Naantali

Naantali is a port town in southwest near Finland’s old capital Turku. In 70s, its harbor was busier than nowadays with 4 ferries, two coming from Sweden and two leaving to Sweden, in the morning and 4 in the evening. Seija worked like a pastor in the congregation of Naantali. Now it was Orlando’s turn to help Seija in the family life. They had two children and the youngest child was 2 years old. Besides, what could he do in the church without Finnish language? He did his best to help Seija, meanwhile, engaged in a Finnish course in the Turku University. Soon, they found out that one person’s salary was not enough to sustain the whole family. Orlando got a part-time job in the Shipping Company Viking Line. For two years he labored there. His job was receiving cars and trucks, guiding them into the ferry and also showing car passengers their way to the ship.

How Orlando, who came from a male-dominated society and once who was on the top of a white-collar career, had coped with the psychosocial strike as his wife’s social status and income were much higher than his? No doubt, the true love between Seija and him was the pillar during the hard time. I met the couple several times; every time I witnessed the love that so naturally flowed between them. The Lutheran Church also helped him. Archbishop Martti Simojoki once sent his secretary from Turku to Orlando’s home in Naantali to inspect his family’s living condition. The archbishop himself guided Orlando how to prepare himself to become a pastor in Finland.

Orlando is a person of will. He truly enjoyed freedom of thinking and his family life, and he never regreted his decision of leaving the Catholic Church. He was experiencing what the Bible says, “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” It was the life in the grass-root society that made him understand the real Finnish life. It was the low job among native Finns that let him know how difficult an immigrant’s life is in Finland. It was when he worked in the Viking Line that he started to weave his dream: to have an international center in Finland for Chileans and other Latin Americans.

Archbishop Simojoki was a man with vision. It was the Archbishop who enlightened Orlando. “We have refugees from Chile, Bolivia, Peru. You can speak Spanish and you are a pastor. Why not to make a project to plan how to help them?” The archbishop said to him.

After the WWII, Finland had never got a single refugee until 1973. During 1973-1977 the whole Finland got 182 refugees, all of them coming from Latin America. Orlando started to meet refugees in Turku and in Helsinki. Although his time was largely spent on learning Finnish, harbor labor and home chores, his heart was in this unnoticed and volunteer work. He made a project with a minimum budget; however, it was denied by other bishops. There is a time for everything, a time to plant and a time to harvest. The harvest time did not come yet.

Orlando mastered Finnish pretty well. In Åbo Academic he passed Finnish church history, law, liturgy, and got his Finnish citizenship in November 1977. He chose to join FELM. He learned Portuguese and Swahili language, and was a missionary in Tanzania with Seija and two kids together. After the summer of 1982, because of some sickness, they were called back to Finland.

Helsinki

Seija decided to be a congregational pastor. She got a position in St. John’s congregation. The church located in the downtown of Helsinki with its beautiful architecture of double steeples. Orlando stayed in FELM.

The arriving of boat people from Vietnam in 1979 triggered off the work among refugees in the Lutheran Church. A batch of Lutheran pastors, who had been in Asia and then retired, started their volunteer work among refugees and later also among immigrants from Asia. There were Väinö Parviainen, Aslak Zidbeck and Simo Lipasti, amongst other pioneers. In 1986, Rev. Esko Kähkönen was officially appointed by FELM in the position to co-ordinate refugee work.

The topography of foreign population in Finland has changed indeed dramatically since the end of 80s. The title of Esko’s job also altered with the changing: firstly, Secretary for Working Among Refugees, then, among foreigners, finally, among immigrants. By the time of Orlando succeeding the position in 1996, Finland had more than 68400 foreigners plus another 962 who had acquired Finnish citizenship. And his office expanded from one worker and one part-time worker to more than 8 persons in the past 7 years.

Orlando put people as his working priority. He worked truly hard among different ethnic groups; nevertheless, he hates to impose conversion on them. What he emphasizes was sharing things in common: the Christian faith, good wishes, friendship, justice and peace. What he encourages is keeping your own culture and some traditions while adapting or integrating into Finnish society and culture. He planned, did many paper work as well as leg and mouth work, organized campus, persuaded and argued both among ethnic groups and among his fellow clergymen. Eventually, his hard working spirit, his open-minded attitude and his personal experience as an immigrant living in Finland, all were paid off.

In 1999, his dream that had woven in Naantali harbor started to be realized. The first International Christian Center was set up in Helsinki downtown area, on the elegant street of Bulevardi. It is an ideal meeting place with a study room, a spacious meeting room and a modern kitchen. Many ethnic Christian groups have been formed. Among them, the Russia-speaking group first got a pastor, then the Arabian-speaking group.

Since 2000, The Federations of Helsinki, of Espoo, of Vantaa Parishes, three federations together, have been paying salary to a pastor for the Chinese-speaking group. The involvement of the three federations and the establishment of the new International Christian Center (ICC )in Kampi reflect the attitude of parishes towards immigrant work. The house of ICC is a gift from The Federation of Helsinki Parishes. Now, in several local congregations there are deacons working for immigrants and refugees. Many congregational pastors come to understand their responsibility on the immigrant work.

In November 2001, Orlando started the international marriage counselling service with native languages. It was much needed. All these achievement bring the government around to recognize the Church’s important role in the integration of immigrants. Undeniably, the comparative harmony of the Finnish society ought to be partly attributed to the likes of Orlando, who perseveringly, methodically and devoutly tried to bring immigrants before God, at the same time to integrate them into the Finnish society. God’s love is the best way to root out ethnic conflicts.

From Venezuela to Finland and from a Catholic priest to a Lutheran pastor, Orlando has walked over a distinct long road. While I wrote this article he was moving his office to the building of the Diocese of Helsinki. The moving emblems a big step—finally the immigration work will belong to the Diocese of Helsinki officially. Before his imminent retirement, Orlando is giving to the work among immigration his last push to pave the road for his successor.

February 2004