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Sweden's 'crossfit priest' heals body and soul on Instagram

By Viken KANTARCI / AFP Published Jan 02, 2023 4:54 pm

Under the Instagram handle @crossfitpriest, Swedish hospital chaplain Oskar Arngarden doles out fitness and spiritual advice to more than 30,000 followers, helping to heal the body, mind, and soul.

"God is in every aspect of my life," the 38-year-old says.

"When I'm working out, it's also in some way a relationship interaction, a prayer with God."

Pulling out his cellphone at the gym across from the Uppsala University Hospital—where he is a Swedish Lutheran Church priest—the muscular father-of-two shows videos on his Instagram account of him lifting weights and exercising.

"In the Bible, it says that your body is your temple. And part of that is to think: 'How should I treat my temple?'"

While the negative effects of social media are well documented, Arngarden says social media can also be a good place to talk about "faith and health, and... our existential, mental health."

His account also features posts with spiritual reflections and healthy life habits.

The young priest launched his first Instagram account in 2019. 

He became such a sensation that he quickly found himself overwhelmed.

"It got a little bit out of hand... In a couple of months, I had 160,000 followers, and I'm a pretty shy guy so for me it was not that comfortable."

A lot of the comments were about his toned physique, numerous tattoos, and resemblance to Australian actor Chris Hemsworth.

At the same time, he was suffering from depression.

He ended up closing his account.

'Something spiritual about social media'

In 2020, he returned to Instagram, with a clearer idea of the message he wanted to deliver—especially to his subscribers in Sweden, one of the most secular countries in the world.

"We are held back by a history where the church was in the center, and people came to the church," he says.

"Now we need to find ways for the church to come to meet people.

"And where are the people? They are on social media."

To him, there is "something spiritual in social media," and the way it allows users to "interact with the whole world."

Modern technology offers a unique way for him to reach out, he says, and to show how his faith and exercise routines are inextricably linked. 

"My faith is always with me in everything I do," he says.

Some of his followers contact him directly through the social media app, and it is "the more deep conversations" which interest him the most.

Some tell him about their own life experiences, or their spirituality.

"I want that interaction with other people, to hear their histories and stories," he says. 

"It's a blessing to me just to listen to that." (AFP)