In August 2019 we were fortunate to have two young women from Glasgow with us as volunteers.
Thanks to Miriam and Aoife for taking part in our mission in Norway the last month. Here they share some of their experiences.
Hello, my name is Miriam Doherty. I am a 21-year-old History student at the University of Glasgow. Complete with a strong Glaswegian accent, you can tell that I am very Scottish.
Hvordan går det! My name is Aoife Ong. I’m half Irish and half Chinese Malaysian, hence the bizarre name. At 22, I’m currently a Marine and Freshwater Biology undergraduate student at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.
Our time in Norway
Although it’s just across the water, coming to Norway from Scotland felt like quite an adventure for the two of us. Coming from extremely different backgrounds and pursuing different interests, we met at the Catholic chaplaincy of our university 3 years ago. Since then, our shared Catholic faith has been the foundation for our close friendship. Having heard of the Dominican Sisters of Katarinahjemmet through what some may call destiny (and others would call Fr. Tartaglia), we were pleased to be accepted as volunteers with them for a month. Coming to Oslo required a leap of faith, or rather a short plane ride, but we put our trust in the Lord Who led us here in the first place.
As the great Dominican St. Catherine of Siena said, “To the servant of God every place is the right place, and every time is the right time.” She was right, of course, and this was something we had to take to heart as we prepared ourselves for the unknown. Thankfully, it was not long before we realised we could relax and enjoy ourselves thanks to the warmth of the sisters, the other volunteers, and the students. The convent’s community is one of great diversity, and the mission of the Sisters is evidently extremely generous in nature.
Aside from participating in the life of the convent, we also spent some time working with the national Catholic youth organisation, NUK. Our timing was impeccable as we were lucky enough to be here for two large events, namely the National Alter Serving Championship and the 50-year jubilee of Mariaholm.
National Alter Serving Championship
In our first week of volunteering, we were part of the kitchen crew for the alter servers at their national Championship. An event unique to Norway (for now), children from across the country were brought together to not only compete for the title of best alter serving parish in the whole of Norway, but also to learn about the Liturgy and the importance of the Sacrifice of the Mass. The leaders, almost all of whom were clergy or young adults, encouraged reverence among the children by their own personal commitment. While the children gained confidence and knowledge, we gained friendships and cheese cutting skills, Norwegian style. On a more serious note, we were deeply impressed by the service of the young people involved with NUK during this event, where we got our first taste of the beauty of Norwegian Catholicism.
50 year jubilee of Mariaholm
Again, at the 50 year jubilee of Mariaholm we witnessed the closeness of the Catholic community here in Norway. Located in the beautiful countryside, this camp occupies a special place in the work of the Church. Many people couldn’t help but smile as they recalled memories of Mariaholm from both recent times and long ago. Although the place seems to be especially helpful in the formation of the young, looking around it was clear that this effect echoed across the generations. We could definitely see the attraction of the campsite as we spent our time grilling sausages, canoeing, and praying in the beautiful chapel.
Suppe og vennskap and community lunch
Even though the big events were invigorating, we also got involved in activities that ran more regularly in the parish and convent. One of these was “Suppe og Vennskap” (which translates to “Soup and Friendship”) where we went out onto the streets of Oslo to serve food to those in need. What struck us about this initiative was how well it had been lovingly thought through in a theological framework, recognising the dignity of each individual. During the experience, we felt a deep warmth in our encounters and found joy in an act which wasn’t solely material.
Another event which we got involved with was the community lunch. Like Suppe og Vennskap, the lunch embraced the virtue of hospitality which is essential in Catholicism. Since the meal takes place after Norwegian language classes, it is an excellent opportunity for some people who are still settling in to find a sense of community. Because we all like to chat and eat, the lunches are a great success.
Norwegian culture and the local Church
As part of the programme for volunteers at Katarinahjemmet, the Sisters provide an opportunity for us to experience the Norwegian culture and the dynamics of the local Church. We were lucky enough to visit the beautiful town of Arendal for 4 days (yes, this is the town which the setting of Frozen is based on!). Here, we got involved with one of the few Catholic schools in Norway, which was attached to the parish of St. Francis Xavier. The children were enthusiastic to see us, and especially to hear what Sr. Ane-Elisabet had to say about religious life. As a special way of expressing her vocation to younger minds, she had written children’s books which were presented in the classrooms. It has been inspiring to see how the Sisters use their God-given talents to fulfil their calling to preach, which is a special charism of the Dominicans. As Fr. Sigurd read her books aloud, his dramatic and humorous portrayal of the characters helped light up the children’s faces.
Norwegian culture, history and nature
After much hard work (on Sister’s part), we took a break to explore Arendal together. We went on a couple of gorgeous hikes in the countryside and spent long periods staring out into the vastness of the ocean. Sr. Ane-Elisabet gladly shared her knowledge with us about a variety of subjects such as the history of the Vikings and the diversity of cultures within the Catholic Church in Norway. Overall, the long weekend went excellently, and we returned to Oslo full in both body (thanks to the generous cooking of Fr. Sigurd) and spirit.
Everything has an end
As the famous saying goes, “time flies when you’re having fun” (or was it, “all good things come to an end”?), our month of volunteering all too quickly drew to a close. Nevertheless, as you’ve just read, we’ve done a lot in just 4 weeks. We’d like to thank especially the Sisters of the convent for their generous and warm hospitality. We’d also like to assure those considering volunteering at Katarinahjemmet that it is a very special place and certainly worth the time.
Personal reflections after one month as volunteers
On a more personal note, the entire experience of being part of the Norwegian Church over the past month has been absolutely wonderful. I am so humbled and grateful to have met the Catholics here who are undoubtedly full of the Life of Christ Himself. Whether it be the joyful Sisters of Katarinahjemmet, the enthusiastic clergy, or the bright-eyed youths, I’ve been welcomed wherever I go.
Everything from tasting brown cheese for the first time to becoming a champ at shuffleboard has been a great and new experience. My time here is not one I will soon forget, and I hope to return one day to explore further the country I’ve come to admire, and to see once again the people I’ve come to love.
As I depart, I’m sad to say goodbye, but also thankful to God for this unexpected gift. Be assured, dearest Catholics of Norway, that your well-being and your mission will be ever in my prayers. Hade bra!
The month that I have spent here in Norway, with the Sisters at Katarianhjemmet and within the wider Catholic community, is not one I will easily forget. One of the most striking aspects of this experience for me was to see the way in which the Sisters joyfully offered their natural gifts back to the Lord. Whether this is through their writing, art or science, the message of hope that is being proclaimed through their work is tangible.
This hope and joyful service has also been visible in the young people that I have encountered. I am so grateful to have witnessed their willingness to give of their time to learn about their faith, and to encourage each other to have a deeper relationship with the Lord. It is a testament that challenges the ultra-pressurised and individualistic society and it has been a great encouragement to me on a more personal level. I hope to take note from the Sisters and the young people here so as to serve joyfully my home community.
Tusen Takk and I hope we meet again!