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“More unites us than divides us,” say Catholics, Lutherans at Reformation commemoration

“More unites us than divides us,” say Catholics, Lutherans at Reformation commemoration

At the service in Lund Cathedral. © Magnus Aronson/Ikon

01 November 2016

By Stephen Brown*

At a joint service in the Swedish city of Lund almost 500 years after the Lutheran Reformation, Catholics and Lutherans apologized for their past divisions and conflicts, and pledged to deepen their common fellowship and service in the world.

Pope Francis joined the president and general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Bishop Munib Younan and Rev. Martin Junge for the service at Lund Cathedral on 31 October, the anniversary of the day in 1517 that marks the start of the Reformation.

About 500 worshippers filled the cathedral, where they heard a joint sermon preached in Spanish by Pope Francis and the LWF general secretary.

"As Catholics and Lutherans, we have undertaken a common journey of reconciliation," Pope Francis said. "Now, in the context of the commemoration of the Reformation of 1517, we have a new opportunity to accept a common path."

The Pope insisted that Catholics and Lutherans should not be resigned to "the division and distance that our separation has created between us". Instead, he said, there is an opportunity "to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another".

He later said, "With gratitude we acknowledge that the Reformation helped give greater centrality to sacred Scripture in the church’s life."

The LWF general secretary urged Catholics and Lutherans "to move away from a past overshadowed by conflict and division and to walk the paths of communion".

More unites Catholics and Lutherans than divides them, Junge said. "We are one in baptism. This is why we are here at this joint commemoration: to rediscover who we are in Christ."

Held under the title, "From Conflict to Communion - Together in Hope", the first joint Catholic-Lutheran commemoration of the Reformation at the global level followed 50 years of international dialogue between the Catholic Church and the LWF.

"On this journey, mutual understanding and trust have grown," said Younan, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, in words of welcome to the service.

Spontaneous applause broke out as Pope Francis and Bishop Younan later signed a joint statement committing Catholics and Lutherans to deepen their communion and common witness for justice.

"While the past cannot be changed, what is remembered and how it is remembered can be transformed," it stated. "We pray for the healing of our wounds and of the memories that cloud our view of one another. We emphatically reject all hatred and violence, past and present, especially that expressed in the name of religion."

Representatives from other Christian world communions and ecumenical bodies such as the World Council of Churches (WCC) were present at the service. This underlined, organizers said, that progress between Catholics and Lutherans cannot take place in isolation from their many other ecumenical relationships.

"This is an event for the whole ecumenical family, showing there are ways to stake steps forward that can inspire others," said WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, a Lutheran from Norway, speaking in advance of the service.

He praised the joint commemoration as an example of mutual accountability between churches.

The director of the WCC's Commission on Faith and Order, Rev. Dr Odair Pedroso Mateus, pointed to the need to deepen the dialogue between churches about past divisions because of the necessity to respond together to growing challenges of witnessing in the world today.

"In this wider context, a joint commemoration of the Reformation is in itself a great move upward," Mateus said.

The service at Lund Cathedral was followed by a public event at the nearby Malmö Arena, where Pope Francis and Bishop Younan offered responses to testimonies by Lutheran and Catholic advocates for social justice and climate issues from Burundi, Colombia, India, South Sudan and Syria.  At the event, the LWF World Service and the Catholic agency Caritas Internationalis signed a declaration of intent to strengthen the humanitarian collaboration of the two organizations.

Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation

*Stephen Brown is a freelance journalist.