Historic ecumenical visit by Pope Francis to Sweden
Vanya Walker-Leigh in Lund, Sweden
At a historic Common Prayer service yesterday in Lund’s 12th century Lutheran cathedral to launch the Joint CatholicLutheran Commemoration, Pope Francis called on the Holy Spirit to ‘ help us rejoice in the gifts that have come to the Church through the Reformation’.
“Prepare us to repent for the dividing walls that we and our forebears have built and equip us for common witness and service in the world”, he continued, in his opening remarks to a packed congregation of representatives from all major Christian traditions as well as senior officials from faith-based NGOs.
In his sermon the Pope urged a more efficient joint witness of faith, hope and charity. He also gave thanks “for our many brothers and sisters from different ecclesial communities who refused to be resigned to division, but instead kept alive the hope of reconciliation among all who believe in the one Lord. With gratitude we acknowledge that the Reformation helped give greater centrality to sacred Scripture in the Church’s life…grant us the gift of unity so that the world may believe in the power of your mercy. This is the testimony the world expects from us.”
The President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch said that “Lutherans and Catholics (had) accepted that the gospel was mixed with the political and economic interests of those in power. Their failure resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands.. Catholics gladly acknowledge and esteem to truly Christian endowments from our common heritage which are found among our separated brethren.”.
The Secretary-General of the Lutheran World Federation, Rev. Martin Junge emphasised that “Lutherans are thankful in their hearts for what Luther and the other reformers made accessible to the: the understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ and faith in him; the insight into the mystery of the Triune God...the catechisms, and hymns that draw faith into life.. Lutherans want to share this gift with all other Christians.”
Bishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien of the Swedish Lutheran church emphasised how much all non-Catholic Christians yearned to be able to share the Eucharist with Catholics – a development which Vatican-watchers indicate may still be a long way off.
Entitled “From Conflict to Communion – Together in Hope”, the Commemoration marks both 500 years since the start of the Reformation and fifty years of progress in the international CatholicLutheran dialogue - one of a series of ecumenical exchanges launched by the Catholic Church after Vatican II (1962-1965) - with many agreements including the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed in 1999.
During the prayer service, the Pope and the President of the Lutheran World Service, Palestinian-born Bishop Munid Younan signed a Joint Statement for further commitment to common witness and service. Five formal joint Commitments were also read out by Lutheran and Catholic readers.
“From Conflict to Communion” is also the title of a report issued by the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity giving a joint perspective on the history of the Reformation, theological differences outstanding or still to overcome – the latter notably including the understanding of the church, the Eucharist and the ministry (Lutheran pastors can marry and women are ordained to the priesthood and the episcopacy
At a packed ecumenical public event in Malmo’s sports arena after the Common Prayer service, a Joint Declaration of Intent was signed by the leaders of Caritas Internationalis and the Lutheran World Service while Revd. Junge and the Pope gave their blessings to the crowd.
To-morrow morning (Tuesday) the Pope will celebrate Mass in the Malmo stadium, with many non-Catholic Swedes and others expected to attend. ENDS
The Commemoration marks 500 years since Martin Luther, a German Augustinian monk, issued widely circulated theses in 1517 condemning the Church’s sale of indulgences. While he did not intend to leave the Church, let alone start a separate tradition of worship in Christianity, his writings, teachings and the reactions to them throughout northern Europe, as well as political opposition from German princes to the power of the Church led to the emergence of the Protestant Reformation and the foundation of many non-Catholic churches. The Church of England (founded in 596 at the behest of Pope Gregory the Great) - which withdrew from the universal church in 1534 - gradually absorbed a number of Reformation doctrines.
Harsh discrimination, and persecution against Catholics in nonCatholic nations, and against Protestants in Catholic nations, only started to diminish in the 19th century, was followed by the Vatican II (1962-1965) which resulted in the opening of dialogues between the Church of Rome and all other major denominations.
The Commemoration comes just four weeks after Pope Francis and the head of the Anglican Communion (85 million members in 165 countries) signed a joint statement to work for unity at an ecumenical vespers in Rome and jointly ‘sent out’ 19 pairs of bishops from around the world to work together on every issue, excepting those where dogma or theology still divide the two traditions.