Pope Francis has told Lutheran pilgrims from Finland that Martin Luther’s intention 500 years ago “was to renew the Church, not divide Her”.
The Pope was speaking to a delegation of pilgrims led by the Lutheran Archbishop Kari Makinen of Turku. Their annual visit takes place during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
In his address, Pope recalled his visit to Sweden last October marking 500 years since the start of the Reformation, saying it was a “significant step” that “gave us courage” for the ecumenical journey ahead.
“This joint commemoration of the Reformation was important on both the human and theological-spiritual levels,” he said.
“After 50 years of official ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans, we have succeeded in clearly articulating points of view which today we agree on. For this we are grateful.”
“At the same time we keep alive in our hearts sincere contrition for our faults,” the Pope said. “In this spirit, we recalled in Lund that the intention of Martin Luther 500 years ago was to renew the Church, not divide Her.
“The gathering there gave us the courage and strength, in our Lord Jesus Christ, to look ahead to the ecumenical journey that we are called to walk together,” he said.
The Pope concluded his address by thanking Archbishop Makinen for having brought his grandchildren to the audience. “We need the simplicity of children: they will show us the path that leads to Jesus Christ,” he said.
The theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which runs until next Wednesday, is “Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us”.
The materials for the week, published by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, say that, after 50 years of dialogue, “Catholics are now able to hear Luther’s challenge for the Church of today, recognising him as a ‘witness to the Gospel'”.
Germany’s Catholic bishops praised Luther as a “Gospel witness and teacher of the faith” in a document released last year.