Swedes highly regard Catholic saint

Supernatural views of interest

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  The Washington Times 04/25/1998
  Lois Lindstrom

STOCKHOLM - Post-Christian Sweden, where most people belong to the Lutheran state church, is having a sudden upsurge of interest in a 14th-century Catholic saint.

While Swedish families have long named their daughters after St. Birgitta - and derivations such as Britt. Inga Britta, Britta, and Britt Marie - there now is an interest in her spiritual life and effect on her era.

In this decade, four international symposiums have been held on St. Birgitta, who had been lady-in-waiting to Sweden's Queen Blanche of Namur in the 1300s. A symposium in Rome was attended by Sweden's Queen Sylvia in 1991.

A book on her life by the Rev. Ingvar Fogelqvist. "Apostasy and Reform in the Revelations of St. Birgitta." came out in 1993 and is now in a second printing.

She may be one of the few church phenomena taught in Swedish classrooms, said Father Rune P. Thuringer. a Jesuit priest and former Lutheran pastor in Stockholm.

"I think people find her of interest because she was from the upper classes and described the evils of her time in her revelations," Father Fogelqvist said. He said that she is considered as a precursor of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.

While there are few Swedish saints for minority Catholics here, the interest in the supernatural views of the female saint has surprised many.

Throughout her life St. Birgitta wrote down personal "revelations" that now fill eight volumes. Her inspirations were respected by the papacy, but not officially endorsed.

Pope Benedict XIV, for example, said: "Even though many of these revelations have been approved, we cannot and ought not to give them the assent of Catholic faith, but only that of human faith, when the rules of prudence present them as probably and worthy of pious credence."

Now they are having an unusual popular appeal.

Father Fogelqvist said St. Birgitta is probably touching people with her example of simplicity in a modern era of wealth and comfort.

She was born in Uppsala in 1303 as a distant relative of the future king of Sweden, Magnus II. She served the court and hart eight children, but on the death of one of them she and her husband made a pilgrimage to Spain and decided to separate and join monasteries. He died soon after, and she moved to Rome permanently in 1350.

There, she worked for the return of the papacy to Rome from Avignon, France, during what was later called the "Babylonian exile of the papacy."

At the same time, she founded the monastic Order of the Most Holy Savior, which still exists, and in her writings in Latin and Swedish criticized the new wealth of the money system that had just arisen in Europe.

The rulers, Father Fogelqvist said, collected enormous sums of money through taxes, and common people also became fixated on accumulating money, forgetting the church's teachings against covetousness.

“Their carnal pleasure is so important to them that they would more gladly forfeit Christ than give up their disordered delight," St. Birgitta wrote.

Even for her time of medieval faith, she was more vivid than most in portraying what was at stake for Christians. "Hell," she said, was a "fiery furnace in which the demons and the damned souls are dwelling," a place that is "extremely hot, sulfurous, and unquenchable."

St. Birgitta died in Rome at 70. and was buried in Sweden.

   

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