“Pope Francis” with Lutheran Rev. Martin Junge,
the general secretary of the World Lutheran Federation,
and “Archbishop” Antje Jackelen,
Lutheran Archbishop of Uppsala and
“the Primate of the Church of Sweden”
LUND AND MALMO, SWEDEN -- At a first-of-its-kind ecumenical event marking 500 years of separation between Lutherans and Catholics after the Protestant Reformation, Pope Francis on Monday urged members of the two faith communities to "mend a critical moment of our history" by forging new common paths together.
Speaking in a 12th-century cathedral here that was once Catholic and is now Lutheran, the pontiff also praised some of the reforms called for by Martin Luther, whose famous writing of 95 theses led to a fracturing of Christianity across Western Europe.
"We have a new opportunity to accept a common path," Francis told Lutherans and Catholics during a joint ecumenical prayer service at Lund's cathedral with representatives of the Church of Sweden and the Lutheran World Federation.
"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," he continued.
The pope later added that the half a millennia of separation between the two faith groups has "enabled us to understand better some aspects of our faith," noting specifically: "With gratitude we acknowledge that the Reformation helped give greater centrality to sacred Scripture in the church's life."
Francis traveled to Sweden Monday for a two-day trip in a bold gesture to mark the start of yearlong commemorations of the Reformation, which is traditionally dated as beginning with the October 1517 publication of Luther's "Ninety-Five Theses."
The theses, famously nailed to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, questioned the sale of indulgences and the Gospel foundations of papal authority.
There had been some speculation in anticipation of the trip that the pope or Lutheran leaders would use the visit to make some sort of grand overture towards achieving full unity between Catholics and Lutherans, perhaps even with a declaration that members of the two communities could take Communion at each other's services.
Hopes for such a gesture were tempered in a joint statement signed by Francis and the president of the Lutheran World Federation during the prayer service Monday. While the two leaders pledged to work towards intercommunion, they did not indicate it was possible as yet…
The Lund and Malmo events were given the joint theme "From Conflict to Communion, Together in Hope." The two programs were structured around the topics of thanksgiving, repentance, and a commitment to joint witness and service….
As part of the earlier prayer service in Lund, both Catholic and Lutheran leaders apologized for their historic treatment of each other.
At one point, Cardinal Kurt Koch, the head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said that in the past both groups had "accepted that the Gospel was mixed with the political and economic interests of those in power."
"Their failures resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people," said Koch. "We deeply regret the evil things that Catholics and Lutherans have mutually done to each other."
That joint statement may be found here.
On my Reformation500.wordpress.com blog, I’ve been working through Alister McGrath’s “Reformation Thought: An Introduction”, for anyone who is interested. It seems to be an excellent basic history of the Reformation. This morning I’ve put up the sixth blog post in the series, introducing Martin Luther and the Lutheran Reformation.