Vatican previews Pope’s visit to Sweden for Reformation anniversary
October 27, 2016
Catholics and Lutherans are “no longer defining themselves in opposition to each other,” Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said at an October 27 briefing in anticipation of the visit by Pope Francis to Sweden, to join in observances for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
Rev. Martin Junge, the head of the Lutheran World Federation, spoke at the briefing, along with Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Congregation for Christian Unity. The Lutheran leader observed that it would have been impossible to imagine, just a few years ago, that a Roman Pontiff would join in a prayer service marking the anniversary of the Reformation—as Pope Francis will do on October 31, at Lund cathedral. However, Rev. Junge said, the ecumenical service will be a powerful sign of Christian unity, which is all the more important at a time when Christians throughout the world are suffering.
When questioned about the uneasy responses of Catholics who are dismayed by a celebration of the Reformation, Cardinal Koch said that there are three reasons for a common celebration: the ecumenical progress of the past 50 years, the shared witness of hope for the future, and the repentance for bloody religious conflicts of the past.
Cardinal Koch said that the Church cannot lift the excommunication of Martin Luther, since that disciplinary action became a moot point at the time of his death. However, he called attention to the positive remarks about Luther made by St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI—noting in particular that the latter Pontiff had emphasized the Luther’s Christocentric approach.
Both Cardinal Koch and Rev. Junge said that they hoped the Pope’s visit to Sweden will help Catholics and Lutherans move further down the path to the restoration of full communion.
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