As Catholics around the world hailed their new Pope Francis, the man called Pave Frans in Norway (roughly pronounced “Pah-vuh Frahns”) was being warmly welcomed as well. Around 100 Catholics took part in a spontaneous mass at St Olav’s Cathedral in Oslo Wednesday evening to pray for their new spiritual leader.
They gathered shortly after Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was chosen by his fellow cardinals at the Vatican and then broke historic ground by being the first pope from outside Europe and for choosing the name “Francis.” A Vatican spokesman said Pope Francis chose his name in honor of St Francis of Assisi because he is a “lover of the poor.” Several Norwegian Catholics think the name also suggests that the new pope will be reform-minded.
“His name bodes well,” the Catholic Bishop of Oslo Bernt Ivar Eidsvig told those gathered at St Olav’s Cathedral on Wednesday evening. “Francis of Assisi (born in the late 12th century) reformed the church at a time of clear signs of deterioration. And he was concerned with more than just his own circles, something that his dialogue with Muslims suggests.”
The Oslo bishop called the election of Pope Francis “exciting,” and said he thinks the new pope will be a leader who will pay attention to the poor and to social questions. Choosing a name that’s never been used by a pope before “gives him more freedom to define himself, and that’s a strong signal that he’s reform-friendly,” the bishop told news bureau NTB.
The new pope, who greeted the crowds in Rome Wednesday night with a smile and a friendly buona sera (“good evening”) in Italian, also intends to meet with journalists in Rome at 11am on Saturday, another sign of his willingness to respond to questions amidst demands for reforms from congregations around the world, and scandals over sexual abuse by priests.
Parish priest Arne Marco Kirsebom in Oslo was also pleased by the choice of the new pope. “I had hoped for someone from Latin America myself,” Kirsebom told NTB. “For Argentinians and South Americans, this is a fantastic day, and this can give a new boost for Catholicism in that part of the world. The pope is aware of poverty in a completely different way than Europeans are.”
Growing Catholic population in Norway
Norway’s Catholic population is relatively small but growing steadily especially as a result of immigration. Norway has three bishops based in Oslo, Trondheim and Tromsø whom all report directly to Rome, according to Den Katolske Kirke i Norge (external link, in Norwegian). The three dioceses are in turn divided into 35 congregations serving the roughly 85,000 Catholics registered with the church as of March 2011.
Since as many as 90 percent of Norway’s Catholics reside in the Oslo area, the church is administered from the capital where it long has sought new sites for conducting mass because of heavy demand. The church regularly conducts mass in several languages to serve Norway’s immigrant population, among them English, Spanish, Croatian, French, Tagalog, Lithuanian, Vietnamese and Polish.
Oslo Bishop Ole Christian Kvarme of the Norwegian state church congratulated Bishop Bernt Eidsvig and “friends in the Catholic Church” on the election of Pope Francis. Kvarme called the choice “a sign of hope, both for the Catholic Church and the society we live in.”
As head of the world’s largest church, Kvarme noted that the pope is also an “important symbol for those of us who aren’t Catholics,” and referred to St Francis of Assisi as “part of our Christian heritage.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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