Here’s why the Pope is coming to Sweden

Here's why the Pope is coming to Sweden
Sweden's Queen Silvia and Princess Leonore meeting Pope Francis in the Vatican last year. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT
UPDATED: Pope Francis will visit Sweden, a bastion of the Lutheran Church, to mark next year's 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

The Vatican said on Monday that the Argentinian pontiff, a champion of inter-faith dialogue, will attend a ceremony jointly organized by Catholic and Protestant groups in Lund in southern Sweden later this year.

“I am very happy that the Pope is coming to Lund and that the Roman Catholic Church together with the Lutheran World Federation open for this exceptional meeting. It's a step forward for the work of the churches,” said Antje Jackelén, archbishop of the Lutheran Swedish Church, in a statement.

The last time Sweden got a papal visit was when John Paul II held a mass for 16,000 people in Stockholm's Globe Arena in 1989. He also paid a visit to the tomb of Saint Bridget, Sweden's first saint.

The trip comes ahead of the 500th anniversary of the reformation, which began when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses in Latin to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany, to protest the Church's abuses.

The numerous wars, conflicts and waves of repression related to the reformation left a legacy of deep mistrust between the Catholic and Protestant wings of Christianity which has only subsided in the last half century.

Martin Junge, the LWF general secretary, said such divisions belonged to the past.

“I'm carried by the profound conviction that by working towards reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics, we are working towards justice, peace and reconciliation in a world torn apart by conflict and violence,” he said in a statement.

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Sweden, which seceded from the Catholic Church in the 16th century, enjoys a strong Lutheran heritage despite being one of the most secularized countries in the world.

The Swedish Church (Svenska Kyrkan) has 6.3 million members in a country just shy of 10 million people. Before 1996, children whose parents were members of the Swedish Church were automatically enrolled at birth. 

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church is growing, with 111,000 members in 2015 compared to 87,000 at the start of the millennium.

But according to Statistics Sweden, just five percent of Swedes are regular church goers. One in three couples that get married in Sweden choose a civil ceremony.

Almost eight out of ten Swedes described themselves as either “not religious” or “convinced atheists”, according to a major global 2015 study that concluded the Nordic nation is the least religious in the West.