Unlikely centres of Catholic conversion

Catholic conversions

Conversion to Catholicism are on the increase in some unexpected places.

In 2016, Fr Joseph Enkh Baatar was ordained in St Peter and Paul Cathedral in Ulaanbaatar.

Like so many buildings in Mongolia’s capital, the cathedral is modeled after the yurt – a round tent made of animal skin in which the peoples of the steppe have dwelled for millennia.

Fr Baatar is the country’s first native priest.

There are fewer than 2,000 Catholics in Mongolia since missionary work began in earnest about 25 years ago, but their numbers are growing – albeit slowly.

And the seedling Church in Mongolia isn’t alone.

As pews empty in traditionally Catholic nations, conversions are flourishing in unlikely corners of the world.


The Lutheran state Church, like the Church of England, was established in the 16th century by royal decree.

The Catholic Church was subsequently outlawed and virtually wiped out.

And, although Sweden is heavily secularised (fewer than 30 per cent of Swedes describe themselves as religious), the Reformation’s legacy continues to cause difficulties for the Church.

“The general level of knowledge about Catholicism is very low in Sweden, with a lot of bias and prejudice,” Kristina Hellner, the Diocese of Stockholm’s communications officer, told me.

Yet Catholicism is among the fastest-growing religions in the country.

There are 116,000 Catholics in Sweden, with 4,000 more registering each year and about 100 adult conversions.

In fact, Church officials believe the number may actually be twice as large: it doesn’t take into account many immigrants, refugees and catechumens.

In any event, Sweden is one of only a handful of European countries where the Church is growing.

Recognising the Church’s astonishing progress in Sweden, Pope Francis named Anders Arborelius the first Swedish cardinal last June.

Since then, he’s become something of a celebrity.

“Cardinal Arborelius is very popular among journalists and has been interviewed literally everywhere,” says Hellner. Fokus, the country’s largest news magazine, named him “Swede of the Year” in 2017.

Arborelius was raised Lutheran and converted in his 20s, which is common for ethnically Swedish Catholics.

“Many of the most traditional and conservative Catholics in our parishes have converted from the Swedish Lutheran Church,” says Hellner, adding that “they are also often the ones that are most active and ‘loud’ on social media.”

It’s a reality that British and American Catholics know all too well.

According to the diocese, 70 catechumens will be received into the Church this Easter.

United Arab Emirates

Catholic immigrants are making their home in a very different country: the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

As Arab migrants and refugees pour over Europe’s borders, Filipino, Indian, Syrian, Lebanese, Nigerian and French Catholics are moving to the Gulf States in search of work in the booming oil industry.

And the Emirates are perhaps the most liberal in allowing foreign workers to practise their faith.

Catholicism has grown rapidly in the UAE in recent decades.

In 1965, the Emirates granted the Church permission to build one parish and one school in Dubai to serve the needs of its faithful.

Today there are upwards of 700,000 Catholics, 40 priests and 10 parishes there.

Dubai alone claims 300,000, making it the largest parish in the world. Continue reading

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