Source: The New York Times
LUND, Sweden — Almost 500 years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to a church door, setting off more than a century of religious warfare and forever changing the practice of Christianity worldwide, Pope Francis on Monday urged atonement and Christian reconciliation.
Visiting the cities of Lund and Malmo in southern Sweden for a joint Catholic-Lutheran commemoration of the Reformation, the pope observed the 499th anniversary of Luther’s protest of the sale of indulgences by noting the beneficial impact it had on Catholicism.
“With gratitude we acknowledge that the Reformation helped give greater centrality to sacred Scripture in the church’s life,” the pope said in a joint declaration at Lund Cathedral with Bishop Munib A. Younan, the head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and the president of the Lutheran World Federation.
The trip, which kicked off a year of events leading up to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, was announced in January, but it was no less striking for those who listened to the pope. Sweden played a pivotal and troubling role in Protestant and Catholic history. From the 16th century, Catholics were persecuted and even put to death in Sweden. As recently as 1951, Catholics were barred from becoming doctors, teachers and nurses, and Catholic convents were banned until the 1970s.
Some Catholics and Lutherans, especially those whose families are intermingled, hoped that the event would produce a concrete step toward the two churches’ allowing their members to take communion in each other’s worship services. In their joint declaration, Pope Francis and Bishop Younan acknowledged the divide, but said only that they were working toward a resolution through dialogue.
‘We experience the pain of those who share their whole lives, but cannot share God’s redeeming presence at the Eucharistic table,” the declaration said. “We long for this wound in the body of Christ to be healed. This is the goal of our ecumenical endeavors, which we wish to advance, also by renewing our commitment to theological dialogue.”
The Lutheran World Federation was founded in Lund in 1947, in an effort to unite churches after World War II. One of the main obstacles to relations between Lutherans and Roman Catholics was bridged in 1999, when the Vatican and the federation signed a joint declaration on the doctrine of justification, a core belief about God’s forgiveness of sins.
Francis was the first pope to visit Sweden in 27 years, and only the second pope to visit the Scandinavian country. In Lund, he met with King Carl XVI Gustaf, Queen Silvia and Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.
“We, too, must look with love and honesty at our past, recognizing error and seeking forgiveness,” Francis said.
The prayer service in Lund was watched by about 10,000 people who packed Malmo Arena, about 14 miles away, where Caritas and the Lutheran World Service, humanitarian arms of the two churches, pledged to work together for peace and justice.
Teresa Jodar, 58, who lives in Stockholm but is a native of Valencia, Spain, said she had taken the train from Stockholm to Malmo in the morning to bear witness.