Another Ecumenical Breakthrough: Swedish Megachurch Pastor Converts to Catholicism

Ulf Ekman

The pastor of Sweden’s largest non-denominational megachurch shocked Christians in his own community and around the world this weekend, by announcing that he is entering the Roman Catholic Church.

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Several times in the last month, I wrote about bold initiatives in ecumenism, most notably the exchange of greetings and blessings between Pope Francis and evangelical pastor Kenneth Copeland, brokered by Anglican Bishop Tony Palmer.

Perhaps I spoke too soon, though—for this latest surprise is just as remarkable in the Christian world, once again pointing toward a quest for unity which would have seemed impossible just a few years ago.

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Ulf Ekman, founder of the Word of Life Church in Uppsala, Sweden, in a long sermon on Sunday explained to his followers how he and his wife Birgitta had experienced the gentle yet firm tug from Jesus to join the Roman Catholic Church. There are two ways to get into the water, he said: first, like Peter, hearing the call of Christ and jumping in to answer; and second, like Jonah, hearing God’s call to go to Nineveh but fearful, taking off in a boat headed in the other direction. Only when he was thrown overboard by sailors on the ship did he end up in the water.

Elkman spoke candidly about his fear at embarking on his new journey. “Fears,” he said, “are the open mountains overshadowing the beautiful landscape our Lord wants to show us.”

In a statement on his ministry website, Pastor Ekman explains the quest for unity to which Christ called the Ekmans, and Ekman’s personal 10-year journey toward conversion. From that statement:

During the last ten years, Ulf and Birgitta have had contact with catholics and catholic faith, mostly internationally but also in Sweden. This has made them reflect more on the catholic faith and on the spiritual life they have seen in their catholic brothers and sisters.

- For Birgitta and me, this has been a slow process were we have gone from discovering new things, to appreciating what we have discovered, to approach and even learn from our fellow Christians, Ulf Ekman says.

- We have seen a great love for Jesus and a sound theology, founded on the Bible and classic dogma. We have experienced the richness of sacramental life. We have seen the logic in having a solid structure for priesthood, that keeps the faith of the church and passes it on from one generation to the next. We have met an ethical and moral strength and consistency that dare to face up to the general opinion, and a kindness towards the poor and the weak. And, last but not least, we have come in contact with representatives for millions of charismatic Catholics and we have seen their living faith, Ulf Ekman explains.

- All this has been both attractive and challenging. It really challenged our protestant prejudices, and we realized that we in many cases did not have any basis for our criticism of them. We needed to know the Catholic faith better. This led us to the realize that it was actually Jesus Christ who led us to unite with the Catholic Church, Ulf Ekman says.

In the following video (which is translated into English), Ukman explains his decision to a spellbound congregation at the church which he founded 30 years ago.   There is a hearty applause at the end of the announcement, but reports indicate that the news has been met with “anger to sadness and confusion.”

Here is the video link from the March 9 service at Word of Life Church.  Pastor Ekman’s specific comments about Catholicism begin at the 25:00 mark.


Ostia Antica: St. Augustine’s Home Town

On August 28, we celebrate the feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, the North African convert who became one of Catholicism’s greatest educators after his conversion.

Our guide Fr. Joseph Fox, O.P. explains the layout of Ostia Antica.

I’ve posted several articles about St. Augustine (here and here and here).  I thought I’d round out the series with a few pics from some of his favorite hometown haunts.

Back in 2003 or 2004, I had the privilege of leading a group of pilgrims to some of the fun spots in and around Rome.   One of my favorite spots, outside of the Eternal City itself at the mouth of the River Tiber, was the ancient seaport of Ostia Antica (“Old Mouth”).

View of the city from the old Roman road

Well, actually, it isn’t really a seaport today.  Time and tide have reworked the landscape, leaving the old port city landlocked.  The sea, if you go there in 2012, is nearly two miles away.

Shops along an Ostian road

But in the fourth century, Ostia was a bustling seaport serving the city of Rome.   Merchants from the warehouse district greeted the incoming vessels, then sold their goods to people of the city.  Sailors on shore leave mingled with Roman citizens, shopping, dining in restaurants, perhaps enjoying a good stage play before setting sail once again.  So the town of Ostia needed to accommodate the crowds—and so the settlement sprawled across the Italian plains, including down its narrow streets shops and schools, administrative buildings, a theatre, public baths, small homes and apartments, public ovens, even a latrine that requires no explanation. [Read more...]

I Think, Therefore I Am…. Catholic.

The feisty writers over at Patheos’ Catholic Portal are a diverse lot:  a rough and tumble mix of converts and reverts and cradle Catholics.

I am all of the above.

I am a Cradle Catholic because my parents herded me to church on Sunday mornings, scrimping and saving to provide twelve years of Catholic education.  I disappointed them, though, when I reached adulthood—veering into a guileless agnosticism, then stumbling back to belief via Unitarian Universalism (such lovely music!) and evangelicalism (such great Easter dramas!)  Then again,

I am a Revert because one Saturday afternoon, discouraged by life’s vagaries, I walked alone into a Catholic church and slid quietly into the rear pew.  Praying from the heart, perhaps for the first time, I encountered the God of my youth, Who introduced Himself in an explosion of knowing and loving and bewilderment.  I struggled under the tutelage of a kindly priest who answered my belligerent questions about angels and purgatory and eternity—until one day I believed.  And

I am a Convert because each morning I wake to the promise of a deeper awareness of God’s love evidenced in the Eucharist, and with a firmer resolve to sin no more.