For­give ‘er­rors’ of past, forge unity

Malta Independent - - NEWS - Vanya Walker-Leigh in Lund, Swe­den

At a his­toric Com­mon Prayer ser­vice in Lund’s 12th cen­tury Lutheran cathe­dral to launch the Joint Catholic-Lutheran 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 es­teem 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 them: 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 50 years of progress in the in­ter­na­tional Catholic-Lutheran 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 In­ter­na­tional and the Lutheran World Ser­vice while Rev. Junge and the Pope gave their bless­ings to the crowd.

On Tues­day the Pope cel­e­brated Mass in the Malmo sta­dium, which many non-Catholic Swedes and oth­ers at­tended.

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 non-Catholic na­tions, and against Protes­tants in Catholic na­tions, which 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.

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