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Pope Francis marks 500th anniversary of Reformation

By Sarah Mac Donald - 01 November, 2016


Pope Francis arrived in Sweden on Monday for a two-day apostolic journey to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The Pope, along with the heads of the Lutheran World Federation, jointly presided at an ecumenical prayer service in Lund Cathedral yesterday afternoon.

This is the first time since the 1500s that a Catholic priest has given a sermon in the cathedral.

The ceremony launches a year of commemorations of Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517.

In his address, Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for violent acts committed by both Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation. “Christ is our peace, who breaks down the walls that divide us,” he said.

During the service, the Pope and Lutheran World Federation (LWF) President, Bishop Munib A. Younan, signed a joint statement calling on Lutheran and Catholic parishes and communities to be “bold and creative, joyful and hopeful in their commitment to continue the great journey ahead of us”.

“We have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another,” Pope Francis stated in his sermon.

“We acknowledge that there is much more that unites us than that which separates us. We are branches of the same vine. We are one in Baptism,” Rev Martin Junge, General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) said.

The historic event, which is the first joint Catholic-Lutheran commemoration of the Reformation at a global level, was witnessed by 450 ecumenical guests in Lund Cathedral. It was watched live at Malmö Arena by an additional 10,000.

The Pope’s participation in the ceremony and visit to Sweden also marks 50 years of dialogue and progress on reconciliation between the Catholic Church and Lutheranism.

This theological progress has seen the signing of the ‘Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification’ in 1999 and the publication of a shared history of the Reformation in the 2013 document, ‘From Conflict to Communion’.

This is only the second time in history that a pope has visited Sweden. The last visit took place in 1989, when Pope John Paul II visited Stockholm and celebrated Mass for 16,000 people at the Globe Arena.

Ahead of the ecumenical service, the Pope paid a courtesy visit to the Swedish King and Queen, Carl XVI Gustav and Silvia, at Lund’s Royal Palace.

This morning, All Saints Day, the Pope will celebrate Mass in Malmö for Sweden’s Catholic community.

The Catholic Church now has 113,000 members in the country compared to only 87,000 in 2000. Some estimates for the number of Catholics in Sweden put the figure closer to 150,000.

Highlighting the importance of this apostolic journey to Sweden, the Pope told journalists on board the papal plane to Malmo airport, “This journey is important because it is an ecclesial journey, it’s very ecclesial in the field of ecumenism. Your work will be a big contribution in making sure people understand well,” he said.

Speaking ahead of Monday, Rev Martin Junge, General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) said the events were “approaching the Reformation anniversary in a spirit of ecumenical accountability”.

“I’m carried by the profound conviction that by working towards reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics, we are working towards justice, peace and reconciliation in a world torn apart by conflict and violence,” he added.

On behalf of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) said, “By concentrating together on the centrality of the question of God and on a Christocentric approach, Lutherans and Catholics will have the possibility of an ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation, not simply in a pragmatic way, but in the deep sense of faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ.”

Bishop Anders Arborelius OCD of the Catholic Church in Sweden said, “The ecumenical situation in our part of the world is unique and interesting. I hope that this meeting will help us look to the future so that we can be witnesses of Jesus Christ and His gospel in our secularised world.”

The event in Lund is part of the reception process of the study document, ‘From Conflict to Communion’, which was published in 2013, and has since been widely distributed to Lutheran and Catholic communities.

The document is the first attempt by both dialogue partners to describe together at international level the history of the Reformation and its intentions.

Earlier this year, the LWF and PCPCU sent to LWF member churches and Catholic Bishops’ Conferences a jointly prepared ‘Common Prayer’, which is a liturgical guide to help churches commemorate the Reformation anniversary together.

It is based on the study document, ‘From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017’, and features the themes of thanksgiving, repentance and commitment to common witness, with the aim of expressing the gifts of the Reformation and asking forgiveness for the division which followed theological disputes.

The year 2017 will also mark 50 years of the international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, which has yielded notable ecumenical results, of which the most significant is the ‘Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification’ (JDDJ).

The JDDJ was signed by the LWF and the Catholic Church in 1999, and affirmed by the World Methodist Council in 2006.

The declaration nullified disputes that had persisted for centuries between Catholics and Lutherans over the basic truths of the doctrine of justification, which was at the centre of the 16th century Reformation.

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