• 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
Knutby priest faces early release from prison
Knutby in eastern Sweden, the scene of the murder. Photo: TT

Knutby priest faces early release from prison

A former priest in eastern Sweden who was sentenced to life in prison for organizing the murder of his wife has had his sentence reduced. READ  

Opinion
'Sweden will see Russia as a threat again'

'Sweden will see Russia as a threat again'

The Local speaks to one of Europe's leading security experts about why social media meant the Swedish military couldn't keep their 'submarine' search a secret and how she believes the country will ramp up its security against Russia. READ  

National
Stockholm suicide bomb investigation closes
The suicide bombing took place in 2010. Photo: TT

Stockholm suicide bomb investigation closes

Sweden's Security Service (Säpo) has announced that it will stop its core investigation into a suicide bombing in Stockholm four years ago. READ  

Stockholm 'sub hunt'
Military heads into 'new phase' in sub search
The search for the missing 'submarine' is now in its sixth day. Photo: TT

Military heads into 'new phase' in sub search

UPDATED: A press conference on the search for a suspected foreign vessel in Swedish waters revealed that the Armed Forces would be heading into a new phase on Wednesday. READ  

Lifestyle
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
The bronze replica cannon. Photo: Beth Dacey.

Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden

A replica of one of the cannons present on Stockholm's iconic Vasa warship when it sank in 1628 is being tested for the first time in central Sweden. READ  

Health
Swedish farmers contracted swine flu
Swine flu can spread between pigs and humans. Photo: TT

Swedish farmers contracted swine flu

A human strain of the swine flu virus normally only found in pigs was discovered in Sweden earlier this year, the country's Public Health Agency has revealed. READ  

Stockholm 'sub hunt'
Sweden ready to use force to surface sub
Photo: TT

Sweden ready to use force to surface sub

Sweden's military says it has no plans to downsize the search for a possible foreign submarine and is prepared to force any suspect vessel to the surface of the sea, "with armed force if necessary". READ  

National
Chainsaw man destroys house in family feud
The man used a chainsaw to destroy most of the Lidköping home. Photo: Shutterstock

Chainsaw man destroys house in family feud

A man in central Sweden has gone on a rampage with a chainsaw after a family housing dispute took an unexpected turn. READ  

National
Man frames beggar with stolen tablet computer
The beggar was detained for almost 24 hours after the accusation. Photo: TT

Man frames beggar with stolen tablet computer

A man in southern Sweden has landed in hot water after he stole a tablet computer, gave it to a beggar, then reported her to the police. READ  

Stockholm 'sub hunt'
Sub hunt: 'There is something out there'
Former navy officer Bosse Linden in Vaxholm. Photo: Maddy Savage

Sub hunt: 'There is something out there'

Stockholm's archipelago is the focus of the biggest military operation in Sweden since the Cold War. The Local is in the region's capital, Vaxholm, to see what residents make of the drama. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Sub hunt: The story so far
National
Sub hunt: 'There is something out there'
National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Blog updates

21 October

Denna & den här (The Swedish Teacher) »

"?Denna? or ?den hr?? Swedish language students often ask question about different pronouns. One pronoun that especially..." READ »

 

19 October

Getting it (Blogweiser) »

"Follow Joel Sherwood on FB Few watch baseball in Sweden. This is excellent when your team loses..." READ »

 
 
 
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
National
Sweden deploys troops over underwater threat
Gallery
People-watching: October 19th
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
National
A Touch of Scandinavia: Reindeer in the kitchen
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden: October 17th - 24th
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Lifestyle
Sweden's The Bridge to become 'more Danish'
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
What's on in Sweden: October 10th - 17th
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Gallery
People-watching: October 8th
National
Five facts to know about Patrick Modiano
Society
My Swedish Career: A French fashionista in Sweden
Society
Swede's anti-bully Facebook tale goes viral
Society
Have you seen Sweden's viral subway cancer campaign?
National
Isis: Swedes linked to Turkish prisoner swap
National
Should Swedes be banned from buying sex abroad?
Gallery
Fredrik Reinfeldt's leaving presents
National
Five Swedish TV shows you shouldn't miss
Gallery
A tool belt, a casserole, and a book. Fredrik Reinfeldt's parliament gifts
TT
Lifestyle
Top five winter festivals in Sweden
TT
National
Sami reindeer herders win mine reprieve
Gallery
Property of the Week: Gamla Enskede
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Politics
Ten new minister faces you should know
Tech
First womb transplant baby in world born in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 5th
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
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

999
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