I am in a cruise ship on the Baltic Sea. It is 3:38 AM. I am sharing a cabin with two long-time priest-friends whom I have known since college. The accommodations—consisting of two small dormitory-like beds and a pull-out bed—take some getting used to especially when you are accustomed to significantly more privacy. Personal space in the cabin is difficult to find. (Shhh! Don’t tell anyone but one of them snores, making unusual sounds that vary from whimper to chain saw! They say I snore too but I’m never awake to experience the pleasure! Fortunately, earplugs are a wonderful invention to prevent insomnia and torture via sound-waves.)
We just finished visiting Copenhagen, Denmark. It was a city containing a mixture of old brick buildings of varying quality and character interspersed with stark, bold new architecture employing much metal and glass.
If New York City is sometimes remembered as a city of endless yellow taxis, Copenhagen is a land of bicycles. There are bike paths everywhere and the population uses them. There are public garages to house thousands of these gas-saving vehicles.
Also noticeable is the absence of objects religious.
Years ago when I visited Poland with one of the same priest-friends, we remarked how there was an object of devotion—a statue, a wood carving, a religious picture—in just about every home, in every yard, at every crossroad. Myriads of churches reminded us of a Divine Presence all over the land and people were in them praying. Priests and sisters were in abundance and visibly present in the streets. This was in what was then a communist (supposedly, but never really atheistic) nation. Over 90% of the population was Catholic.
Copenhagen and all of Denmark is less than 1% Catholic. We were hard pressed to find a religious symbol anywhere. We discovered only a few churches—very few. Looking up some statistics we were informed that there were officially only 77 Catholic priests in the entire country. It’s a very free, worldly society—notably secular.
We passed a downtown building with a large banner hanging from it which seemed to me to summarize what I was experiencing. It read: Can Design Save the World? The Danes boast of various innovative architectural wonders and award-winning designs, but there was an obvious void in their modern masterpieces—attention to anything religious. The architecture was pragmatic and sterile. It was confined to serve man but failed to glorify God—the author of the human person.
So much of old Europe looked upward to God and their buildings, culture and handiwork reflected this. Great cathedrals and churches were generally the centerpiece of every city. Attention to God now seemed to be missing here. He wasn’t reflected in the culture or its surroundings. If Jesus was known and professed here, it was a well-kept secret.
Copenhagen, your city was clean, friendly and interesting. You have some remarkably talented people illustrating the creative intelligence and beauty of the human person.
However, I have something very important to share with you—a life-lesson that we all need for eternal life: it is Jesus who saves.
God has a master-plan for us. That’s His design.
Fr. Ed Namiotka