Pope Francis and Lutheran church leaders would travel to southern Sweden on Monday for the commemoration of a five-centuries-old event that has been one of the most divisive in western Christianity’s Protestant Reformation.
A report on Friday in Vatican City (Holy Sea) said pope would be joined by Bishop Munib Younan, Head of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), and Reverend Martin Junge, the LWF General Secretary, at an ecumenical prayer service in Lund Cathedral.
It said the meeting would mark another step forward in efforts to overcome their historic divisions and commemorate one of the most divisive events in the history of Christianity on Monday.
“The upcoming anniversary year gives them a chance to signal more unity between Catholics and Protestants,” the report stated.
This year’s Reformation Day commemorates 500 years since Martin Luther’s wrote his controversial 95 Theses, outlining what he saw as widespread abuse and corruption within the Renaissance Catholic Church in 1517.
Catholic and Lutheran Churches would use the day to launch a year-long commemoration of the historic anniversary.
Vatican recalled that Luther criticised the sale of indulgences, granting a remission of temporal punishment due to sin to raise money for the building of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
“He also argued that the faithful should be allowed to have a more personal relationship with God with less interference from the clergy.
“His teachings triggered one of the most significant schisms in Christianity, leading Protestants to break away from the Catholic Church,’’ it said.
Junge said the LWF groups 145 churches in the Lutheran tradition, representing over 74 million Christians in 98 countries.
He said the commemoration would also mark 50 years of official ecumenical dialogue through which Catholics and Lutherans have sought to bridge the divide.
“It offers them an opportunity to reflect on their divisions that resulted in conflict and the 30 years’ War in Europe in the 17th century.
“The dialogues have helped create trust and contributed to removing “some of the obstacles of doctrinal differences among us.
“The time is mature, is ripe, to move from conflict to communion,” he said.
Cardinal Kurt Koch, who Heads the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said the commemoration was a sign of hope but was repentance for the religious strife that once rocked Europe.
He said after Monday’s prayer service, the church leaders would attend a service focused on youth and refugees in the nearby city of Malmo, along with leaders from the Catholic Diocese of Stockholm and the Lutheran Church of Sweden, including Archbishop Antje Jackelen.
Koch said proceeds from ticket sales in Malmo were to be used for LWF’s work with Syrian refugees in Jordan and the Catholic relief agency Caritas’ support for children in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
The LWF was founded in Lund in 1947, and the city’s cathedral consecrated in 1145, has been used by both Catholics and Lutherans.
Pope John Paul II was the first pope to visit predominantly Lutheran Sweden in 1989. (dpa/NAN)