Government of Finland may deny Catholics access to patron Saint

.- Bishop Józef Wróbel of Helsinki has asked that the relics of St. Henry, patron saint of Finland, remain in the Catholic Cathedral despite a demand by a national museum and the Lutheran church to remove the sacred object from view of the faithful.

The move, which would have the relic stored in the vaults of the Lutheran Turku Church Museum rather than on exhibit, would place the relic out of the reach of Catholics for public veneration.

In a letter dated June 9, the Catholic Cathedral of St. Henry was asked to handover the relic to the National Board of Antiquities. The board, in turn, announced that it has decided to give all of the relics in its custody, including the one of St. Henry, to the Lutheran Turku and Kaarina Parish Union.

Bishop Wróbel, in a letter of reply dated June 20, said the decision is unfair because the relics have specific religious value for Catholics in Finland and that the government’s claim to them is based on a centuries old injustice.

St. Henry was the first Catholic bishop of Finland. He is a martyr and patron of the country. “Therefore, to Catholics the relics of St. Henry are not only historical objects, but sacred objects,” the bishop wrote.

Bishop Wróbel also pointed out that the relics of St. Henry and other saints were the possessions of the Catholic Church in Finland until the Reformation, during which they were taken away “in an unjust manner.”

“The Catholic Church has never approved of such coercive measures nor has it ever given up right of ownership,” the bishop wrote. “This means that the Catholic Church has never ceded its moral right to these possessions.”

During the Protestant Reformation, the reformers took over all Catholic property in what was once part of the Kingdom of Sweden, in the name of the king.  The seizure of property including the Cathedral of Turku where remains of Northern saints, such as Sts. Eric, Bridget, Henry, and Blessed Hemming rested.

Later, some of these relics were hidden in the walls of the cathedral. They were eventually found at the start of the 20th century and transferred to the National Board of Antiquities.

For the last 20 years, the relic of St. Henry had been released from the museum each year and brought to the Catholic Cathedral in Helsinki to be venerated on the saint’s feast day, Jan. 19.

In 2000, the Board of Antiquities allowed the cathedral to install the relic in its main altar. Recently, however, the Lutheran parish union revived its interest in the relic and has demanded that all the relics be given back to them.

“While it is true that the relics were kept in Turku for a long time, we cannot forget that the cathedral of Turku was at that time a Catholic cathedral, which it no longer is,” the bishop wrote.

“It is our hope that the previous plan could be implemented, in other words, individual relics in your catalogue could still be kept in separate places and the relic of St. Henry could remain in our cathedral in Helsinki,” he concluded.

Of the five million Finns, 80 percent are Lutheran; only about 10,000 are Catholic. 

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