Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Catholics and Lutherans sign joint declaration 'accepting common path'

Harriet Sherwood       Religion Correspondent      Guardian/UK      31 October '16

After 500 years of schism, will the rift of the Reformation finally be healed? Pope Francis is beginning a year of events to herald growing cooperation between Protestants and Catholics. The events also commemorate 50 years of dialogue and cooperation between the two Christian traditions to overcome the divisions of the past.

Tolling bells marked the pope’s arrival at Lund Cathedral, which passed from the hands of the Roman Catholic church to the Lutherans in the 16th century as part of the epic sweep of change across Europe. In the presence of the Swedish king and queen, Francis prayed that “the Holy Spirit help us to 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.”

In his homily, the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics said the two traditions had “undertaken a common journey of reconciliation. Now, in the context of the commemoration of the Reformation of 1517, we have a new opportunity to accept a common path, one that has taken shape over the past 50 years in the ecumenical dialogue between the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic church.”

The anniversary presented 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 added. The separation “has been an immense source of suffering and misunderstanding”, he said.

The joint declaration, signed by Francis and Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, said the past five decades of “sustained and fruitful ecumenical dialogue” had helped Catholics and Lutherans overcome many differences, and had deepened mutual understanding and trust.

The declaration said: “At the same time, we have drawn closer to one another through joint service to our neighbours – often in circumstances of suffering and persecution. Through dialogue and shared witness we are no longer strangers. Rather, we have learned that what unites us is greater than what divides us. While we are profoundly thankful for the spiritual and theological gifts received through the Reformation, we also confess and lament before Christ that Lutherans and Catholics have wounded the visible unity of the church. Theological differences were accompanied by prejudice and conflicts, and religion was instrumentalised for political ends.”

The two leaders prayed for wounds to be healed, saying: “We emphatically reject all hatred and violence, past and present, especially that expressed in the name of religion.”

Luther’s challenge to the corruption and elitism of the Roman Catholic church swiftly gained support across Europe, helped by new printing presses which allowed his theses, along with other papers, pamphlets and the newly translated Bible, to reach people. The Catholic church launched a counter-reformation.

Followers of
Catholicism and Protestantism persecuted and fought each other for decades. By the middle of the 17th century, Europe was divided between a largely Protestant north and Catholic south. Recent moves towards closer coexistence have been resisted by hardliners on both sides, and few people have suggested that the Christian church could reunite even though Francis has made ecumenicalism a hallmark of his papacy. On Tuesday, the pope is due to celebrate mass in front of a crowd of up to 10,000 people in Malmö before returning to the Vatican.

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