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Pastoral Letter for the Sunday for Life - 17th December 2017

Dear sisters and brothers in the Catholic Diocese of Stockholm, "Among you stands one whom you do not know" (John 1:26). Most people do not know Jesus. Even those of us who call ourselves Christians do not know him sufficiently well and we do not follow him as much as we should. What gives meaning to our whole life, which we have received as a gift from him, is to get to know him and love him better. He is always there in our midst. He is always close to each one of us, indeed closer to us than we are to ourselves. Life is a journey of discovery in order to get to know Jesus, a pilgrimage we make together with him and towards him. Everything in our lives has to do with him. He has something to tell us about everything we meet and experience. He is "the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6).

Jesus is our true life. He is the brother, the saviour and the friend of every human being. Every man and woman has already been created in the image of God. In Jesus they will then discover that full reality that we call redemption and that opens for us the way to eternal life. For that reason, every human being is invaluable, inviolable and irreplaceable in the eyes of Jesus. Every person has the right to his own life, from the first moment in the mother's womb until the final breath he takes. No one has the right to deny anyone else the grace and gift of life. Unfortunately, the unborn child has a very weak position in our society and its system of justice. Therefore, we have the holy duty and responsibility of giving a voice to those who have no voice, the silent and invisible people that we neither see nor hear. Human life has a God-given protection value in itself, regardless of its stage of existence. Among you stands one whom you do not know - and often do not want to know about. But God sees them, loves them, and wants them to be born and to exist.

This is part of the good news of the gospel, that every human being from its first moment to its last has an eternal, inviolable value. No person should have his dignity violated or be deprived of existence. For that reason, abortion and euthanasia can never be justified or defended, as long as one does not want to deny human dignity as such. Throughout the whole of their lives men and women - whoever they are - have the right to be protected from all forms of violation and discrimination. Web hate, bullying and sexual abuse and harassment seem to increase more and more. Each one of us has the duty of counteracting and preventing such behaviour right there in the place where we live and operate.

To our sorrow and horror, we have seen that girls and women of all ages and different social backgrounds are being molested in schools and in the workplace. Unfortunately, there are many men who in the coarsest way take advantage of their position of power. Great sectors of our social environment have been sexualised to such an extent that people have ceased to react when women have been sexually harassed and their integrity has been subjected to abuse. It is really about time that we react in a forceful way and take effective measures to prevent all of this.

It is tragic to see that xenophobia (hatred of strangers) is becoming more and more widespread. We continually need to draw attention to the holy tradition of the Bible and the Church, which obliges us to do all we can to help those who come to us. We must at all costs ensure that we do not exclude any individual or group of people from our love or care. As disciples of Jesus we should see him in our neighbour. Jesus meets us in every person he sends along our way. Faced with this sombre background we need the testimony and the proclamation of the gospel more than ever. As Catholic Christians in Sweden today we are all called to bear witness to the liberating force of the gospel precisely for those whose human dignity is violated, wounded and trampled underfoot. Only Jesus can heal those who have been hurt so deeply. Only he can forgive those who repent and want to begin a new life. "Among you stands one whom you do not know" (John 1:26). Jesus is always with us, both the good and the wicked, both victims and perpetrators. Only he can heal and transform, reconcile and forgive. In his mercy God gives all of us an opportunity to convert to a new and better life by following Jesus.

 Paul gives us a recipe with three important ingredients for how we are to lead our new lives according to the gospel. "Be happy at all times; pray constantly; and for all things give thanks to God" (1 Thess 5:16-18). The happiness that derives from belonging to Jesus is a permanent reality, which drives away the powers of sin and frees us from the iron grip of sadness. Prayer, the continual dialogue and relationship with Jesus, makes us share in his love and gives us an effective antidote to all hatred. Thankfulness dispels bitterness and disappointment, indeed everything that can make life heavy and burdensome. We all have a profound need of these three ingredients - happiness, prayer and thankfulness - especially those of us who have been insulted, bullied and harassed. It is precisely those people who are closest to the heart of Jesus. Among them stands one whom they do not know, but he knows them. He is the one who has given them their life here on earth with its inviolable dignity and he wishes to give them a share in his own eternal life.

Let us today on the Sunday for Life, and indeed every day that God in his providence gives us, thank him for the holy gift of life. We pray for all those who are denied the right to be born to live. We pray for those who are offended in their human dignity and for all those who do not see the deep meaning of their lives. May the Lord of life shine forth in all his glory and love, so that all people may live their lives in his joy and peace, here on the earth that he has created and entrusted to us and to our care, and finally in his eternal kingdom where we hope to be able to see him as he is, face to face.

Stockholm, 19.11.2017, World Day for the Poor    

+ Anders Arborelius OCD

Bishop Anders Pastoral Letter for Respect for Life Sunday 201

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, At first I would like to thank all of you who contributed in different ways to the success of the Holy Father’s visit. He strengthened us in our Catholic faith and at the same time gave us inspiration to pray and work more consciously for the unity of all Christians. “The coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8). The time of Advent is a time of repentance and renewal when we may long more intensely for Jesus Christ. We await the Child which will be born to the world to save it. We empty our hearts from all that prevents us from receiving this Child and following it. We try to become like children ourselves in order to get closer to this Child. This also means that we want to assist and help all those children who suffer. Through the Advent collection by Caritas we want to help those refugee children who most need our help. We mourn all those children who perish on the “sea of death” fleeing together with their relatives. We pray for them, and for all those children who are threatened by not being allowed to be born in our wealthy country. We do what we can to help the children who have taken refugee with us. Christianity is the religion of the Child and of the children. It is a prophetical message in a world where money, careers and power run the risk of becoming more important than little and weak people. 

Christianity is the religion of life. Faith gives us hope, when the “culture of death” runs the risk of prevailing. Christ is the risen and living Lord who lives and works in his Church and in his entire world. “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11:5). As the Disciples of Christ we may convey the happy message of the gospel and help realizing it at the very place where we live and act. It is important that we as Catholics – which the Holy Father reminded us of during his visit – work together with all other Christians to assist those in need. “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees” (Isaiah 35:3).

We as Christians must make our voice heard in the society in which we live, and spread the happy message of the gospel to all those who do not know Jesus. We must care for the weak and the forgotten and give a voice to those who do not have one. We have been given the task of proclaiming the inviolable dignity of human life from the very first feeble start in the womb of the mother to the very last panting breath. No person must be deprived of their right to live and be denied their right to live a decent life. Together with all people of good will we must stand up for the God-given value and dignity of all people. We worry about the tendencies of hostility towards foreigners that sometimes appear. The God who was born to us in Bethlehem had to escape to Egypt after a short time. In this way God has identified himself with all refugees. We can see Jesus in each and every one of them and show Him our love in them. In this way they can help us getting closer to God, the God who chose to be a vulnerable, suffering, persecuted person for our sake. But it is also he who has triumphed on the holy wood of the Cross and redeemed all mankind and freed it from the power of sin and evil.     

Christianity is the religion of new life. Love is infused into our hearts. The risen Lord shares his eternal life with us in the sacraments of the Church, where we may anticipate in advance some of the glory of eternal life, especially in the Eucharist where the heavenly wedding meal is glimpsed in holy signs. We are given strength by the bread of the angels in order to make life here on earth more like the reality of heaven. We can already now live from this universal brotherhood, where we shall all become one in Christ. We can care for the creation which the Creator has entrusted to us in so that it will preserve its beauty and integrity. We can be his cooperators here on earth, so that it can be a home where everyone can live in peace and justice. Everything and everyone who is alive must get our protection and our help.

During his visit, Pope Francis spoke about the revolution of tenderness and the road of gentleness. Through his life here on earth, Jesus showed us his tender love and wants us to make the most of it and proclaim it to everything and everyone. He wants to lead us on the road of gentleness and humility, so that we serve our brothers and sisters and lead them to him. In a world where one helps oneself and wants the prime seat, he teaches us put others in the centre and to serve them. On the cross, Jesus entrusted all of us to his mother. More than ever, we need the tender help and powerful protection of the Virgin Mary in order to understand how to live according to Jesus. There is a special aspect of the message of Jesus and of the way of following Him which we can only learn by being close to Mary. Without her something essential in our faith runs the risk of being obscured. Throughout all times she makes herself felt to help us repent more to Jesus. Next year it will be 100 years since the children in Fátima met the Virgin Mary. It is often small and poor children who listen to her more than the big and powerful. Mary inspires us to a deeper repentance and to putting ourselves in the hands of the Lord of life. 

Christianity is the religion of eternal life. Again and again we must be reminded that we are called to eternal life. Here on earth we are only on a pilgrimage to practice what we are going to do in eternity: worship and love God. We are reminded about God in every person created in the image of God. In this way we can anticipate a piece of eternity in advance. We can pray for our deceased and assist them on the journey through cleansing to the blessed gazing. Those Holy who have already reached their goal can, in their turn, help us to be more and more transformed by mercy. We live in a boundless reality, where everything that is alive glorifies the God who is creator of all things and wants to redeem everything. Praise and glory to Him for all eternity.

With my prayers and blessings to you all,  Stockholm, on the feast of Christ the King, 20th November 2016    +Anders Arborelius ocd

Pastoral Letter for Respect for Life Sunday 2015 - the Year of Mercy

Today, in the Diocese of Stockholm, is the inauguration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis. Here in our Cathedral. The Door of Mercy shall also be opened. This coincides with our celebration of Respect for Life which always occurs on the third Sunday of Advent.

Everything in our Christian faith is impressed by God's mercy. Everything in our Christian has the imprint of God’s mercy. When the Father sends His Son to us, it is to show us His infinite love which He bears each of us: and which makes Him to give His Son for our sake. It is the great task of the Church to proclaim this mercy and to try and convince all of us that we are called to receive this mercy and be transformed by it.

The first step is always to receive wholeheartedly the good news from this merciful God. "Enable us, we pray, to attain the joys of so great a salvation and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing" as the Collect Prayer for today puts it. Advent offers us a golden opportunity to grow in prayerful longing to meet God who became Man for our sake. This way Jesus Christ can become more and more present in our souls and thus we can radiate more and more His mercy.

"The Lord is at hand" (Philippians 4:5) says Paul as does the prophet Zephaniah: "...The Lord is in your midst." (Zephaniah 3:15). Through baptism we are a temple, where the triune God makes his abode. We must, therefore, learn to live according to this great dignity bestowed on us. We must allow the mercy of God to find expression in the way we act, talk and think. We must ask ourselves: ”What then must we do,” just like the people in today’s Gospel asked three time (Luke 3:10, 13, 14). How can we transmit God's mercy? This is a question for the conscience of each one of us. We must deal with this question daily during the Year of Mercy. It should be a great joy that we can and may proclaim God's mercy to those we meet. God has such great confidence in us, his beloved children, to allow us the privilege to communicate to others His innermost reality. "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Philippians 4:4). It is not a heavy burden to be merciful, rather a joy unlike any other when we fully realize what a grace it is to be Godlike in this way. We are privileged by God to be used to spread what is good, right and true. Thus our lives become more meaningful and have a clearer goal.

But what then must we do? How are we to show that we take mercy seriously? First, we must become aware whether we are excluding some individual or group from our expression of mercy. Is there anyone near us to whom we have shut the door of our hearts? Is there anyone we consider unpleasant or difficult? Often God waits for us there if we manage to overcome our antipathy and indifference. Is our comfort, our time or our money more important than our will to spread God's goodness around us? An honest examination of conscience is important.

Is there any group we shun? It is common, unfortunately, that we knowingly or unknowingly close our hearts to some category or group of people. In our society unborn children are often not seen, not wanted and not welcome. But like everyone else they have an inviolable value in the eyes of God regardless of whether they are wanted by society or not.

Even though Sweden has generously opened her borders for so many refugees, there are, unfortunately some who do not want them. As Christian, we must see through the eyes of faith that it is Providence and the logic of God that the year of Mercy coincides with this flood of refugees.

We do not have to look for people who are in need of our mercy. I am very grateful to all the parishes, who have listened to my appeal to do what they can to help the refugees God sends to us. We must never forget that our Church in Sweden has to a large extent been built by refugees who have come in batches to our country. From the time of the white buses with refugees direct from the concentration camps, new people have come and contributed to strengthen the Catholic presence in our country. We can only thank God for them. At the same time we must pray for peace, justice and reconciliation in the home countries of the refugees and actively work for this so that they do not need to leave on a long and often dangerous journey.

We must not close our eyes to the antagonisms that exist in our society between different groups. As believers it is important that we point out that religion should never lead to divisions and conflict. Sadly, there are those who blame many wars and injustice on religion.It is fifty years since Nostra Aetate, the declaration of Vatican II on non-Christian religions was promulgated. Where it says, "The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, (to engage in) dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love" (no 2) and ”We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God "  (No 5). The same message was conveyed in the call of the Interreligious Council of Sweden, published in Dagens Nyheter where I was also one of the signatories: "We invite everyone, regardless of religious and cultural affiliation, to stand up, now and in the future, for the equal dignity and value of all people."

Finally, I adjure all the faithful during Advent to receive the sacrament of mercy and reconciliation. Confession makes it possible for us to be transformed by the forgiveness of God and to experience His mercy in an exceptional way. "Again, I say Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). The good news becomes concrete in this sacrament, where we are transformed from sinners to holy ones so that we in our turn can sanctify the world and spread the mercy of God to everything and everyone.

With my prayers and blessings to all of you!

+Anders Arborelius ocd

Pastoral Letter for Lent 2015 - Repent and refuse to hate - the Kingdom of God is at hand!

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ!

"The time is fulfilled" (Mark 1:15). Lent is already here, and my pastoral letter will be read on the first Sunday of Lent. We have already been signed with ash on our foreheads and prepared our hearts for this time of prayer and reflection to follow Jesus on his way up to Jerusalem. During this holy period may we "grow in the understanding of the riches hidden in Christ" - as it says in the Collect prayer of today, and what this knowledge may signify for our lives today. Just like Jesus who withdrew into the desert for forty days, we must with the help of the Spirit prepare ourselves for Easter and the new life of the Resurrection. In order to be able to receive these glad tidings and be transformed by them, we must also taste some of the loneliness and simplicity of the desert. We must discover the special joy which is found in being able to sacrifice our time, our money and our pleasures so that we may put God and our neighbour in the centre. "Repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15), says Jesus. As Christians we must always be prepared to turn away from all that is sinful and selfish. During Lent we are invited to both renew our personal prayer relationship with Jesus Christ and to deepen our imitation of him who "came not to be served but to serve". (Matthew 20:28)

It is important for us to find a balance and harmony between our prayer life and our work, between the inner life and our daily chores.  Everywhere and always we can live in communion with God, who dwells in us through the grace of baptism. For many, life seems to be hopelessly fragmented in a million pieces that are difficult to unite. But if we live according to the dignity bestowed on us through baptism and see ourselves as a temple of the Lord, as St. Paul says (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16), then our lives will receive a unity that is deep and strong. We are liturgical beings through our baptism who live for the glory of God, both through our prayers and our work for the good of humanity... "The Kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:14) says Jesus so as to remind us that, His and our Father, is always close to us and that we may always live in communion with Him. It is then that we become trustworthy witnesses of the joyful message of the Gospel. More people than we can imagine, have need of us in order to find their way to the glad tidings of the gospel and the new life which Jesus wants to give them through our mediation. We must reflect more seriously during Lent on how we can fulfil the commission given to us through our baptism and confirmation, namely that of passing on the faith in Jesus and to mediate His love.

Already to Noah and his sons, God said, "Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you." (Genesis 9:8)  God wants to establish a covenant of peace and love with all His people. He wants all His people to live in peace and reconciliation; that justice and love will permeate our world. We suffer, therefore, with all who are victims of violence, war, terror and persecution. We must, more than ever before, repudiate all this especially when it pops up in our own immediate surroundings. Once again synagogues are attacked, this time in neighbouring Denmark. Once again there is war in Europe, this time in the Ukraine. We must do all we can, through our prayers and our active engagement to counteract the powers of hate and evil. ””Refuse to hate!" is a slogan taken at the initiative of the Interreligious Council of Sweden. All the religions in our country stand behind this initiative, so as to obstruct in whatever way possible, all the hate expressed in word or action. We must all plainly and clearly, together, renounce all violence in the name of religion, and also all violence that is inflicted on believers no matter where they are. Unfortunately, more and more, we hear religion being blamed for the increase in violence and terror. It is, therefore, imperative that we believers in different religions, unanimously dissociate ourselves from all violence and consider it blasphemous to use violence in the name of religion. The merciful God's holy name may, under no circumstances, be so besmirched and desecrated by violent actions. During this holy Lent, let us beseech the Lord that the powers of violence are put to shame. Let us, in word and action, do all we can to counteract violence and terror. 

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4). During Lent we must concentrate on spiritual food, which we need - God's holy word. In the Scriptures we find inspiration and guidance for how we should live as the faithful followers of Jesus and make his message concrete in our lives here and now. Try to find more time to visit a church and participate in the liturgy and give less time to shopping malls and shopping centres. Deepen your prayer life and tone down the entertainments. Give more of your money to the poor than to your own pleasure and enjoyment. Try to visit the sick and elderly rather than bars and discotheques. Nay, make a conscious, new choice every day during this holy Lent, because the kingdom of God is really at hand. Discover the real joy that it is to deny your own will and the intemperate needs of the self and instead do something beautiful for God and neighbour. We require this time in the Lenten desert so as to enable us to celebrate the joy of Easter and the Resurrection of Christ.

"For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, (1 Peter 3:18). We meditate, during Lent, the passion and death of Jesus and thus are transformed by this self-sacrificing love which is manifested in His Sacred Heart. It is my prayer that this Lent will be a time of renewal so that we can all act with more eagerness to spread the glad tidings of peace and justice, of reconciliation and unity, so that violence and hatred, oppression and terror will be put to shame. "The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15). 

+Anders Arborelius ocd 

Stockholm, Ash Wednesday 2015

Pastoral letter of the Sunday of Life third Sunday of Advent December 12, 2010

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ!


The third Sunday of Advent is known as the Sunday of joy. For nearly ten years now, we celebrate in our diocese this day as the Sunday of Life. We should rejoice and be glad of the gift of life, which God, the Lord of life and cause, is willing to share with us. In his lavish kindness, he wants every human life to exist. No one has the right to deny us the gift of life. By its very existence, every human life is inviolable. Therefore, we can never accept the death penalty. Time and again the popes have urged those countries that still have this barbaric punishment to abolish it, but often that voice goes unheard. For that reason, we can never accept abortion. During this holy season of Advent, when our Lord Jesus Christ in Mary's womb is waiting to be born into the world, this becomes so clear to us. When God becomes human, he identifies himself with every human being, especially the most vulnerable and threatened. The unborn children belong certainly to this group, but also the children who in various ways are abused and mistreated. Together with the Holy Father, I express my great sorrow that also Catholic priests have committed major crimes and abuse against innocent children. Together with him, I would also ask the victims for forgiveness for the sufferings they have been exposed to. This past year for our Church has been a penance and repentance years. It is my prayer for the whole Church that these abuses once and for all would end. I urge you all to make this a prayer point. From the diocesan side, we are revising our plan of action against sexual abuse for all children to be totally secure in our church environments.
    Advent is a time of penance and repentance, but also a time of joy and expectation. Together with the Virgin Mary, we should prepare ourselves for the birth of Jesus into the world, but also on our birth to the life of Christ that we hope will have its completion in the eternal life. The coming of the Lord is near "(James 5:8). God wants to come close to us infinitely in His Son. Each human being is invited to receive this undeserved gift in his or her life. As Christians it is our great pleasure to proclaim this good news, especially to those suffering and in distress. Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, says prophet Isaiah (35:3-4). As Christians it is our duty to seek out those who are worst off in our neighborhood and strengthen them in their human dignity. Even in our well-ordered society there are people living a life as slaves. We must not ignore the fact that people are sold into slavery and exploited mercilessly in the sexual area in our midst. More women than we think are victims of human trafficking in our Swedish context, which for them has become a veritable hell. I am very grateful to the staff of Caritas, the religious sisters and all others who are helping these vulnerable women. Through our diocese Advent collections, we can all contribute to help them. I have another one of these modern slaves before my mind's eye: a girl from Africa, not yet twenty years, sold to our country and threatened to death. She is carrying a child and for her it is obvious that she should bring this child to life also, yes, as obvious as it was for Mary to give birth to the Savior of the world.
    Advent may have a new and deeper meaning to us, if we unite with Jesus who in Mary's virginal womb waits to be born into the world. The mysteries of Christ are not yet fully completed and perfected. In Jesus' own person, they are realized, but not in us, who are his members, or in the Church, his mystical body, "says Jean Eudes (1601-1680). As members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we have the possibility to participate in the different aspects of his life, from the foster stages to the crucifixion. It boggles the mind of our mind, when it dawns on us that his mystery gets its echo and its fulfillment in us. When we suffer, we complete what is lacking in Christ's sufferings (Col. 1:34). Even the burdensome and difficult can in this light have a deeper meaning for us. A quiet joy can even break through just when it seems the most difficult in our world and life. We know that Jesus is with us, even when everything fails. He cannot abandon us and cannot help but love us. It is so to speak, the only restriction of his omnipotence.
    Advent also makes us more open to the Virgin Mary's irreplaceable role in our lives as Christians. She was chosen to become the immaculate mother of God incarnate Son. Since then, she is also our Mother. Since then, the Christian people find their refuge in her in every need as we see in one of the oldest Christian prayers, the Sub tuum Praesidium. Today I want to especially commend all the women and children in our country, who have been in various ways abused, beaten and subjected to humiliation to Mary's protection. May the words of Mary in the Magnificat, her song of praise, give them hope: He casts the mighty from their thrones, and raises the lowly. The hungry he saturates with gifts and sends the rich away empty (Luke 1:55-52). Mary's hymn of praise to God's mercy is also a war song against these unjust world powers. Throughout the ages, oppressed and threatened people therefore have taken their refuge in the Virgin Mary. Today, 12 December, we remember Mary especially as Our Lady of Guadalupe, the sacred place in Mexico, where Latin America's oppressed have always turned their gaze. To her intercession, I would especially recommend two categories in our country. First of all nursing staff at our hospitals, whose right of conscience the European Council so clearly and forcefully has safeguarded. It is our hope that they should also have practical opportunities to follow their conscience. The second category are refuges that the authorities in spite of all appeals plan to deport to Iraq, though there is a real death threats against Christians and against other vulnerable minorities.
    Advent is for us all a time when Jesus will come in more and more in our lives. The Lord's coming is near. Prepare for Christmas by the grace of a contrite confession and good works. Make time to go to Mass also during some weekdays. Read the Bible and pray the Rosary. Help the weak and vulnerable. Visit the sick. Do not buy so much but give alms. Prepare for eternity, not just at Christmas meal tables. This makes Christmas a Christian festival, not just a triumph of consumerism.

 

With my prayers and blessings to you all!

 

+ Anders Arborelius ocd

Bishop of Stockholm

(Free translation of Revd Fr Chikezie Onuoha msp)

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