Lutheran leaders and Pope Francis meet in Sweden for Reformation commemoration

Sweden 2

Pope Francis at Malmö airport

Posted 1 November 2016

Yesterday, a historic meeting took place between Roman Catholic and Lutheran leaders to mark the one year countdown to the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.

In Lund and Malmö, in Sweden, Pope Francis joined Bishop Munib Younan and the Revd Dr Martin Junge, who represent the 145 Churches of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), at a service of common prayer at Lund Cathedral on 31st October, the anniversary of the day in 1517 that marks the start of the Reformation..

Decades of dialogue have led to this historic meeting, the first of its kind.

At the joint service almost 500 years after the Lutheran Reformation, Roman Catholics and Lutherans apologised for their past divisions and conflicts and pledged to deepen their common fellowship and service in the world.

About 500 worshippers filled the cathedral where they heard a joint sermon preached in Spanish by Pope Francis and the LWF General Secretary.

“As Catholics and Lutherans, we have undertaken a common journey of reconciliation,” Pope Francis said. “Now, in the context of the commemoration of the Reformation of 1517, we have a new opportunity to accept a common path.”

The Pope insisted that Roman Catholics and Lutherans should not be resigned to “the division and distance that our separation has created between us”. Instead, he said, there is an 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 later said: “With gratitude we acknowledge that the Reformation helped give greater centrality to sacred Scripture in the Church’s life.”

The LWF General Secretary urged Roman Catholics and Lutherans “to move away from a past overshadowed by conflict and division and to walk the paths of communion”.

More unites them than divides them, Dr Junge said. “We are one in baptism. This is why we are here at this joint commemoration: to rediscover who we are in Christ.”

Held under the title, ‘From Conflict to Communion – Together in Hope’, the first joint Roman Catholic-Lutheran commemoration of the Reformation at the global level followed 50 years of international dialogue between the Vatican and the LWF.

“On this journey, mutual understanding and trust have grown,” said Bishop Younan, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, in words of welcome to the service.

Spontaneous applause broke out as Pope Francis and Bishop Younan later signed a joint statement committing Roman Catholics and Lutherans to deepen their communion and common witness for justice.

“While the past cannot be changed, what is remembered and how it is remembered can be transformed,” it stated. “We pray for the healing of our wounds and of the memories that cloud our view of one another. We emphatically reject all hatred and violence, past and present, especially that expressed in the name of religion.”

Representatives from other Christian world communions and ecumenical bodies were present at the service. This underlined, organisers said, that progress between Roman Catholics and Lutherans cannot take place in isolation from their many other ecumenical relationships.

“This is an event for the whole ecumenical family, showing there are ways to stake steps forward that can inspire others,” said the WCC General Secretary, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, a Lutheran from Norway, speaking in advance of the service.

He praised the joint commemoration as an example of mutual accountability between Churches.

The Director of the WCC’s Commission on Faith and Order, the Revd Dr Odair Pedroso Mateus, pointed to the need to deepen the dialogue between Churches about past divisions because of the necessity to respond together to growing challenges of witnessing in the world today.

“In this wider context, a joint commemoration of the Reformation is in itself a great move upward,” Dr Mateus said.

The service at Lund Cathedral was followed by a public event at the nearby Malmö Arena, where Pope Francis and Bishop Younan offered responses to testimonies by Lutheran and Roman Catholic advocates for social justice and climate issues from Burundi, Colombia, India, South Sudan and Syria.

At the event, the LWF World Service and the Roman Catholic agency, Caritas Internationalis, signed a declaration of intent to strengthen the humanitarian collaboration of the two organisations. [Stephen Brown for WCC/CEC News]