German Protestants, Catholics publish 'common word' for Reformation anniversary

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)The Reformation Monument in Geneva on May 31, 2013.

Germany's main Protestant and Roman Catholic churches have published a "Common Word" for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.

In it they call for a "healing of memories" of past divisions and for the event to be commemorated in ecumenical fellowship, the World Council of Churches reports.

The leaders of the two churches - Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and Cardinal Reinhard Marx of the Roman Catholic Church issued a joint introduction to the text.

"Together we want to use the 500th anniversary of the Reformation as an opportunity to reflect on the concerns of the Reformers and to listen anew to their call to repentance and spiritual renewal," they say.

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The anniversary marks the action of Martin Luther in publishing his 95 Theses on 31 October 1517 in Wittenberg to denounce church abuses.

This set in motion events that led to the Reformation and the separation of western Christianity into Roman Catholic and Protestant churches.

DIVISION OF WESTERN CHRISTIANITY

Luther's actions set in motion events that led to the Reformation and the division of Western Christianity into Roman Catholic and Protestant churches.

The events following the Reformation pitted Catholics and Protestants against one another for many years.

In recent years, however, Roman Catholics and Lutherans have reached agreement on the doctrine of justification, a key dividing issue between the papacy and Luther and his followers, and many doctrinal differences should no longer have a church-dividing character, Bedford-Strohm has said.

"A look at history reveals the suffering and wounds that Christians have inflicted on each other. This shocks and shames us," the two church leaders state in their joint treatise.

"We see it as an exceptional moment of our fellowship, after centuries of mutual separation, to mark a Reformation anniversary with such readiness to engage in forgiveness and a new beginning," they continue.

Bedford-Strohm is chair of the EKD council and bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, which has its headquarters in Munich. Marx is chair of the German (Roman Catholic) Bishops' Conference (DBK) and archbishop of Munich and Freising.

They introduced the 90-page document, "Healing Memories - Witnessing to Jesus Christ," at a Sept. 16 press conference in Munich.

"In 2017, for the first time in the history of the separated churches, we will also celebrate the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in ecumenical fellowship," the two leaders said in separate statements presented at the press conference.

The EKD and the DBK are to hold a central service of penitence and reconciliation on 11 March 2017 in Hildesheim.

"In it we will confess our guilt before God on behalf of our churches, asking God and each other for forgiveness and committing ourselves before God to continue to deepen our togetherness," say Bedford-Strohm and Marx. "The service in Hildesheim is a further milestone in the process of the healing of memories."

The two churches are encouraging similar services at regional and local levels.

From Oct. 16 to 22, as preparation for the service in Hildesheim, Protestant and Catholic leaders from Germany are to undertake a common pilgrimage to the Holy Land to recall the roots of their common faith.

Later in Sweden Pope Francis and Bishop Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, will celebrate an ecumenical service on Oct. 31 at Lund, where the Federation was founded in 1947.

They will pray for forgiveness and the healing of the wounds the confessions inflicted on each other over the centuries.

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