Revd Ramón Goyarrola Belda, new Bishop of Helsinki

Finland: A diocese with 17,000 Catholics

Vatican News

Pope Francis recently appointed Bishop Raimo Ramón Goyarrola Belda of the Personal Prelature of Opus Dei, formerly Vicar General of the same diocese, as Bishop of Helsinki (Finland).

Before the microphones of Vatican News, he expressed his emotion and gratitude to the Pope for his confidence in this election, and spoke of the reality of the Church in Finland.

Pope Francis has recently appointed Father Goyarrola Belda of the personal Prelature of Opus Dei as Bishop of Helsinki. Last Thursday he received him at the Vatican to greet him, and where the new bishop, after thanking the Pope for his appointment, told him about his dreams that he wants to realise in the diocese.

It was a moment of joy,” the prelate said of the meeting with the Pontiff, “he received me with great affection,” he said, and his advice is to go ahead of his flock, to be a Good Shepherd, guiding them, in the middle and behind, accompanying them. “And to follow the nose of the flock, because the flock knows where to graze. The bishop thanked Francis for what he does for the whole Church around the world. He also asked him for a message for Catholics in Finland, at the end of the world.

The Pope’s message to the People of God in that country is to be leaven, sometimes it is not seen, it is small, but that is where the dough will grow. The dough of the whole society. This is the message that the new bishop passed on to his brothers and sisters. Finally, Bishop Goyarrola thanked Pope Francis for his catechesis the day before, where he spoke about the joy of evangelisation, to be sowers of peace and joy, that joy that only Christ gives. “We will try in the darkness of the coming winter to be light, salt, leaven, to give joy all around, carrying Christ in our hearts,” he said.

He was formerly vicar general of the same diocese, and will be ordained this November 25. He has been in Helsinki since 2006, where he has held various positions, chaplain at the University Residence in Tavasttähti; assistant to the University Pastoral in Helsinki, teacher of religious education in various public schools in the capital, member of the executive staff and the Ethics Committee of the Ecumenical Council, military chaplain and vicar general of the diocese of Helsinki.

New bishop wants to realise his dreams in Helsinki

The new bishop has a long, long list of dreams. Among them is the desire to create a seminary, to see to vocations to the priesthood, I also have the dream of a Catholic school, there are no Catholic schools, he added, and a home for the elderly with a ward, for example for palliative care, he said.

According to the website of the Catholic Church in Finland, there are currently almost 17,000 Catholics in Finland out of a total population of five and a half million (about 10,000 in Helsinki), representing 0.8 per cent of the total population. Some 68.7% are Lutheran Christians (Protestant), 2.7% Muslim, 1.1% Orthodox, and 28.5% belong to no religion at all.

According to the new bishop, although some 17,000 Catholics are registered, the reality is much wider, because it is estimated that there may be 30,000-35,000 Catholics. In the last two years, there have been many immigrants and refugees from other countries, which may have doubled the percentage in just three years.

How the clergy in Finland are made up

The Church in Finland is a small family, the prelate said, we have eight parishes in a territory as large as Italy, 28 priests from 13 different countries, and priests of different charisms. There are priests of the Neocatechumenal Way, Opus Dei, Dominicans. Diverse Catholic institutions, each with its own charism, but all rowing towards the same place and all together in unity, he pointed out, it is diversity that unites us all. Diversity belongs to the Catholic religion, he said, a diversity that separates is not Catholic and thank God in Finland, he insisted, there is diversity, and we are very different, but we are united, and there I see the Catholic Church.

“And the great religious family since the beginning of the diocese in Finland are the fathers, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart”, little by little the local diocesan priestly vocations are increasing, one of the dreams of the new bishop is to have a diocesan seminary with local vocations.

Unity between confessions and religions

“Finland is a miracle, the Dicastery for Christian Unity is thrilled with Finland because what we have achieved there, I would say, is a gift from God, there is a friendship, an affection, an understanding that I really believe is the basis of ecumenism. We have achieved official dialogical documents with the Lutheran Church, with the Pentecostal Church, it is a wonderful ecumenism.

Goyarrola, speaking about the efforts made in the country in a dialogue between confessions and religions: We share churches, he explained that Catholics celebrate the Eucharist in 25 non-Catholic churches, that is to say that the Lutheran Church and the Orthodox Church lend their own churches to celebrate the Catholic mass in 25 different cities. I would like to underline the affection we have for each other, he added, we pray together, we can talk about theology, about topics that perhaps in other places or countries they do not dare to do so for fear of offending.

“With mutual respect and affection, we manage to talk about issues that perhaps we have different opinions, but we want to understand each other, to understand each other, to understand each other, and I believe that this is the path of ecumenism.

Situation of migrants and refugees

The number of Catholics converting to our religion is also increasing, he said, there are more baptisms of children, but also of adults, people who in time God calls them and they receive baptism.

Speaking on the subject of migration, Bishop Goyarrola recalled that, historically, Finland has been a country open to immigrants, especially for political reasons, that is to say, especially refugees. There have been large waves of refugees, such as, for example, thousands of Vietnamese, because of the Vietnam War. From Latin America, they have come from Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua and Venezuela. From Africa they have come from Nigeria, Cameroon and Kenya. “Also from societies where unfortunately they are not news, here in Europe, but where there are wars, violence, and people who are suffering. Thank God in Finland we are welcoming many of them, most of whom are Catholics”.

With the war between Ukraine and Russia, many Ukrainians have arrived, most of them are Orthodox, dependent on the different patriarchates in Ukraine. Greek Catholics have also come, he said. “We have managed to get a Greek Catholic priest from Estonia, he lives in that country, he said, but he comes every two weeks to Helsinki to look after his faithful. There are an estimated 500 of them, they have their liturgy, the Word of God in Ukrainian, etc.”.

The Finnish government’s reception programme

According to the bishop, the state welcomes the refugees, there is a dialogue with them where they explain the reasons why they have fled, then, on the basis of the reasons they have explained, the state welcomes them. It provides them with a flat, a place to live, information to help them to integrate into the country, language courses, the final language, because it is quite complicated, very difficult, he said, even for the Finns themselves.

The Catholic Church plays a very important role, he pointed out, because they get close to the People of God, they travel many kilometres to talk to Catholics. Through the family, which is the Church, they are helped in their integration, psychologically and spiritually, not only materially, and without the help of the State, with their own resources, the bishop remarked. As a result, many families feel at home.

A bit of history

Bishop Goyarrola Belda is now the 29th bishop since 1155, when the country converted to the Catholic faith. In 1522, with the Lutheran reformation, Catholicism was banned in Finland and its last bishop was Arvid Kurki. In. 1920, after a long pause, the ban on Catholicism in Finland was lifted and the seat of the Finnish capital was erected. On 25 February 1955 it was elevated to a diocese. Since then, Helsinki has had five bishops (three from the Netherlands, one from Poland and the last, at last, Finnish), and now Bishop Raimo, a Spaniard, is the sixth. Since 20 May 2019, the episcopal see of the Diocese of Helsinki was vacant, following the resignation of the previous bishop Teemu Sipon SCJ.

Patricia Ynestroza-Vatican City