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Notice! There is a Norwegian course for foreigners every Sunday at 4:00 p.m. in St. Paul school. The course is sponsored by the Caritas-group. For more information contact Klara Wade, klaraaawade@gmail.com.

About the Catholic Church in Norway and
St. Paul's Parish Church, Bergen

eng01St. Pauls kirke
Nygårdsgaten 3
5015 Bergen
Tel. 55 21 59 50
Parish website: bergen.katolsk.no
National website: www.katolsk.no
Catholic youth organization: www.nuk.no
Caritas Norway: www.caritas.no

The total population of Norway is 4.5 million, of which only 1–2 % are registered Catholics. Most of the inhabitants are nominally members of the Church of Norway, which is the established church.

Organization and structure

The Catholic Church in Norway consists of the Diocese of Oslo (154,560 km²), the Prelature of Trondheim (56,458 km²) and the Prelature of Tromsø (175,618 km²). This administrative division has its historical and practical reasons. Norway is a geographically large but sparsely populated country, and until recently communications were quite difficult. For instance, the parish of Hammerfest in the far north of the country comprises 48,618 km², while the parish of Bergen on the West Coast covers 29,570 km². This means that priests have to travel a lot to get to their parishioners, a formidable task if one considers the long and dark winter months, snowy and mountainous roads and a number ferry crossings.
Catholic parishes or missions are found in Oslo (St. Olav’s Cathedral and St. Hallvard’s Church), Arendal, Asker og Bærum, Askim, Bergen, Drammen, Fredrikstad, Halden, Hamar, Haugesund, Hønefoss, Jessheim, Kongsvinger, Kristiansand S, Larvik, Lillehammer, Lillestrøm, Moss, Porsgrunn, Stavanger, Tønsberg, Valdres, Trondheim, Kristiansund N, Levanger, Molde, Ålesund, Tromsø, Bodø, Hammerfest, Harstad, Mosjøen, Narvik, and Storfjord (Lofoten Islands).

Statistics

According to official statistics for 2008 there are approximately 57,500 Catholics, or about 1,5 % of the population. Most of the Catholics live in Oslo, where they make up about 2.5 % of the population, while in Lillehammer only 0.2 % of the population is Catholic. In reality there are many more Catholics in the country, probably over 100,000, and with labour migrants from Poland and other Eastern European countries perhaps as many as 150,000, but they are not registered as Catholics in the Registrar’s Office and hence are impossible to trace. The number of Catholics is increasing mostly due to immigration, but also due to a number of conversions.

Registration

In Norway, unless you are a registered member of another religious or humanist association, you are counted as a member of the established church (the Church of Norway), and your tax money goes to the Church of Norway. Therefore it is very important for Catholics to be officially registered as members of the Catholic Church, so that your tax money goes to the Catholic Church! The Church therefore needs your full personnummer (11 digits). You can register online at the national Church website or contact your local Catholic parish.

A universal church in miniature

Catholics born in Norway (included the children of immigrants) make up about 38 % of all the members of the Catholic Church in the country. In many parishes Norwegians are in a minority. Other large groups include Poles, Vietnamese, Filipinos, Tamils and Chileans.
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The priests are equally multicultural. You may have a Norwegian parish priest, but it is much more probable that he is a Vietnamese, a Dutchman, a German or a Pole. The lingua franca is Norwegian, which both the priests and their parishioners master to a varying degree. However, it must be mentioned that in recent years the number of native Norwegian priests (including children of immigrants) has increased considerably! In addition there are two permanent deacons serving in St.Paul’s Church, Bergen.
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Mass in different languages

In big parishes, such as those in Oslo or Bergen, there are several masses in different languages on every Sunday. In smaller parishes this may vary, but there will be a Mass celebrated in some of the main languages used by the parishioners every Sunday, or on some weekdays. In Bergen Mass in English is celebrated every Sunday at 6 pm. Full mass schedules are available online (see above).

Challenges

When arriving in Norway, you should be aware that this is a Protestant country where Catholic churches are few and far between. Hence, you cannot count on Catholic services and sacraments unless you settle in one of the more populous areas. You must also be prepared to travel – usually drive – a considerable distance to get to church. Hence regular attendance is not always possible and therefore the role of lay Catholics may be more important than in countries where Catholics are in majority.

The lay people and their role

Because of the great distances, the role of lay people is important. They function as catechists, readers, acolytes and in other ministries. Lay persons, and in smaller places also parents themselves, have to help catechize children before their first Holy Communion and to prepare young people for Confirmation.
eng04eng05Catholic youth in Norway are organized in Norges Unge Katolikker (NUK). They organize camps and activities for children, young people, young adults and families. They also publish several magazines for various age groups and other Catholic material. Recently a new songbook has been published called Adoremus. The NUK is active throughout the whole country. More information is found on the Catholic youth organization’s website (see above). Martin, her bør vi kanskje ha en link.
There is also an active Caritas organization, which has many local branches on parish level and where many lay people work (for their website, see above).

History

The history of the Catholic Church in Norway is as old as the kingdom itself, dating back to about 900 A.D., with Christian monarchs from 930. The country was finally converted after the death of Saint Olav, King and Martyr, in 1030. Christianisation was largely the work of Anglo-Saxon missionaries, and the Norwegian Church has been considered the only daughter of the English. The papal legate, Cardinal Nicholas Breakspear (later Pope Hadrian IV), established an ecclesiastical province in 1153 with the metropolitan see at Nidaros (Trondheim) and suffragan sees at Oslo, Bergen, Hamar, and Stavanger. The prosperous years of the High Middle Ages were followed by decline for Church and nation alike, although Norwegian Catholicism retained much of its vitality.
The people were unprepared for the Protestant Reformation imposed by the Danish king in 1537. In spite of severe punishment for Catholic practices, the faith survived in parts of the country till about 1700. Christiania (Oslo) had an illegal but tolerated Catholic congregation for some years in the 1790s. The first parish after the Reformation was established in the capital in 1843; and a few years later Catholic places of worship were opened in Alta (Finnmark), Tromsø and Bergen.
Most Norwegian Catholics have a foreign background; which partly explains the once popular prejudice that Catholicism is something alien. Religious sisters working in hospitals and schools did much to overcome anti-Catholicism; Catholic authors, e.g. Sigrid Undset and the Dominican Father Hallvard Rieber-Mohn, also contributed to this. Protestants and Catholics were brought closer together in firm opposition to the Quisling regime during the German occupation (1940–45).

Consecrated life

In several parishes there are male and female religious, including Canons Regular of St. Augustine, Cistercians, Discalced Carmelites, Dominicans, Franciscans, Poor Clares, Picpus Fathers, Missionaries of the Holy Family, Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Little Sisters of Jesus, Sisters of St. Elizabeth, Sisters of St. Francis Xavier, and Missionaries of Charity. Religious houses are rather small with 3–10 sisters or brethren. Some, like the Sisters of St. Francis Xavier in Bergen, were much larger before and after the Second World War, when they were running hospitals and schools, which they have since had to give up due to declining numbers.

Celebrating Feasts

Since Norway is officially a Protestant country, Christmas Day, 26 December, 1 January, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Whit Sunday and Whit Monday are all public holidays. However, specifically Catholic feast days like Corpus Christi, 15 August, 1 November and 8 December are not.

A secular country

Norway is a secular Western country, which means that most of our neighbours or colleagues, even if they are members of the Church of Norway, perceive religion as a private matter and Sunday as a day for relaxation, often in their cottages, skiing in the mountains or simply having a lazy morning. Our participation in the Sunday Mass may cause some surprise. Often various sports activities for children are organized on Sundays, and sometimes it is not easy to make a choice whether to go to Church or participate in something else. Also the Easter Triduum may be a special experience when we go to church and most of the population spends the weekend either skiing in the mountains or partying in town.

St. Paul’s Parish in Bergen

On 6 March 1843 the King of Norway and Sweden issued a decree which allowed Catholics in Christiania (today Oslo) to establish their first parish since the Protestant Reformation. Two years later freedom of worship was extended for to the whole country, but it took 12 more years before a Catholic priest, Father Christopher Holfeldt-Houen, arrived in Bergen. He celebrated his first Mass in Bergen at Christmas 1857 in a temporary chapel in a flat at Kalmargjerdet.
In 1864 Father Holfeldt-Houen bought some land to build a church. The first parish priest was the Norwegian Barnabite Father Johan Daniel Stub, whose symbolic grave is found behind the apse of the church. Construction work on St. Paul’s Church lasted for 11 years and on 29 June 1876, the solemn feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, the church was dedicated. At the same time a small Catholic school was opened and run by religious sisters. Today the school is located in a modern building next to the church and is generally considered one of the best schools in Bergen.
In 1896 a crypt was constructed under the church, and this now functions as a church hall. The same year a Catholic hospital was opened in “Birgittahjemmet,” next to the church and later on a bigger hospital at “Florida,” where there is a small Catholic chapel dedicated to St. Sunniva, the patron saint of Bergen.

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