Pope takes Chris­tian unity bid to the Protes­tant heart­land

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Pope Fran­cis ar­rived in Swe­den yes­ter­day on the lat­est leg of his mis­sion to pro­mote rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and unity within the wider Chris­tian fam­ily. Af­ter touch­ing down in the south­ern city of Malmo, the Ar­gen­tine pon­tiff heads to nearby Lund for an ec­u­meni­cal ser­vice mark­ing the start of a year of cel­e­bra­tions for the 500th an­niver­sary of the Re­for­ma­tion. The event marked 50 years of rec­on­cil­ia­tory di­a­logue be­tween the Catholic Church and Lutheranism, a tra­di­tion that was once fer­vently hos­tile to the author­ity and teach­ings of the Vat­i­can.

Just by agree­ing to at­tend, Fran­cis has made a ges­ture that would have been unimag­in­able for all but his most re­cent pre­de­ces­sors. The popes of the 16th cen­tury spent huge amounts of time and en­ergy try­ing to sti­fle or re­verse the re­form­ing wave launched by the Ger­man monk Martin Luther when he nailed his “95 the­ses” to the door of a church in Wit­ten­berg on Oc­to­ber 31, 1517. Yes­ter­day’s meet­ing comes eight months af­ter Fran­cis be­came the first pope in al­most 1,000 years to meet an Or­tho­dox Pa­tri­arch. The cur­rent leader of the world’s 1.2 bil­lion Catholics has also reached out to Angli­cans. And ahead of the visit, Fran­cis re­it­er­ated the im­por­tance he at­taches to Chris­tian unity at a time when both believ­ers and be­lief it­self are un­der pres­sure in many parts of the world.

‘Ec­u­menism of blood’

“When Chris­tians are per­se­cuted and mur­dered, they are cho­sen be­cause they are Chris­tians, not be­cause they are Luther­ans, Calvin­ists, Angli­cans, Catholics or Or­tho­dox,” Fran­cis said in an in­ter­view with two Je­suit pub­li­ca­tions. “An ec­u­menism of blood ex­ists.” He also went out of his way to un­der­line that Catholi­cism no longer re­gards Luther, who was ex­com­mu­ni­cated, as a hereti­cal fig­ure. “Luther took a great step by putting the words of God into the hands of the peo­ple,” Fran­cis said in an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to the monk’s ef­forts to get a Ger­man trans­la­tion of the Bi­ble printed and cir­cu­lated.

Some Catholic con­ser­va­tives ques­tion whether there is any­thing about the Re­for­ma­tion worth cel­e­brat­ing. Partly for that rea­son, ev­ery word of the ser­mon the ever un­pre­dictable Fran­cis de­liv­ers in Lund is likely to be closely scru­ti­nized, as will re­marks by Mounib Younan, the Pales­tinian pres­i­dent of the World Lutheran Fed­er­a­tion. The pon­tiff’s body lan­guage will also be closely watched, par­tic­u­larly when he is led into the Lund cathe­dral by An­tje Jack­e­len, the fe­male arch­bishop who is the se­nior cleric in the Swedish Lutheran church. With its ap­proval of women hold­ing of­fice, back­ing for gay mar­riage and openly les­bian and gay bish­ops, the Swedish church is lib­eral to an ex­tent unimag­in­able for the vast ma­jor­ity of Catholic cler­ics. The two tra­di­tions also dif­fer in their ap­proach to church gov­er­nance-hi­er­ar­chi­cal for Catholi­cism, flat for the Luther­ans-as well as on more es­o­teric the­o­log­i­cal ques­tions. — AFP

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