Chapter 16

Going to meet the Catholics

Nervous as a cat on at hot tin roof I prepare myself for going to meet the Catholic students. What do those young believers expect of me? What do they demand? What should I demand from myself?

             I have heard on the radio that a radical priest has been elected president of Paraguay. Unfortunately I did not comprehend his full name. But I got his first name, Fernando. To me, then, he is president Feranando. Before entering politics he was a padre in one of the poorest areas of Paraguay. Fernando is said to have been an adherent to the liberation theology (”frigjøringsteologien”), which was widespread in Latin America a few decades ago, and which made an impact on the continent. Many Catholic clergymen, like the famous bishop Helder Camara of Brazil, used this new theology in their work. They wanted the church to be on the side of the poor people, not on the side of the landowners, the capitalists and the generals.

             The conservatives of the Vatican fought liberation theology and supported the strong conservative forces in the churches of Latin America. Maybe liberation theology should be a theme in the debate between Hans Fredrik Dahl and myself? If so, I could make a point by saying that cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, was strongly opposed to the ideas of liberation theology.

             But then we have entered into politics. We would soon be debating the wave of  political radicalism that sweeps over Latin America, from Venezuela to Bolivia and Paraguay. And what I see as my task at the meeting is not to discuss politics, not the history of the Catholic Church.

              What I should attempt, is to go to the roots of Catholic belief. That’s why I study the Holy Katarina and write about her.

             I sigh. I wander about restlessly. How superficial my studies and writings are!

              Tuesday evening I do a reading from my crime novel ”Mordet på Woldnes” at Cafe Pocket in Moss. The cafe is run by a public organization, Masvo, which is established to help the jobless and the dropouts in society.

             The reading on a sunny afternoon is surprisingly well attended. My old friends from Rødt are faithful. They show up.

             I show off?

             Not too much, I hope. After I have read, questions from the audience are welcome. I tell about my authorship. Questions are many. I am in a good mood. The audience laughs at my jokes about my literary work. People sit silent when I mention serious themes and my internet book ”Brev fra de troende”. A man who introduces himself as a faithful Christian says that he has read the book and admires my honesty. He says I am honourable man. I am flattered and I feel that my face blush, not with shame but with pride.

             Reporters and photographers from the local newspapers Moss Avis and Moss Dagblad are present. The smallest of the paper, Moss Dagblad, a former Labour party paper, is a sponsor of the reading at Cafe Pocket, which is to be the first in a series.

             Reading at a cafe in Moss is work done on the home ground. I play, as they say in the USA, a home game. Meeting the young Catholics in Oslo will be quite different.

             I fear that what I am going to say about Katarina – the invisible ring and the invisible wounds - may be an insult to them. The Oslo audience will be polite and not hostile, I am sure. But there is always a risk that I make a fool of myself, say stupid things, and then become encountered with animosity.

             I’ll tell the young audience at Katarinahjemmet about one of my novels which they have probably not read, since it appeared way back in 1982. The novel is called ”Terra roxa” (which is Brazilian Portugese for a special red soil in the tropic zone), and is about the fate of a female Norwegian missionary, Bjørg Songedal. She is a medical doctor who works at a small missionary outpost in the rain forest of the territory of Rondonia in the Amazon basin of Brazil. Bjørg, or Bjørg of the Jungle, as she jokingly calls herself, is a believer in the Evangelical Lutheran faith of The Church of Norway. But she feels an attraction to the Catholic belief. When she studied French in Paris to prepare herself for missionary work in one of the former French colonies in West Africa, she often went to the church called Sacre Cæur, The Sacred Heart, at Montmartre. When in Brazil, she feels attracted to the local preachers of liberation theology

             ”Terra roxa” won a novel competition arranged by Norway’s largest publishing company, Gyldendal Norsk Forlag. The first prize was 50 000 Norwegian kroner, a considerable amount of money at the time. But the book did not get the positive critical acclaim I had hoped for. My main charcter Bjørg was attacked by feminists for not being a true-to-life character, but only Mr Michelet wearing a skirt.

             However, the novel was translated into German and Swedish and well received by reviewers in Germany and Sweden.

             I take pride in the books main theme, which is Bjørg’s attitude towards the poor people of Rondonia. Along the dirt road through the jungle people have settled to establish small farms. The settlers are attacked by rich landowners who want to burn down the rain forest, take the land from the poor and use the territory of Rondonia for big scale cattle farming.

             My Bjørg sides with the oppressed people. She takes a political stand and confronts the rich, which hold the population by gunpoint. Thus, her fate is sealed. The missionary outpost is attacked, and Bjørg is found dead on the red soil.

 I’ll tell the audience that my book from 1982 spoke about things to come; the rebellion of the landless people of Brazil, Moviemento Sem Terra, and the extensive burning of the rain forest by landowners. Later, in the 1990’es the situation of the landless and of the rain forest caught the world’s attention.

              Wednesday my companion and I go to the pool to swim together. I tune the car wireless to the NRK programme 2, P2. At nine thirty every workday of the week the progamme presents an artist of the week. This week’s artist is Maria Daulne, who is of African origin. She is interviewed by the programme host, Arne Berg, who is one of my radio favourites. The interview is conducted in English. No Norwegian translation is given.

            I make a note about this. English is really penetrating Norway. Berg must suppose that his listeners, the high-brows of the P2 ”universe”, mostly understand English, and I’m sure they do.

            Swimming with my companion, I take it easy and do not clock the time. She eventually swims faster than me, like many women do.

            We go to the nearby gas station to buy some muffins. It is an Esso station. A big sign on the top of the building gives the name of the gas station cafe, which is in English; ”On the Run”. The cafe’s slogan is also in English; ”Fast. Fresh. Friendly.”

            Returning home to write in English, I feel that I am a traitor to my mother tongue, no better than the big monopolies who advertise in English.

            But I am past the point of no return. I have to go on.

             Dagbladet publishes a story called ”The king is out of step with the people”. When Stortinget recently changed the Constitution slightly, king Harald insisted that the Constitution specify that the king of Norway should be obliged to confess to the Evangelical Lutheran religion.

             The king got his will with the politicians.

            The chairwoman of the board of Human-Etisk Forbund, Åse Kleveland, a former Labour Party cabinet minister of the Department of Cultural Affairs, criticize the parlamentarian politicians for capitulating to the will of the king. She says that the king’s wish to limit his own freedom of religion weakens the Norwegian monarchy.

            I perfectly agree with her on this. But do the people agree? I think most Norwegians are happy with the situation, and want the king to confess to the religion the majority confesses to.

             Kleveland points out that in our new multicultural society the king, the formal leader of the state, should not be constitutonally bound to a special religion. She calls monarchy an anachronism. Again I agree. But then she says that if one wishes to uphold monarchy, one should welcome changes which anchor the royal house in the world and the realities of today.

              Rather than slow reformation, I would like to see a swift revolution. It would not be a socialist revolution, but a revolution to fulfil the democratic revolution of the 18th century, and to place Norway in line with the European republics that have been established after monarchy was abolished. When it comes to form of government, Norway is more backward than the former monarchies  Portugal and Italy.

             Is this something to discuss withe the Catholics? They should be in favour of a system in which a Catholic could be king or queen of Norway. If this is not possible as long as monarchy reigns, Catholics should work for the republic, like Catholics did in Ireland. But probably the Norwegian Catholics will not take any republican action because they do not want to interfer with state affairs and politics.

             Thursday morning I do my routine bicycling. Then I write some cues for the meeting this evening.

            I go out and sit in the sun.

            I have decided to go by car to Oslo. The meeting starts at seven o’clock and is supposed to last until ten. If I go by train to Oslo, my return train will not depart before midnight. I get a fit of bad conscience for going by old, polluting diesel car to the city.

            But off I go.


       Chapter 15

Chapter 17