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From conflict to communion

/ 12:26 AM November 03, 2016

Oct. 31 was a special day for Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Pope Francis went to Lund, Sweden, for the joint Lutheran-Catholic ecumenical commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation led by Martin Luther in 1517 that marked a bitter schism.

What a bloody split that was, after Luther, German priest, monk and theologian of high intellect, pinned his “95 Theses” on a church door in Germany to dramatize his issues against the Catholic Church, many of them crying to be addressed, if not legitimate indeed. You can look it up on the internet.

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The Catholic Church got it straight in the face, and Luther was unceremoniously excommunicated. But his move created a divide so deep that things were never the same again. He had shaken the ramparts of an institution believed to be divinely ordained but so immovable and ruled by men with feet of clay.

For church historians, the Reformation was a pivotal point in the history of Christendom that cannot be ignored. The Reformation was the harbinger of things to come—the rise of Protestantism and the Counter Reformation in the Catholic Church among them.

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Over the decades after Vatican II (1960s), the Catholic Church has had so many occasions to sincerely say mea maxima culpa for the errors of the past and to seek forgiveness and hold out a hand in reconciliation. Pope John Paul II was a natural in this aspect. Still, it seems never enough. (The human weaknesses and sins of its individual shepherds—as in other religious institutions—are another story.)

Sweden, by the way, played a big part in the troubled years after the Reformation. Catholics in Sweden were persecuted and killed. “As recently as 1951, Catholics were barred from becoming doctors, teachers and nurses, and Catholic convents were banned until the 1970s,” said a report.

Last Monday night I watched the live, one-and-a-half-hour TV coverage of the Common Prayer Service at the Lund Cathedral where Pope Francis and his Lutheran counterparts took turns, within the liturgy, in expressing their hopes for more dialogue and unity. The statements were crisp and direct to the point. No long sermons. The reality that “what unites us is far greater than what divides us” was repeated several times. “From conflict to communion” was on everyone’s lips.

The liturgy, by the way, was decidedly multiracial and multilingual—and even multigender, with female Archbishop Antje Jackelen sharing the altar with the Pope and the male hierarchy. The two gave each other a peace embrace. (I googled: The Swedish Jackelen, 61, is married and a mother of two.) I spotted quite a number of women in Roman collars on the pews. This kept me smiling.

In a joint declaration, Pope Francis and Bishop Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, said: “With gratitude we acknowledge that the Reformation helped give a greater centrality to sacred Scripture in the Church’s life.”

And addressing those in mixed marriages: “We experience the pain of those who share their whole lives, but cannot share God’s redeeming presence at the Eucharistic table. We long for this wound in the body of Christ to be healed. This is the goal of our ecumenical endeavors, which we wish to advance, also be renewing our commitment to theological dialogue.”

Dialogue already began 50 years ago, and in 1999 the Vatican and the Lutheran federation signed a joint declaration on “the doctrine of justification,” which is a core belief in God’s forgiveness of sins and which theme fired up Luther’s “95 Theses.”

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“From Conflict to Communion: A Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017” is the title of the 93-page document that accompanied Pope Francis in his journey to Lutheran country. The foreword begins: “Martin Luther’s struggle with God drove and defined his whole life. The question, How can I find a gracious God? plagued him constantly. He found the gracious God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. True theology and the knowledge of God are in the crucified Christ. (“Heidelberg Disputation”)

“Conflict to Communion,” its framers say, “is a way whose goal we have not yet reached.”

Send feedback to [email protected] or www.ceresdoyo.com.

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TAGS: Bishop Munib Younan, Catholic Church, Lutherans, Martin Luther, Pope Francis, Reformation, Roman Catholics
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