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Swedes Hear Pontiff Stress 'Right to Life'

June 10, 1989|WILLIAM D. MONTALBANO | Times Staff Writer

STOCKHOLM — Once again preaching against the grain in liberal Scandinavia, Pope John Paul II on Friday proclaimed a womb-to-tomb "right to life" in a nation where government-sponsored abortions cost less than $10.

In a day of speeches and a colorful Mass in the old university town of Uppsala, the Pope proclaimed the family as foundation of an ethical society, and termed marriage an unbreakable institution.

Police arrested a 28-year-old member of an extremist Pentecostal sect as he rushed forward while the Pope distributed Communion at a hilltop Mass near Uppsala's medieval quarter. The man, whose sect distributed pamphlets denouncing ecumenism at the Mass, was not armed, a police spokesman said.

With that exception, Swedes, whose views on issues of personal morality such as abortion, contraception and homosexuality are diametrically opposed to John Paul's, took history's first papal visit to Sweden in stride. An account of Friday's papal rounds was the sixth item on the national radio news.

Half the couples living together in Sweden today are unmarried, divorce is routine and no stigma attaches to children born out of wedlock. Still, in a nation of 8.3 million that is home to about 150,000 Catholics, the Pontiff's moral message was undiluted.

On his last full day in Scandinavia, John Paul appealed for "a new Christian humanism" in an address to a polite, blue-ribbon audience at 512-year-old Uppsala University that included the Swedish royal family and 15 Lutheran bishops.

Citing a "growing moral consciousness," the Pope singled out Swede Raoul Wallenberg, who vanished from Soviet-held Hungary after saving thousands of Jews from concentration camps during World War II, as an example who "inspires a dedicated fight for human rights."

"The dignity of the person can only be protected if the person is considered as inviolable from the moment of conception until natural death," the Pope said. "A person cannot be reduced to the status of a means or a tool of others. Society exists to promote the security and dignity of the person. Therefore, the primary right which society must defend is the right to life.

"Whether in the womb or in the final phase of life, a person may never be disposed of in order to make life easier for others. Every person must be treated as an end to himself," John Paul said.

As in the other Nordic countries John Paul has visited on a five-nation pilgrimage over the last 10 days, abortion is widely practiced here. Under Sweden's system of socialized medicine, abortion, like other procedures, is subsidized by the state. A patient pays 55 krona--$8.33.

John Paul appealed for "worldwide solidarity in the search for dignity and justice," insisting that "unless a society treats a human person as inviolable, the formulation of consistent ethical principles becomes impossible."

In his homily at the Mass, the white-and-gold garbed John Paul termed marriage "an unbreakable covenant of total mutual self-giving" not subject to change.

"The marriage contract is an unconditional and enduring covenant," he told worshipers who included Catholic immigrants to Sweden from countries such as Chile and Poland, as well as curious Swedes. Nearly all Swedes are Lutherans, a faith that allows divorce, but only about 5% of Swedes are regular churchgoers.

From the altar at Uppsala, 35 miles north of Stockholm, John Paul called for defense of the family as "a community of love and of life" and urged parents to "find opportunities for talking and sharing at a deep level with your children."

The Pope travels to Vadstena in central Sweden today to visit a church dedicated to the 14th-Century St. Bridget, a patron saint of Sweden. After a Mass for young people from all five Nordic countries to climax his 42nd foreign trip, John Paul returns to Rome this afternoon.

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