Stockholm, Sweden, Sep 15, 2016 / 10:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Arne and Barbara Sahlstrom are a Swedish married couple, both brought up as Lutherans, though they were not practicing.
They began to be interested in the Catholic faith with the visit of Pope John Paul II to Sweden in 1989, and got fully into it through programs on EWTN while they were living in Dubai and they finally entered the Catholic Church. This is their story.
As told by José Miguel Cejas, author of the book Cálido Viento del norte (Warm Wind from the North), Barbara studied voice in various Swedish cities and in Uppsala she met Arne Sahlstrom whom she would later marry. Arne was studying French and English literature before starting a medical career and he was also from a Lutheran family, although he was not practicing.
Arne specialized in advanced surgical techniques and Barbara became a professor of voice and was part of the choir of the symphonic orchestra. In June 1989, John Paul II visited Sweden. At that time they were surprised by his personage.
Religión En Libertad (Religion in Freedom) tells this story of conversion and drawing near to the faith. Shortly after the pope’s visit to Sweden, Barbara’s mother came down with cancer. It was then that Barbara began to pray and found a Bible.
“As I had never read it I couldn’t tell the difference between the Old and New Testament. When I was a girl, from the ages of five to eight, I went to Sunday School every Sunday, where there were some ladies who read us the Bible.”
In July 2001, Arne was assigned to work in Saudi Arabia, a majority Muslim country. There, Barbara began to look on the Internet for religious programs. This is how she got to know the EWTN network, founded by Mother Angelica.
“Day after day I watched programs that talked about that Catholicism that my mother was so interested in, and I commented on them or watched them again with Arne,” Barbara said.
Discovering Catholicism was a big surprise for Barbara. “We had never heard the infinite mercy of God spoken about and the love of a God who is very close to us: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity that lives in our souls. The God that had been presented to us until then was very distant. We also then learned about the doctrine of Purgatory.”
Later they decided to leave for Bahrain and Dubai. There they found Saint Francis Catholic Parish where Mass was celebrated on Friday, the Muslim day of worship, because the other days were work days.
In that place Father Eugene Mattioli helped the couple learn about Catholicism and delve into the history of the Church. “It was a pleasant journey. Everything attracted us. What we especially liked was the importance given in Catholicism to the relationship between reason and faith,” Barbara explained.
When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope in 2005, Arne and Barbara especially rejoiced. “It was a real blessing. His theological knowledge, his way of expressing himself, his enormous humility, his simplicity, his knowledge of the liturgy and liturgical and sacred music, his wonderful books, etc. There we saw the hand of God.”
During 2005, Barbara and Arne deepened their knowledge of the faith and the liturgy, as well as song, till they finally decided to take the final step of entering into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Some of those who played a key role in helping Arne and Barbara to find their way were their bishop in Sweden, Anders Arborelius, and several Opus Dei priests.
After all the ground they covered to get to the Church, both said that God was drawing near to them through the art, music, painting, and architecture.
When they would visit some church “even though we understood almost nothing, we spent a long time contemplating the statues,where the Virgin looks at you smiling. Many times we sat down to pray in the midst of that quiet and that silence.”
“And when Arne’s parents died we lit candles. Later I spoke to Arne about this and he told me that the Holy Spirit was there with us even though we didn’t realize it,” they said.