Norway's government has praised the country's small Roman Catholic Church for its role in supporting more than 100,000 labour migrants from Poland and other eastern European countries - writes Oivind Ostang.
"We have become increasingly aware of the crucial role the Catholic Church is playing in responding to this challenge," Bjarne Haakon Hansen, the government minister for labour and social inclusion told Oslo's Catholic Bishop Bernt Eidsvig earlier in January, the Vaart Land newspaper reported.
Hansen was visiting the headquarters of the Catholic Church at St Olav's Cathedral in Oslo, a few hundred metres from his ministry. The minister in the centre-left coalition government said he wanted to learn more about how the Catholic Church is coping in regard to its ministry to migrants. He also stated his willingness to financially support this part of the church's work. The church has said it will need around 30 million Norwegian krone (US$5.5 million) to continue these activities over the next two years.
"We are doing our best, but our capacity is over-strained," Catholic Bishop Eidsvig told Hansen. The bishop said the actual number of Catholics in Norway is now around 200 000, as opposed to the only 56 000 who are registered, an increase due in part to the new arrivals from other countries.
Of Norway's 4.7 million inhabitants, 83 percent are Lutherans, who nearly all belong the Church of Norway.
The bishop said most Polish and other immigrants are seeking help from the Catholic Church to find their way into Norwegian society, rather than from trade unions and other secular organisations, although the church is encouraging them to use such groups.
Catholic parishes are organizing free Norwegian language courses, while cooperating with the Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions in offering courses in Norwegian labour legislation.
Hansen said, however, he could not promise Eidsvig assistance in solving his most pressing need: more churches for Masses in Polish and other languages. In Oslo alone, four Masses are celebrated in Polish each Sunday.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]