At the moment, there are more than 30 different foreign language parishes in Vienna. Every fifth Catholic in Vienna is a foreigner or has foreign heritage and so the pastoral care for foreign language Catholics is a huge task. Country-specific customs which appear in the structures of the church life of those foreign language communities help people to feel at home in Austria. Basically, these communities are organized like normal parishes. The Department of Foreign Language Communities run by the Archdiocese of Vienna takes care of establishing contacts among believers of a certain nationality, their parish, and the bishops in charge. It is noteworthy that foreigners often have a closer connection to the Church, than Austrian Catholics throughout this country. Going to church in a foreign language community is important to preserve one's identity and helps simplify integration into the "new home."
At the moment, there are more than 30 different foreign language parishes in Vienna. Every fifth Catholic in Vienna is a foreigner or has foreign heritage and so the pastoral care for foreign language Catholics is a huge task. The number of Christians with foreign heritage is not definite, as many Austrian immigrants prefer to go to church in the parishes they live in. Some people are involved in the parish they live in as well as in their foreign language community. Basically, these communities are organized like normal parishes. The Department of Foreign Language Communities run by the Archdiocese of Vienna tries to establish contacts between believers of a certain nationality and their parishes on the one hand, and on the other hand, the concerns and wishes of the diocese and the bishops have to be taken into consideration. Members of foreign language communities/parishes have the following in common:
- Living in the "foreign country Austria" makes the foreign language community/parish especially important. This is where people can share their daily problems, celebrate, and mourn together.
- It is noteworthy that foreigners often have a closer connection to the Church, than throughout this country. If there are only few members of a people living together in a city, often more than 50% go to mass. If there are many of them (like in the African communities), the churches "burst at all seams" at mass times.
- Problems arise because of lack of space in the parishes - fortunately, these problems could be solved in most places.
- In certain cases, cultural particularities helped to simplify integration of which the following are examples:
1. The Hungarian community, which is geographically and historically close to the Austrian Church, is especially present with its Feast Calendar and the celebrations which result from it. There are also strong cultural bonds. This is very much the case for foreign language communities, such as the Slovak, the Czech, the Slovenian, and many more. In these communities, the foreign language constitutes the main difference of the mass.
2. The Croatian community has contributed with its successful sportspersons to a good and fast integration of its members. Croatia is a country with a long history of "sports heroes" in soccer and Basketball who especially young people can easily identify with. Taking part in the diocesan leagues, boundaries were removed and people were united by their common interests.
3. The African community appeals to people with the joyfulness, jollity and spirituality which can be found in their services. Their approach to faith, which is based on the same Church teachings, includes music and dancing. The positive atmosphere is inspiring for both African and Austrian believers.
A main characteristic of these communities is that they develop out of and increase because of refugee movements. Thus, these communities have a different identity than those which consist of members of the diplomatic corps and other well-off people. This has an impact on the level of integration: people who plan to live in Austria only for a few years see the topic of integration in a different light than those who flee from economic hardships and political persecution and want to stay in Austria permanently.
In the following, an account of the foreign language communities in Vienna and their particularities and problems shall be given. The list does not include all foreign communities but portrays a representative collection of communities which have been chosen for their special features.
The Albanian Community
About 1.500 Albanians from the Kosovo belong to the Albanian community. In the last few years, many refugees have joined the community. The social problems are big families, small apartments and unemployment.
The Croatian Community
The Croatian community emerged from refugee movements after the two World Wars and the violent collapse of Yugoslavia. In the 90ies, 15.000 Croatian refugees came to Vienna.
The Polish Community
Since the promulgation of the law of war in Poland in 1980, about 21.000 refugees came to Vienna. About 30.000 people of Polish heritage attend masses in German. Especially since the death of Pope John Paul II., the number of Polish believers coming to church has increased. 5.000 to 6.000 believers are going to church every Sunday.
The Slovak Community
With its 5.5 million inhabitants out of which 58% are Roman Catholic, Slovakia is a very religious country. After Prague Spring, many refugees came to Austria. Since 1989, many young Slovaks have been coming to Austria to work. At the moment, a new spirit of optimism can be felt in the Slovak community.
The Slovenian Community
About 3.500 Slovenians live in the area surrounding Vienna. However, the parish journal is sent to only 350 households whereas a few years ago, 600 households purchased the journal. This development can be explained by a large number of Slovenians going back home or having completely integrated into Austrian society.
The Czech Community
The Czech community is the oldest foreign language community in the city. It dates back to the 13th century. In the end of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century, 500.000 Czechs lived and worked in Vienna. In the last hundred years, the number of people of Czech origin has constantly decreased. The Hungarian community is especially present with its Feast Calendar and the celebrations which result from it. 15.000 Hungarians live in Vienna, of which 6.000 are Catholic. Those coming to the Hungarian community/parish are people who have not been in Austria for a long time. Hungarian immigrants who have been in Austria for a long time are often involved in the German speaking parishes they live in.
The English Speaking Community
After World War II., Leopold Ungar was asked to celebrate mass in English for Soldiers of the Allied Forces in the votive church. This is when the English Speaking community was born. Many members of the church are diplomats or have professions which make them come to Austria only for a few years. Americans, Filipinos, and Africans make up a quarter of the community each. The fourth quarter consists of members from 30 nations from all over the world. In the last ten years, there has been a growing interest in the poor and the willingness to donate has been enormous.
The West-African Group
The African community in Vienna was founded in 1980. In 1998, a separate English Speaking community emerged. The West-African community has 500 members. The masses normally last three hours and is a manifestation of the deep African faith and spirituality.
The Indian Community
About 4.000 Indian Catholics live in Vienna and celebrate their masses in the Syro-Malabar rite. Christianity has a very long tradition in India.
The Korean Community
About 130 Koreans come to Sunday mass regularly. This number is relatively high as only 200 Korean Catholics live in Vienna.
Several thousand Latin American Catholics live in Vienna. Many of them came to Austria in the 70ies and 80ies of the 20th century, the times of the military dictatorships in those countries. Today, many students from Brazil or Brazilians with Austrian spouses come to Austria.
The Philippine Community
The Philippine Community is one of the biggest foreign language communities in the Archdiocese. It was founded in the 70ies by Catholic guest workers working in Vienna. The Philippine churches burst at all seams. Many of the 25.000 faithful Filipinos in Vienna work in nursing services.
Mag. Heiko M. Nötstaller
Office of Public Relations and Communications of the Archdiocese of Vienna