Estonia Sees Resurgence of the Church

Interview With First Bishop Ordained Since World War II

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TALLINN, Estonia, SEPT. 27, 2005 ( The Catholic Church in Estonia is re-emerging after decades of Soviet rule. Proof of this is the ordination on Sept. 10 of Monsignor Philippe Jourdan, its first bishop since the end of World War II.

The last resident Catholic archbishop in Estonia was Edward Profittlich, who was martyred in 1942 in the Kirov Soviet concentration camp.

In this interview with ZENIT, Bishop Jourdan, 45, of French origin, talks about his challenges and hopes in the republic of 1.3 million people.

Q: What are the main challenges for the Catholic Church in Estonia?

Bishop Jourdan: In a certain sense, everything is a challenge for the Catholic Church and for Christianity in general in a country like Estonia.

After several centuries of prohibition and limitations, the Church was only able to renew its activity freely in the ’20s of the last century, activity which was rapidly suppressed by the Soviet invasion.

After 15 years of freedom, but also of a strong materialist influence from the West, only 30% of Estonians say they are believers and a small part, Catholics.

However, for us this could also be an opportunity. Christianity has always suffered in the Baltic countries as it is considered imported and, to certain degree, imposed by an occupying power, whether it be Germany, Sweden or Russia.

The present situation is not at all like that in the Middle Ages. It reminds one, rather, of the first Christians of the Low Roman Empire. We are also a small minority, in the midst of a very secularized society gripped by doubt and all sorts of fears.

It is for us to show that Christianity is not imposed by the sword and fire, as stated in certain propaganda, but imparted with love and peace.

Q: How are relations with the other Christian confessions?

Bishop Jourdan: The Catholic Church forms part of the Council of Churches of Estonia, of which I am currently vice president. We try to offer a common testimony of Christian life.

In fact, my episcopal motto, inspired by the works of [Opus Dei founder] St. Josemaría [Escriva], «Omnes cum Petro ad Jesus per Mariam,» stresses the passions we have in common with Protestants and Orthodox: the search for Christ, love of his Mother, as well as the desire — still to be realized — that one day we will be one flock with one shepherd.

Q: How was the news of your episcopal ordination received by the country’s authorities?

Bishop Jourdan: It surpassed all my expectations. The president of the republic, his predecessor, the rime minister and several ministers honored us with their presence. And I think this presence was extremely significant. The country’s main newspaper dared to say that it translated into an «expectation» of the Estonian people.

Let us pray to God that this expectation will grow and that we will be able to respond to it. What was most extraordinary was the reaction of many people, Catholic but also Lutheran, Orthodox or [those] with no religion, a reaction full of affection and joy because of the fact that finally, after 70 years, there is a Catholic bishop resident in Estonia.

This consecration was a sign of a living and enthusiastic Christian hope. It is what impressed Estonian society most profoundly.

Q: How is it possible to witness to Christ after decades of atheist indoctrination?

Bishop Jourdan: First of all, thanks to the heroism of priests, religious and lay people who kept the flame alive during the harsh years of Soviet occupation.

I am thinking in particular of my predecessor, Archbishop Edward Profittlich, S.J., who died in 1942 in a Soviet camp. Later, since independence, thanks to the abnegation and sacrifice of our priests, religious and laity who, in difficult circumstances both at the material level as well as the spiritual environment, have with patience revived the parishes, the vast majority destroyed, they have renewed contact with Catholic families, have received and formed the catechumens, and imparted the sacraments, etc.

This work continues at present despite the few means we have. Often, the one who reaps is not the one who sows. But the recompense we hope for is the one God gives.

This is why we see the future of the Catholic Church in Estonia with great hope. In a certain sense, she is the baby of the family, the most recent Catholic community in Europe.

Q: Are there vocations?

Bishop Jourdan: The Catholic Church’s problem in all the countries of Lutheran Europe is certainly the very small number of native vocations. It is also the problem of the Church in Estonia.

At the same time, if we pay attention, signs of hope are beginning to appear. From our small number of Catholics we have already had three Estonian priests, two monks, one seminarian, without forgetting two Dominican priests, natives of the Russian-speaking minority — proportionately, more than in Western Europe!

For a variety of reasons, the majority of them are to be found at present outside of Estonia. But we can draw the conclusion that the idea of giving oneself to God is not something alien to our Catholic young people.

ZENIT’s readers can certainly help us by praying to the Lord for at least 10 seminarians for Estonia.

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