In October 2006, The Angelus covered the conversion of a Lutheran pastor (Sten Sandmark) and his associate (Joacim Svensson) in Sweden. Joacim is now studying at St. Mary's College in St. Mary's, Kansas, ... in preparation to enter the seminary. We asked him some questions about his conversion and his thoughts and impressions about the Faith.
Joacim, the story of a conversion in our days of crisis is so extraordinary, I hardly know where to begin. Tell us about your family background and religious upbringing.
I had no religion in my upbringing whatsoever. I was confirmed in the Lutheran Church when I was 14, and that was a path to belief in Christ.
What led you to getting "confirmed"?
I just felt it was the right thing to do–and it was almost a calling. There were about 200 of us that were confirmed that year. And I was the only one of 200 who remained…Lutheran.
How does Sweden fare in religious practice?
Among the 9 million Swedes, 7 million are Lutherans. It was a National Church for 500 years (from c. 1520) until 2000. In reality, about 700,000 Lutherans are practicing their faith.
Why did it stop being a national church?
There was a separation that was agreed to by both Church and State. The Church wanted to be more liberated because the politicians, the Social Democratic party, ruled the Church. In 1958, the Lutheran Church decided to have women priests. All the professors, bishops, etc., were against it, but the politicians forced it.
Was there a schism?
No, there wasn't a problem; the "hard-liners" were marginalized. In the beginning they allowed those priests who didn't want to work with women priestesses to be left alone. Now, not anymore. Now every priest has to work with a woman priestess, and so now you have to sign a paper that you accept working with women priests. Homosexual couples will soon follow.
So five years ago there was resistance, at least token, to these reforms–and now?
Well, the bishops are all Social Democrats. If a bishop said he didn't want to ordain a woman, he was removed; and they would find a priest willing to ordain women, and so they would consecrate him. Remember, 500 years of Church and State joined meant that the political influence in the hierarchy was (and is) enormous. Most of the bishops and priests are Freemasons. In the population of the Lutheran Church, there has been a drop of one million members in the last 15-20 years, and there will be more and more as time goes on.
How have your parents reacted?
Well, that I wanted to join a monastery was quite a thing. So they don't care–whatever makes you happy. It's the typical Swedish mentality.
So why are you now in St. Mary's?
I was put here by Fr. Schmidberger so that I could learn English better, and so that after awhile I can join the seminary–perhaps in one or two years from now.
Well, for the readers who can't hear you speak, I can testify that you're making great progress! Can I ask you a bit more about the former Pastor Sandmark?
Well, for starters, he is now a seminarian at Zaitzkofen [the Society's German seminary– Ed.].
How long will he study?
As of right now, one to two years, and then he will be ordained. I have been told that he makes great progress in Zaitzkofen. I am not surprised; he is a Swede made of iron!
It must be quite a thing to go from being a pastor for 31 years to going back to the seminary.
Yes, indeed. We had a very large parish–a town of 25,000, with a parish of 12,500.
Twelve thousand! So St. Mary's is really a "small parish" compared to what you came from?
Yes, that's true. Pastor Sandmark was the chief "priest" of our parish. We had a common life together–much like Catholic religious. We didn't have wives or children–our monastery was always open to people who wanted to come. We often had people for dinner and were often invited to dinner. We were very "popular" because the people perceived that they could come to us anytime and we would make time for them. Whereas for most Lutheran pastors, the big goal is to have a big salary, and a wife, and lots of children–so they do not care as much about the faithful, honestly.
We, of course, wanted to save souls, and we wanted a more ascetic religious life.
I can't imagine relations were good with your fellow pastors…
We had some disagreements. It was very hard for them to accept that we wanted to live a religious life, and this was a problem because Pastor Sandmark was a beloved pastor of many faithful–people would go to his "mass," but not to the others.
To clarify for our readers, when you say "mass," you mean of course the Lutheran service.
Yes; however, what is interesting is that it is far more traditional than the Novus Ordo. We still have grand altars, and communion rails...
The [...] Catholic bishop in Sweden some years back rejected Sten Sandmark's desire to be Catholic in favor of ecumenism. How do you view this bishop now that you are Catholic, and what do you think of ecumenism?
Well, about 12 years ago, five people went to the Catholic Bishop saying they wanted to be Catholic. He told us to "hold our horses," and said that we could be "Catholic in our hearts." The highest Catholic authority told us this, and hence we assumed this was a right thing to do. So instead of founding an Augustinian Catholic monastery, these five founded the monastery within the Lutheran Church. Some died, some left, so he was alone until I came almost three years ago.
So the only "support" the bishop gave us in becoming Catholic was sending a Christmas card every year.
That's very sad–to hear that some people wanted to become Catholic but were barred by those who should have welcomed them in. I'm sorry.
We had been studying Catholic doctrine, and we were afraid because we thought that "outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation"–and we did not want to be outside! But it seems that these Catholic bishops today think it's not true. It's a really strange behavior. There are 80,000 Catholics in Sweden; most of them are from the Eastern countries, but with a climate like this, of course there are no conversions.
As a convert, what's your perspective on ecumenism?
Well, there is false ecumenism and real ecumenism; we see false ecumenism all the time. But real ecumenism is to belong to the real Church of Christ founded on St. Peter. To take another view of ecumenism, while we were Lutherans, we invited the Bishop to our house seven times. He did come to the town once, but he did not stop by. Instead, he went to celebrate Mass at the parish of a priest who was the chaplain of the Freemasonic lodge in the town. We warned him about it, but he did not care. He was shaking hands with them and laughing with them.
We said to him afterwards that we thought that the Catholic Church, which has the eternal truths, cannot deal with Freemasons. He said that the Lutheran Church has another opinion, that is that Freemasonry is "okay," and so out of respect for Lutherans, we should obey that guideline of the Catholic bishop.
That's really unbelievable. He put up obstacles to your conversion. What do you think are the biggest obstacles that are put up to the convert these days?
Ecumenism, of course–that you are free to belong to any sect. The Catholic Church has abandoned its supremacy and its teaching " extra ecclesiam nulla salus." It seems as though the Church is doing everything to keep people out of her. They allow adherence to heresy. It used to be that they would fight against the heresy, but now they are friends with the heresy. As a former heretic, it seems so strange to me that the Church wants to be friendly and go down the road of heresy, especially with Vatican II, the ecumenical meeting in Assisi, and the joint declaration on the doctrine of justification with the Lutherans 1999.
What compounds this is our attitude in Sweden. We are very secularized and westernized–we want the newest car, television, movie, etc. There are some movements in Sweden that want spirituality, that want to go back to their "roots," but all over Sweden it is very bad and anti-Christian.
There was an exhibition not too long ago, which the Lutheran Church was paying for, called " Ecce Homo." It was composed of portraits of Christ as naked–terrible, blaspheming pictures. This was terrible, and at least the Catholic bishop spoke up against it, and the Pope took back his invitation to the Swedish Lutheran "Archbishop" to come to Rome that year. Yet this is what Lutheranism does. It is trying to attack Christianity even in its roots of respect for Christ.
Are there any articles of Faith you found particularly difficult to understand?
Not at all. We always had table readings or lectures about Catholic teachings and dogma. I "ate it up," as you might say. I had no hesitation whatsoever. We have seen the heresy and worked with the heresy, so for us the Catholic Faith is eminently logical and full of sense. We really love and are attached to the Catholic doctrine and dogmas.
Were there any that struck you as particularly beautiful?
Mary was really the most important thing in our life, especially her Immaculate Conception and her Assumption. She was our guidance. We really loved her; it was something we tried to introduce into the parish. We bought statues of Mary, and it was acceptable to some parishioners. It was a chance to proclaim the truths we knew. But I have to tell you that the reason we survived in the Lutheran Church all these years was the daily rosary. Without it, we would not have been able to persevere to our conversion.
How do you view Confession now, especially coming from a sect that was born (among other reasons) from a fear and misunderstanding of it?
We had "confession," but later on we discovered that it was not valid. Luther had confession, the Lutheran "orthodox" took it away. Very old German parishes that are Lutheran still have confession; there were confessions for the first 100 years of the Protestant Revolt.
We certainly had good intentions in administering it, but it is very jarring to discover, as Pastor Sandmark did after 31 years, that he was never a priest.
Both former Pastor Sandmark in his last sermon to your parish [See The Angelus, October 2006, p.44] and Bishop Tissier de Mallerais in his sermon receiving you into the Church mentioned priestesses and blessings of homosexual unions.Can you give us a little bit of background to the progression of this in Europe?
To be honest, it has just come to a head in the last five years. Ten years ago, even if you mentioned the question, people would shake their heads no. But now we have to be "kind and nice" to everybody, and the highest Lutheran Church council in Sweden, which is made up of a majority of Social Democrats, voted yes.
What is the Faith like in Europe? How does it compare with America?
To believe in God is very natural in America. In Europe, you cannot say that. The definition of God in Europe is that maybe he is a woman, maybe he is whatever–whatever you might want him to be. But in America, it is natural to have a "faith" here; we believe in a God. If you said "Jesus Christ is my personal Lord and Savior" in Europe you would be considered crazy.
What is worse, again, is that the Lutheran Church is abandoning Christ. They thought they were following Christ by leaving the Catholic Church in 1517, but now they are abandoning Christ more than ever.
So I don't like Lutherans, you might say. I was in Wittenberg. You can still see the gate above which Luther nailed his 95 Theses; there is a crucifix there, and they took out Our Lady and St. John, and there you find Luther and Melancthon instead. That should tell you a lot about the Lutheran mentality.
What is your take on the Muslims?
Well, of course, Europe was founded by monasteries, not mosques, that's first of all. Now they are sneaking into society, building mosques all over Europe. They are infiltrating schools and our society. It's terrible, I think. The most terrible thing is that the Conciliar Church is accepting all of this. They have totally forgotten about Lepanto…
Or John Sobieski, or Charles Martel…
Yes. Indeed, the crime rate has gone up dramatically when we started accepting Muslims in Europe. In Paris there is an area called Montmartre…
Where Sacré-Coeur is?
Yes. They say that when you go to Montmartre you are "leaving Europe."
Because of the Muslim population?
Yes. It is terrible, really. Europe was founded by monasteries, not mosques or synagogues. And now we see the Pope has to keep excusing himself just for quoting the old emperor. So instead of this conversation of conversion which is necessary for your soul–perhaps being out amongst them, discussing the Faith–instead, we want to have this nice get-together and drink champagne and eat cheese and laugh and joke. I think it is terrible. The Conciliar Church is refusing to tell the truth about the Faith. It does not dare to talk about the truth.
So here you are now as a college student, after having lived as an Augustinian monk for two and a half years. What are your plans?
First, I have to say it was a great shock for me to leave a monastery and cross the Atlantic and end up in America. I must say that I am not used to the American lifestyle; it is something I also have to learn from my visit here.
We (Pastor Sandmark and myself) currently plan to be SSPX priests.
And as for the Augustinian order? Does Pastor Sandmark wear his habit or a cassock at Zaitzkofen?
No, a cassock. As I said, he will be an SSPX priest first. Whether we will reconstitute the Augustinians in Sweden is an open question (but I personally do not think so), but I certainly hope to continue my apostolate there eventually.
St. Dominic was my confirmation saint because I want to fight against heresy–because we lived in it for so long. So it is our (seminarian Sandmark's and my) vocation to fight against heresy and save souls.
Yes, and he had a special devotion to Our Lady, as you mentioned earlier was so important to you.
Ah, yes, the love for Our Lady. There is not love anywhere in the Lutheran Church for Mary, a mother who takes care of her children. We have turned to her many times. Look, the history of our monastery is not isolated. To go back for a moment: do you know of Taizé?
Taizé was like us, in a way. Some of them wanted to be Catholic, but they were told not to be, and so they made this weird, strange "protestant monastery." There are nine monasteries of the Lutheran Church in Sweden that wanted to become Catholic but were refused. There were more convents and monasteries in the Lutheran Church than the Catholic Church. It's crazy, right is wrong and wrong is right…
Well, it sounds like Sweden needs you…
Yes, hopefully I will have a chance to do go back. Two hundred years ago we sent missionaries to Africa, now Africa is sending "missionaries."
Yes. They are sending them to Europe. And we must rechristianize Europe.
Monasteries, not mosques.
Joacim, it has been a distinct pleasure.
Mine as well.
Conducted by Stephen L.M. Heiner, in St. Mary's, Kansas, October, 2006. Email for Joacim can be directed to TrueRestoration@gmail.com, c/o Stephen Heiner.
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