Ten days on, the pastoral response continues in Norway

By staff writers
August 1, 2011

In the ten days since the terror attacks in Norway, pastors and church workers have played a major role in caring for the survivors and the victims' families, with churches opened for people seeking comfort and community.

Oslo's Lutheran Cathedral, situated a few blocks from the damaged government buildings, has become a centre for mourners to light candles. Outside the cathedral, flowers cover large areas and also the street.

As Norwegian police finish the complex task of indentifying victims, burials will begin to take place all over the country, most of them in Church of Norway churches and chapels.

On 24 July 2011 Oslo Cathedral changed its regular Sunday service into a televised "mass of grief and hope." "We will not let fear paralyse us," said Church of Norway Presiding Bishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien in her homily.

Preaching to a packed cathedral, and with Norway's royal family and political leaders present, Byfuglien said that "In the midst of the gruesome, something beautiful is emerging: the God-given ability of every human being to show goodness and charity. This makes us see glimpses of God."

Acts and messages of ecclesial condolences and support have been numerous since the attacks on 22 July. Pope Benedict XVI expressed his compassion in a message to Norway's King Harald V. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, has also expressed his deep condolences and prayers for the souls of the lost to the Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg.

On 27 July Denmark's Queen and Prime Minister participated in a memorial service in Copenhagen's Lutheran Cathedral. The Lutheran Bishop Emeritus of Oslo, Gunnar Staalsett, told the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation that Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist leaders have sent their messages of support via the World Council of Religious Leaders.

In a letter to the Christian Council of Norway, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC),the Rev. Dr Olav Fkyse Tveit and the Moderator of the WCC Central Committee, the Rev Dr Walter Altmann expressed their “deep shock and sadness” concerning the attacks of last week. “We wish to express our deepest solidarity with the people, churches and authorities of Norway,” they said.

After officially opening the St Olav Festival in Trondheim on 28 July, Norway's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jonas Gahr Stoere, presented Nidaros Cathedral with an icon created by monks in an Orthodox monastery in Dekani, Kosovo. Depicting St. Olav of Norway and St. Stephen of Dekani, the icon was presented to Stoere during his visit to Kosovo this Easter. In his speech Stoere said the old ecclesial centre of Nidaros underlines Norway's broad European Christian heritage.

St Olav Festival takes place in and around Trondheim's medieval Nidaros Cathedral, the burial church of Norway's patron saint Olav II Haraldsson (995-1030).

The festival has in recent decades grown into a forceful reminder of Christianity's long lineage in Norway and other Nordic countries - which many people feel has been gravely exploited by last week's terror attacks, given the 'Christian' imagery the attacker used.


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