Ulf Ekman, the founder of Word of Life in Uppsala, announced at a Sunday service that he and his wife Birgitta would convert. Ekman wrote in a statement: ‘This has been a slow process where we have gone from discovering new things, to appreciating what we have discovered, to approach and even learn from our fellow Christians.’

He had previously signalled his retirement from the ministry he had led for around 30 years. Word of Life has about 3,000 members and 12 pastors; it also has a large Bible school and a publishing and media programme.

His journey to Roman Catholicism had been signalled during the last ten years through increasing engagement with Catholic leaders and writings, according to the Aletheia blog and thinktank.

Swedish Evangelical Alliance general secretary Stefan Gustavsson paid tribute to Ekman as ‘the most dynamic and influential Christian leader we have had in Sweden during the past half century’ and said that his farewell speech was marked by ‘warmth and humility’. He said that while the Alliance worked with the Roman Catholic Church on various issues, there were ‘crucial dividing lines’ on matters such as justification by faith, the authority of scripture and the Church.

Furthermore, he said: ‘Since the choice involves an affirmation of Catholic teaching it inevitably contains a built-in criticism from the former undisputed leader against parts of the movement he himself has built up. One should not underestimate the pain and disillusion that this creates in many people today.’

In 1999, Lutheran and Catholic groups agreed a joint declaration affirming justification by faith in Christ.