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Swedish police brace for 'unpredictable' pope

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Swedish police brace for 'unpredictable' pope
Sweden's Queen Silvia and Princess Madeleine meeting Pope Francis in the Vatican last year. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT
16:13 CEST+02:00
Nobody knows quite what to expect when Pope Francis visits secular Sweden this autumn.

Pope Francis will visit Sweden – a bastion of the Lutheran Church when they're busy not being particularly religious at all – on October 31st to mark this year's 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. It's the first time a pope visits Sweden in 27 years.

He and his bodyguards are scheduled to land at Malmö Airport, after which the Argentinian pontiff will be taking part in a service at Lund Cathedral, followed by an event at Malmö Arena.

After spending the night at an undisclosed location in southern Sweden he will on November 1st lead a mass for the Nordic Catholic Church at an as yet undecided location in the Malmö area.

Swedish police have spent the past six months preparing for the rare papal visit and officers from across the country have been called in to bulk out the southern regional workforce.

"We expect a lot of people, but all parties involved find it difficult to state how many spectators to expect, precisely because we don't have any recent experiences of visits to the Nordics," Mats Karlsson, who is in charge of the police operation during the visit, told the TT newswire.

His team is preparing for a number of different scenarios, including Pope Francis wanting to make unscheduled stops along his police escort route from Lund to Malmö.

"As far as we've understood he is a bit unpredictable," said Karlsson, but added that the uncertainty could also work to their advantage. "It makes it more difficult for a perpetrator, because nobody knows where he will want to stop the car and get out," he told TT.

"We make risk analyses, we go through the locations and what their vulnerabilities are, possible threats, the whole spectrum. And we're working on reducing those risks that can be reduced."

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.

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 around 6.2 million members in a country just shy of 10 million people, but the numbers have been dwindling in recent years. Before 1996, children whose parents were members of the Swedish Church were automatically enrolled at birth. 

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church is growing, with 113,000 members in 2016 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.

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