to watch out for. Video on @TheLocalSweden http://t.co/rAb8eGFdTD pic.twitter.com/w37YYwMXy1 — Joel Sherwood (@joeldsherwood) September 29, 2014 " READ »

 

26 September

 (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Autumn swept into Sweden at the start of this week with snow in the north of the country and flooding in the south. As well as a change in the weather, Sweden’s change in political direction became clearer, with Social Democrat leader Stefan Lofven formally announcing his party would work with the Greens as..." READ »

 
 
 
Gallery
In Pictures: The MS Estonia disaster
Lifestyle
Ten things expat women notice in Sweden
Politics
What's next on Sweden's political stage?
Gallery
Sweden's 2014 election: Most memorable moments
Society
What's on in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 24th
Seaman Oliver Gee with his first lobster
Lifestyle
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Gallery
In Pictures: Fredrik Reinfeldt through the years.
Society
Plucked out of Canada for love and guitars
Gallery
Property of the week - Torslanda
Politics
How Sweden Democrats went mainstream
Politics
Scandinavia and Scotland: closer links?
Sponsored Article
How to start a business in Stockholm
Society
Why is Stockholm's Södermalm so cool?
Politics
Sweden elections: Who's who?
Sponsored Article
Introducing… Insurance in Stockholm
Gallery
Princess Estelle through the years
Business & Money
Five golden rules for the Swedish job hunt
Society
A closer look at Sweden's five official minority languages
Politics
Sweden elections: How do they work?
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

877
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN