III Negotiating Unity and Diversity

'When Poland Became the Main Country of Birth Among Catholics in Norway': Polish Migrants' Everyday Narratives and Church Responses to a Demographic Re-Constitution

Marta Bivand Erdal


How does a diverse minority Catholic Church, counting a few tens of thousands, accommodate and include more than double its own numbers, arriving in the course of less than a decade? The Catholic Church in Norway counted 60,000 members in 2008, whereas it counts 150,000 members in 2015.1 Poland is by far the main country of birth among Catholics in Norway, and a significant proportion of the increase in membership constitutes Polish migrants, whilst the remainder is made up of migrants originating from a vast array of countries in Europe and beyond, as well as natural growth predominantly in migrant-origin

1 Officially registered by the end of 2015, following confirmation of membership obtained in 2014—2015 (www.katolsk.no) (accessed 24 February 2016). [1]

families in Norway.[2][2] This demographic shift constitutes the backdrop for this chapter, which explores the interface of Polish migrants’ everyday narratives about the roles which the Catholic Church (in Norway) plays (or does not play) in their everyday lives, with the ways in which the Catholic Church has approached Polish migrants coming to Norway in the post-EU accession period, since 2004. Given the context of a diverse, minority Catholic Church in Norway, I explore the particularities of its ongoing process of transformation and renegotiation, as a result of this demographic shift, where the Church’s composition, with migrants and migrant transnationalism as constitutive dimensions, is underscored.

The Catholic Church in Norway is a diverse minority church, which prior to the recent demographic shift, constituted 2 % of the population of Norway, originating from a range of countries, including Vietnam, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Eritrea, Chile, Croatia and Poland, as well as small groups from many countries (140 countries) (2011).4 Thus migration, transnationalism and Catholicism in the Norwegian context are deeply intertwined phenomena, dating back to the return of the Catholic Church to Norway in 1843, following its ban after the Reformation. Diversity resulting from migration, cultural and linguistic, ethnic and national diversity, is constitutive of the Catholic Church in Norway, with increasing force since the arrival of Vietnamese and Chilean refugees in the late 1970s.

‘You meet them at church’—one of my research participants, a migrant from Poland, said, referring to meeting other Poles at or in conjunction with services organized by the Church. This statement is reflective of a key role of the Catholic Church in Norway for migrants finding their place in a new society, apparent from migrants’ everyday narratives. This echoes findings from across the world in relation to religious gatherings,

  • 3 According to survey data (2011), 87 % of the population in Poland was Roman Catholic. There is no data on the proportion of emigrants who are or are not Roman Catholic, but it may be assumed that the general Polish statistics are indicative, with some margin of error.
  • 4 https://www.regjeringen.no/contentassets/5548bd96142e4f0f91a05f7d52b628f7/oslo_katolske_ bispedomme_m.pdf (Church response to government proposal on free language support for EU migrants, not passed).

being important as social arenas, as a place to meet others with a similar background, speaking the same language (Kivisto 2014; Levitt 2007; Martikainen 2014). Thus the role of religious gatherings, or indeed institutions and buildings, for many migrants spans the social, economic and political, as well as religious spheres of life (Levitt 2003).

This chapter draws on ‘lived religion’ approaches (Ammerman 2006, 2014; McGuire 2008), in seeing religion through the lived experiences of research participants, rather than studying practices as a priori religious. Such an approach is revealing of how religion is enmeshed with cultural, social, and in migration contexts transnational, everyday practices. However, it is also revealing of how ‘the religious’ is not for all, and not always, the key dimension of on-goings within religious arenas. Therefore, the role of the Catholic Church as an institution is explored in this light, acknowledging the Church’s religious raison d’etre, but simultaneously attentive to the many roles significant for community-building, support-mechanisms, or other functions, beyond the strictly faith-related.

The analysis of migrant narratives is attentive to both the ways in which the Church does and does not matter in everyday lives that often involve transnational connections. The analysis of institutional approaches focuses on the ways in which Polish migrants as individuals are met, with particular attentiveness to how this relates to questions of inclusion and unity, within the Church in Norway, and the society beyond. Approaching the accommodation of diversity, is a long-standing field of practice and inquiry in Catholic contexts, involving debates about multi- culturalism and assimilation, integration and post-multiculturalist critical approaches to diversity (Casarella 2008; Garces-Foley 2008, 2009; Hoover 2014). The case of the Catholic Church in Norway is interesting with regard to exploring alternative to hegemonic approaches to integration, as there is no majority within which minorities might integrate. Approaching post-migration phenomena, Lacroix (2014, 2016) argues for a transnational paradigm, which counters the prevalence of analyses that foreground integrationist agendas, often unconsciously reproducing nation-state majoritarian logics. Through multiple layers of cultural complexity or super-diversity (Eriksen 2007; Vertovec 2007), the nature of the Church in Norway is one of migrancy, transnationalism and diversity, often described as a ‘the universal Church in miniature’, with reference to the global composition of the Roman Catholic Church.

The term ‘integration’ in this chapter is used firstly, because it is the emic term used in the Norwegian context, both normatively and with regard to lived experiences among migrants (Erdal 2013), in Church documents (OKB 2013), and thus encompasses the broad processes of mutual adaptation, leading to some level of unity (Kivisto 2003). The chapter approaches the theme of integration, from the position of critical diversity studies, where processes of accommodation and inclusion, of living together in diversity, do not necessitate the production of similarity or see difference unilaterally as a problem (Amin 2012; Antonsich and Matejskova 2015).

Within the context of the Catholic Church such broadly conceived integration, is more often than not combined with the sustenance of migrants (religious) transnational ties, within or outside of formal Church structures, reflective of the simultaneity of processes of integration and transnationalism (Erdal and Oeppen 2013). Migrant transnationalism refers to ‘the process by which immigrants forge and sustain multi-stranded social relations that link together their societies of origin and settlement, call[ed] transnationalism to emphasize that many immigrants today build social fields that cross geographic, cultural, and political borders’ (Basch et al. 1994, 7). It may be argued that the Catholic Church itself constitutes a transnational social field, institutionally, and as a community of shared faith (Levitt 2004). For many Catholics there is indeed a transnational religious field, which spans geographic borders and feeds into processes of integration and unity within the Catholic Church in Norway.

Connections between migrant religiosity and integration have been explored in North America and Europe, in the former more openly, in the latter often with a more problem-oriented emphasis (Foner and Alba 2008; Connor 2014; Kivisto 2014; Loga 2014; Vila^a et al. 2014 ). Meanwhile, migrant experiences of religion, also as a phenomenon transcending international borders, through transnational ties, have been explored for a range of Catholic migrant groups (see e.g. Cubans in the US, Tweed 1997; Haitians in the US, Mooney 2009; Congolese in the UK and the US, Garbin 2014; Zimbabweans in the UK, Pasura 2012;

Poles in the UK, Trzebiatowska 2010; Brazilians in the UK, Sheringham 2013; Poles in Norway, Giske0degard and Aschim 2016; Halvorsen and Aschim 2016; and more generally on the Catholic Church in Norway and migration, Hovdelien 2016; Msland 2016).

Many studies of migrant religiosity foreground minority-majority relations, for instance tracing how religious communities using the same language and liturgy as in countries of origin contribute to recreating a safe space for migrants (Raj 2008), or exploring the significance of religious parishes for identity construction processes among migrants (Sebastia 2008). Only to a limited extent do these accounts engage with the Catholic Church beyond specific migrant groups, thus not focusing on interactions amongst Catholics of different migrant backgrounds. By contrast, Hoover (2014) in his analysis of a US ‘shared parish’[4] investigates the ins-and-outs of Catholics of different migrant backgrounds sharing a parish, albeit with linguistically defined communities, one in English, and the other in Spanish. Hoover argues that this structure “forces parishioners at a shared parish to periodically interact with one another sometimes for joint worship, but most frequently to negotiate the way they share the space” ( Hoover 2014, 2).

Hoover’s study of “the shared parish” raises many parallel questions to the ones discussed in this chapter, where the roles of demographic reconfiguration, of language, and of ways to approach diversity and unity within Catholic contexts where migrants and migrant transnationalism are key features. With reference to broader scholarly debates about the interaction and compatibility of migrant transnationalism and integration processes (Erdal and Oeppen 2013), it is of the essence to pay critical attention to the ways in which different types of sharing, mutuality and contact are given meaning in particular ways, at times giving more weight to meaningful, deep, encounters, whilst not necessarily acknowledging the significance of everyday, banal interaction (Amin 2012; Hoover 2014; Valentine 2008).

The context of the Catholic Church in Norway, where separate structures for the majority of Polish Catholics have not been built, but where for practical (and pragmatic) reasons in bigger cities de facto parallel communities in shared parishes are operating, illustrates how the impossibility of integration in a traditional sense, from the Catholic Church in Norway’s position, necessitates unity within complex diversity, for a shared future to be an option.

Despite drawing on two ‘nationally’ defined entities, Polish migrants, and the Catholic Church in Norway, this chapter engages with criticisms of ‘methodological nationalism’ (Wimmer and Schiller 2003) in its discussion of the constitutive nature of migration and transnationalism for the minority, diverse, Catholic Church in Norway. On the one hand, the impossibility of integrating a majority into a minority, and on the other hand this minority in the first place consisting of a diverse set of minorities within, entails a multi-layered and hybrid entity. This entity, the Catholic Church in Norway, by its very existence, by participation and encounters, shared events and interconnected growth, in interesting ways rejects a ‘national’ framing. At the same time, in territorial ways it also hinges on such a framing, where shared fate lies in life in Norway, yet divisions are upheld by roots and transnational ties sustained across the globe. There is parallel sustenance of multiple transnational ties, with processes of mutual acquaintance, of coexistence and tolerance, of sharing and building together, but also of friction and conflict, and of separation.

The chapter proceeds by presenting the methods and data used, before a discussion of the nature and implications of the demographic shift within the Catholic Church in Norway as a backdrop for the analysis of, first, institutional approaches to Polish migration, second, of migrants’ own narratives on the Church’s roles and non-roles in their everyday lives, and third, of the interface of these encounters, where the simultaneous impossibility of integration and necessity of unity come to the fore.

  • [1] M.B. Erdal (и) Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Oslo, Norway © The Author(s) 2016 259 D. Pasura, M.B. Erdal (eds.), Migration, Transnationalism andCatholicism, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-58347-5_11
  • [2] 2 Among Catholics registered in Norway (2016), 48,000 were born in Poland, whereas 38,000 wereborn in Norway, including in mixed and immigrant-background families (Official ChurchStatistics).
  • [3] 2 Among Catholics registered in Norway (2016), 48,000 were born in Poland, whereas 38,000 wereborn in Norway, including in mixed and immigrant-background families (Official ChurchStatistics).
  • [4] In the context of the Roman Catholic Church, the term ‘parish’ is traditionally adopted, referringto what in other contexts might be discussed as the religious congregation or community.
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