Pope Francis is marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation by attending a historic prayer service alongside Sweden’s Lutheran bishops.
Francis arrived to applause, hymns and tolling bells at the Lund Cathedral for the start of the service, featuring remarks by the Pope and the head of the Lutheran World Federation in the presence of Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia.
The Pope flew to Sweden on Monday to largely secular Sweden for the ecumenical service in Lund’s Lutheran cathedral.
After the Reformation began five centuries ago, Sweden became such a grim place for Catholics that those who rejected the new Lutheran faith were punished with deportation or death.
During his flight to Malmo, Pope Francis told reporters that the trip was a “very important ecclesial event” because of its ecumenical focus. He also asked that the journalists help in explaining the trip “so that people understand it well,” Catholic News Service reports.
Arriving at the Malmo airport, he was greeted by Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven and by Archbishop Antje Jackelen, primate of the Lutheran Church of Sweden, as well as by the country’s lone Catholic bishop, Bishop Anders Arborelius of Sweden.
A military band played the Vatican and Swedish national anthems as the Pope and prime minister stood facing Sweden’s flag, which is blue with a yellow cross. Members of the general public were not present for the welcoming ceremony.
The Pope met briefly in an airport VIP lounge with Lofven before traveling to Igelosa, a medical research center outside Lund, which transformed a room in its conference center into the papal residence for his 26-hour stay in Sweden.
Lofven said it is “very important” that Pope Francis chose to go to the secular Scandinavian country to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
Lofven, a former union boss who leads Sweden’s left-leaning Social Democratic Party, greeted the Pontiff as he arrived at Malmo Airport in southern Sweden this morning.
Lofven told the Associated Press minutes before Francis set foot in Sweden that “of course it’s is very important for Sweden that the Pope has chosen to be here” to underline the cooperation between the Vatican and the Lutheran church.
After an early lunch, Pope Francis visited the Kungshuset in Lund for a meeting with King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia and their children and grandchildren.