On October 31, Pope Francis joined leaders from the Lutheran World Federation in Sweden to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The event also celebrates the ecumenical work accomplished by Catholics and Lutherans over the last fifty years.
Martin Luther started the Reformation in 1517 by nailing his 95 thesis to a church door. He was excommunicated, and Catholics and Lutherans have been persecuting each other ever since. The focus of the event in Sweden is to name and ask forgiveness for this schism between the Lutheran and Catholic churches while committing to move forward, praying together.
“There was corruption in the church, worldliness, attachment to money and power,” Francis told reporters this summer. They are the same abuses Francis has criticized in the 21st-century Catholic Church he now leads. —Associated Press
I, for one, see the reconciliation event as both refreshing and necessary. I went to Catholic grade school and high school. I then attended a Lutheran college and graduate school. I have taught theology at a Catholic high school and a Lutheran church. Both Catholics and Lutherans have fed and nurtured me greatly. Both churches still hold serious misconceptions and reservations about the other. In all of these settings, Jesus is at the core of the mission, and Jesus did not spend time on the particulars of dogma or focus on the specific religious affiliation of people. Yet our human need to draw lines and remember the past holds us back from true ecumenical communion and dialogue.
Movement within institutions keep those institutions alive. The Reformation, pushing a Counter-Reformation, made the Catholic Church better and stronger. The Pope’s acknowledgement of that is hopeful. In a time of great national and global polarization and conflict, the Catholic and Lutheran Churches coming together shows communion and reconciliation we are hungry for.