Pope plans to visit Sweden to commemorate Reformation anniversary

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis will visit Sweden in
October to participate in an ecumenical service and the beginning of a year of
activities to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Leaders from the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World
Federation had already been set to meet Oct. 31, 2016, for the ecumenical
celebration in Lund, Sweden, where the LWF was founded in 1947.

Pope Francis “intends to participate” in the
joint ceremony to commemorate next year’s anniversary, the Vatican press office
said in a written communique. The announcement came Jan. 25, the feast of the
conversion of St. Paul — “an important day with regard to
ecumenism,” said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman. It is
the last day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Pope Francis will lead the ecumenical commemoration in
Lund alongside Bishop Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation,
and the Rev. Martin Junge, federation general secretary, said a joint press
release by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the LWF.

“The event will include a common worship based on
the recently published Catholic-Lutheran ‘Common Prayer’ liturgical
guide,” and will highlight ecumenical developments between Catholics and
Lutherans over the past 50 years, the press release said.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, council president, said in the press
release, “By concentrating together on the centrality of the question of God
and on a Christocentric approach, Lutherans and Catholics will have the
possibility of an ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation, not simply in a
pragmatic way, but in the deep sense of faith in the crucified and resurrected

Rev. Junge said in the joint statement that the
federation “is approaching the Reformation anniversary in a spirit of
ecumenical accountability.”

“By working toward reconciliation between Lutherans
and Catholics, we are working toward justice, peace and reconciliation in a
world torn apart by conflict and violence,” he added.

The common prayer document, released Jan. 11, is the
first jointly developed liturgical material prepared by a task force made up of
representatives of the official Lutheran-Catholic Commission on Unity.

Catholic bishops’ conferences and Lutheran churches
around the world are invited to use the Common Prayer as part of local
commemorations of the Reformation anniversary in 2017. The prayer includes
materials to be adapted to the local liturgical and musical traditions of the
Catholic Church and Lutheran communities.

Martin Luther posted his
“95 Theses” on a church door Oct. 31, 1517, which is usually marked as the beginning of the
Reformation. While the Reformation fractured Western Christianity, Catholics
and Lutherans have been committed to dialogue the past 50 years in an effort to
restore full unity.

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and
the Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation released a joint document in June
2013 titled, “From Conflict to Communion,” which outlined ideas for
joint commemorations in 2017.

The document looks at the central points of Luther’s call
for the reform of the church, the points addressed later by the Council of
Trent and, especially, the Second Vatican Council and issues that still divide
Catholics and Lutherans.

“Luther had no intention of establishing a new
church but was part of a broad and many-faceted desire for reform,” the
document said. “In 2017, when Lutheran Christians celebrate the
anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, they are not thereby celebrating
the division of the Western church. No one who is theologically responsible can
celebrate the division of Christians from one another.”

In a meeting in October 2013 with representatives of the
Lutheran World Federation and members of the Catholic-Lutheran international
theological dialogue, Pope Francis said commemorations of the beginning of the
Reformation must take place in a spirit of dialogue and humility.

“Catholics and Lutherans can ask forgiveness for the
harm they have caused one another and for their offenses committed in the sight
of God,” he said.

“I believe that it is truly important for everyone
to confront in dialogue the historical reality of the Reformation, its
consequences and the responses it elicited,” the pope told the group.

While theological dialogue is important, he said, the key
to unity lies in prayer and trying to follow more closely the teachings of

In other news regarding papal travel, the president of
Colombia’s Catholic bishops’ conference told reporters Jan. 23 that Pope
Francis would visit their country early in 2017.

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