By Stephen Brown*
Germany’s main Protestant and Roman Catholic churches have published a “Common Word” for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 in which they call for a “healing of memories” of past divisions and for the event to be commemorated in ecumenical fellowship.
“Together we want to use the 500th anniversary of the Reformation as an opportunity to reflect on the concerns of the Reformers and to listen anew to their call to repentance and spiritual renewal,” the leaders of the two churches - Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and Cardinal Reinhard Marx of the Roman Catholic Church - state in an introduction to the text.
The anniversary marks the action of Martin Luther in publishing his 95 Theses on 31 October 1517 to denounce church abuses, setting in motion events that led to the Reformation and the separation of western Christianity into Roman Catholic and Protestant churches.
“A look at history reveals the suffering and wounds that Christians have inflicted on each other. This shocks and shames us,” the two church leaders state.
“We see it as an exceptional moment of our fellowship, after centuries of mutual separation, to mark a Reformation anniversary with such readiness to engage in forgiveness and a new beginning,” they continue.
Bedford-Strohm is chair of the EKD council and bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, which has its headquarters in Munich. Marx is chair of the German (Roman Catholic) Bishops’ Conference (DBK) and archbishop of Munich and Freising.
They introduced the 90-page document, “Healing Memories - Witnessing to Jesus Christ”, at a press conference on 16 September in Munich.
“In 2017, for the first time in the history of the separated churches, we will also celebrate the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in ecumenical fellowship,” the two leaders said in separate statements presented at the press conference.
The EKD and the DBK are to hold a central service of penitence and reconciliation on 11 March 2017 in Hildesheim.
“In it we will confess our guilt before God on behalf of our churches, asking God and each other for forgiveness and committing ourselves before God to continue to deepen our togetherness,” say Bishop Bedford-Strohm and Cardinal Marx. “The service in Hildesheim is a further milestone in the process of the healing of memories.”
The two churches are encouraging similar services at regional and local levels.
From 16 to 22 October, as preparation for the service in Hildesheim, Protestant and Catholic leaders from Germany are to undertake a common pilgrimage to the Holy Land to recall the roots of their common faith.
Pope Francis and Bishop Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, will celebrate an ecumenical service on 31 October 2016 at Lund in Sweden, where the Federation was founded in 1947. They will pray for forgiveness and the healing of the wounds the confessions inflicted on each other over the centuries.
* Stephen Brown is a freelance journalist specializing in religious affairs.
“Healing Memories - Witnessing to Jesus Christ” (in German)