Bishop David Tencer of Reykjavik last week consecrated a new wooden church building, a gift from the Slovak Catholic Church.
The church is a tribute to Bishop Tencer, who is a Capuchin Franciscan and a native of Slovakia.
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico and two other members of the Slovak government joined Bishop Tencer for the June 17 consecration of the church in Reyðarfjörður, more than 400 miles northeast of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital.
Wood is scarce in the volcanic, rocky country of Iceland, so the church was made of Slovakian wood, then disassembled and shipped to Iceland for reassembly.
“You will not find a single house or church of this type in Iceland,” Bishop Tencer told The Slovak Spectator.
The church is in the shape of a St. Damian Crucifix, an eastern-style icon sometimes called a Franciscan crucifix because St. Francis of Assisi prayed before a cross of this style when he received a commission from God to rebuild the Church.
Icelandic sources report that the new church doubles the seating capacity of the previous chapel of the Capuchin friars from 25 to 50, allowing them to accommodate the growing number of people who come from all regions of the country to attend Mass with the friars.
Iceland’s population is mostly Lutheran, with the country’s 13,000-some Catholics making up only 3-4 percent of the country’s 350,000 population. Many of Iceland’s Catholic population are Polish immigrants who moved to the country for work.
Most of the country’s priests also come from elsewhere, including Poland, Slovakia, Ireland, France, Argentina, Britain, and Germany. The orders of religious sisters with a presence in the country include The Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, The Mexican sisters from Guadalajara, the Missionaries of Charity, and two Carmelite orders.
The country is divided into six parishes, and the single Diocese of Reykjavik is immediately subject to the Holy See.
But the small size of the Church in Iceland is part of its charm, Bishop Tencer told The Spectator, because this means, “I know many of its members in person.”
It is also a result of a turbulent history of Catholicism in the country, which was nearly wiped off the island during the reformation and the rule of a harsh Danish king in the 16th century. Bishop Jon Arason, the island’s last Catholic bishop until 1929, was executed in 1550 for his refusal of the reformation.
The Slovak prime minister said he was happy to be a part of the project of providing a church building to Iceland, an initiative of the Church in Slovakia, because it paid tribute to the service that Slovaks are doing in Iceland.
“So, I’m happy that a piece of Slovakia from Hrinyová, and the bishop, who is also from Slovakia, are representing our country in Iceland,” he told Slovakian media.