Pope on Reformation: Forgive ‘errors’ of past, forge unity

LUND, Sweden (AP) — Pope Francis urged Catholics and Lutherans on Monday to forgive the “errors” of the past and forge a future together, including sharing the Eucharist, as he marked the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation by traveling to secular Sweden with a message of Christian unity.

Francis and the leaders of the Lutheran World Federation presided over an ecumenical prayer service in the Lund cathedral, the first time a pope has commemorated the anniversary of Martin Luther’s revolt with such a symbolically powerful gesture.

Francis quoted Luther and praised him for having restored the centrality of Scripture to the church.

“The spiritual experience of Martin Luther challenges us to remember that apart from God, we can do nothing,” Francis said.

Francis and the Lutheran federation president, Bishop Munib Younan, drew sustained applause at the end of the service when they signed a joint declaration pledging to improve relations through dialogue, while working together to heal conflicts, welcome refugees and care for the planet. The goal of the theological dialogue, the statement said, was to bring Catholics and Lutherans together at the Eucharistic table.

Disputes over whether Catholics and Lutherans can receive Communion in one another’s churches remain an obstacle after five decades of theological talks.

The Protestant Reformation started in 1517 after Luther nailed 95 theses on the church door in the town of Wittenberg, Germany, denouncing what he saw as the abuses of the Catholic Church, especially the sale of indulgences.

Pope Leo X excommunicated him, but the church couldn’t stop his teachings from spreading throughout northern Europe or the world, leading to the great schism in Western Christianity. As Protestantism spread, religious wars erupted, including the Thirty Years War in 1618-48, one of Europe’s bloodiest conflicts.

In Sweden, Catholics who rejected the new Lutheran faith were punished with deportation or death.