From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Sparse Catholic population brings challenges to Norwegian parishes

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the March 20, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Bishop Skylstad visits with Anne Skylstad (left) and Borghild Gloor of Norway. (IR photo)

The two soft-spoken Norwegian women had been around the world. Their month-long journey was nearly finished; they would be back in Norway in a few more days. On their way home, they stopped in the United States to visit Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane.

One of the women, Anne Skylstad, is the wife of Knut Skylstad, the bishop’s distant cousin in Ålesund, Norway. Anne Skylstad explained that Knut and the bishop’s father, Steve Skylstad, grew up on neighboring farms in a village called Skylstad, east of Ålesund in the fjord country. Ålesund is on the west coast, in the southern part of Norway. The city is built on four islands and has a population of about 38,000.

The other woman, Borghild Gloor, is Anne Skylstad’s friend from Molde, a city north of Ålesund.

The primary purpose of their trip was to visit friends in New Zealand. En route, they spent the weekend of Feb. 22-23 in Spokane with the bishop.

Anne Skylstad and her friend are a rarity in Norway: they are Catholics in a country almost entirely Lutheran – about 89 percent of the Norwegian population belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

In Norway’s population of 4.5 million people, about 500,000 profess a religion other than Lutheranism. Of that half-million, about 11 percent – 55,000 – are Catholic. Filipinos, who are mostly Catholic, make up the largest ethnic group in Norway. “There are very few native Norwegian Catholics,” Anne said. Many of the Catholics in Norway are foreign women married to Norwegian men.

Anne is an example. She is a Catholic born in Scotland. She met her Norwegian husband in Africa where both were doing missionary work as teachers.

Gloor’s situation was the reverse. She converted to Catholicism. Her husband is Catholic.

Skylstad’s church was built and consecrated in 1960. The number of people in her parish, which is called Our Lady, has grown from about 60 in 1978 to about 650 persons now. Gloor’s parish in Molde is named for St. Sunniva, the patron saint of Norway. It is also cosmopolitan; she said they had many church members from the diplomatic community. Her parish does not have a resident priest.

Both women have been volunteer catechists.

While the challenges of keeping the faith are many, so are the blessings. The Catholic community of Skylstad’s parish is also very international, with parishioners from all over the world.

Skylstad shared a photo of one of her parish’s First Communion classes; the children were from several other countries and continents, including Africa. The pastor, who will be leaving the parish soon, is himself from Vietnam.

“The languages are a challenge,” Skylstad said. “But it’s nice to work with the different nationalities.”

She is up to the language challenge. For the past 20 years, she taught the Norwegian language to adult immigrants in Norway.

One of the biggest challenges is that Catholic young people have few if any Catholic friends. Skylstad’s own children were often the only Catholics in their school classes. Since the families and the parishes are spread out and distant from each other, the classes are held on Saturday mornings. Skylstad said she would often pick up the children and bring them to the church for class.

Skylstad and her husband live close to Our Lady Church. She was appointed a pastoral assistant for her parish and often helps with a Service of the Word as well as other ministries.

Skylstad’s parish is one of five churches in what she called “a vicariate. We don’t have an official diocese,” she said.

Norway has three bishops. The bishop who governs Skylstad’s parish, Bishop Georg Muller, lives in Trondheim, north of Ålesund. Bishop Muller is head of what is called a “Territorial Prelature.” A second bishop serves the Diocese of Oslo. The third, who also has a Territorial Prelature, is in the city of Tromso.

Because the Catholic Church in Norway has such a small population, financial support does not always meet church needs. One relied-upon source are Catholic churches in other parts of Europe, which contribute financially to the Norwegian church.

Not only can funds fall short, Skylstad explained that, like in the U.S., Catholics in Norway also live with a shortage of priests.

In Norway’s early Catholic history, priests and Religious from other countries, Germany in particular, served the country’s Catholics. Religious Sisters from Germany, Poland, and Holland who started hospitals in Norway “made a tremendous contribution to the country,” Skylstad said. “They enabled Lutherans to know Catholics; there was a lot of a suspicion long ago.”

Skylstad and Gloor accompanied Bishop Skylstad to St. John Vianney Parish, Spokane, for Confirmation at both weekend Masses. There they enjoyed meeting parishioners. Anne Skylstad greatly appreciated participating in Mass in English, her native tongue. Even more, “it was a tonic to be with so many Catholics,” she said.

However, both she and Gloor agreed: the Mass is the Mass no matter what language is used. “The hymns may be different,” Skylstad said, “but otherwise it’s the same. I never feel a stranger.”

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