Conversion that leaves a mark

The story of Ulf Ekman, one of Scandinavia's most influential evangelical leaders

Attention, words and thoughts converge on the story of the conversion of Ulf Ekman and of his wife Birgitta, from Sweden, who decided to join the Catholic Church. Their conversion raised quite a stir in Sweden and Norway, considering that Ekman “has been one of the most influential evangelical pastors and leaders in Scandinavian countries”, Andreas Dingstad, from the communications Office of the diocese of Oslo, told SIR Europe. “The most dynamic Swedish Christian leader in the past fifty years”, pointed out Stefan Gustavsson, Secretary-general of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance. “Many people in the world thank God for Ulf Ekman’s ministry”, he added. Born in 1950, Ekman said he converted to Christianity in the 1970s. After his theological studies he was ordained minister of the Church of Sweden in 1979. In 1983 he founded a Pentecostal community in Uppsala, Livets Ord (Word of life), which across the years, thanks to his apostolate and his charisma, grew considerably. The pastor also founded a university, a biblical school, from which numerous missionaries left for Bangladesh, Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, India… a countless list of activities, meetings, conferences, initiatives, have been promoted by the Swedish pastor over the past years. He also experienced heavy criticism and moments of contrast with the Catholic Church, as on the occasion of the visit of Pope John Paul II in the Scandinavian countries 25 years ago. Welcomed by the Catholic Church. Past March 9, during a Sunday celebration in Sweden, the pastor, who had already stepped down as leader of the congregation, discontinuing his responsibilities owing to health-related problems in the month of February, announced that he and his wife would enter the Catholic Church. “Our decision is the result of a years-long process of prayer and reflection”, he wrote in a letter to his congregation. The appeal of living faith. Ekman and his wife were fascinated by the meetings and encounter with Catholics living in Sweden and throughout the world “in whom we saw a living faith”. “We witnessed their authentic love for Jesus, a sound theology, based on the Bible and dogmas. We experienced the richness of sacramental life. We understood the meaning of a solid understanding of the priesthood, that keeps the faith of the Church thriving and passes it on from one generation to the next”, Ekman  continues in the letter. “Ethical and moral force, coherence that is brave enough to face majority opinion and kindness towards the poor and weak”: all of these features “challenged our Protestant prejudices and we realized that in most cases that criticism was ungrounded. We needed to learn more about the Catholic Church.” “Jesus has guided us and united us with the Catholic Church”, they both said.  A bridge for dialogue. The news caused great stir in the media, followed by hot debates across Scandinavian countries. Gustavsson said that “the pain and disappointment with which many people received the news should not be underestimated”, although in a “reaction” two days after Ekman’s letter was released, Gustavsson testified to the fact that his decision matured with the passing of time, without fractures with the “Word of Life” community. Ekman repeatedly underlined the private aspect of his conversion, which has no implication for the community he was a member of. In fact, now Elkan is seen as a possible “bridge”, for “he will be capable of deepening the mutual understanding between Catholics and Pentecostal Protestants”, Dingstad told SIR Europe. The photograph with Pope Francis. No official statement was released on the conversion by the Swedish Catholic diocese over the past weeks. The decision, Dingstad said, “on the explicit request of Mr. and Mrs. Ekman, is that their entry in the Catholic Church take place as discretely as possible, just like an ordinary conversion.” According to sources not mentioned by Dingstad the conversion could take place in the Catholic community of Uppsala, at a date yet to be defined. In the past few days Mrs. Ekman uploaded a photograph taken during the audience of past Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square, that shows herself and her husband shaking the Pope’s hand with the caption: “What a blessing to meet Pope Francis!”

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