Catholics and Lutherans are now a step closer to the unity Christ prayed for

The excitement in the air as Pope Francis arrived at Lund Cathedral fully compensated for the gloomy wet weather outside. The cathedral was full as he entered for this truly historic meeting. In a nearby town square, thousands of people watched the gathering on big screens in reverent silence.

The Swedish King and Queen, the Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and members of the government had all gathered in Lund to greet the Pope and participate in this unique service.

And historic it was: never before had a pope participated in a meeting of this kind. The prayers and the commitments between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) were both promising and demanding.

No doubt in the days ahead there will be reactions to certain formulations used today. A major question is, of course, how much a Catholic actually can applaud the Reformation.

But overall this meeting was a great accomplishment. It sends a message that we cannot stay in the past. We cannot demonise and slander one another. On the contrary, we must listen and learn, and appreciate each other as gifts.

We should seek common ground and walk together from here towards deeper unity that must be visible, as Catholics and Lutherans have more in common than we often acknowledge. All participants seemed to agree with this. And the world truly expects it. We must also rediscover the power of the Gospel of Christ in our time.

The resolution, with five imperatives, was signed by Pope Francis and LWF president Bishop Munib Younan. Thunderous applause erupted in the former Catholic cathedral, now Lutheran, built in the 12th century, 400 years before the Reformation.

The best way to see this document is probably as an expression of our common will to change attitudes, to be more humble, to reach out and to foster a climate of communion.

Pope Francis speaks at an ecumenical gathering in Malmö Arena (AP)

Pope Francis speaks at an ecumenical gathering in Malmö Arena (AP)

The act of asking for forgiveness was very sincere and contrition was truly present as Pope Francis mentioned the historic sins on both sides that must be healed. The Pope stressed that this event is a step on the way, another starting point for the walk to unity, balancing the heavier emphasis on already being united, based on the Gospel reading about the vine tree in John 15, that the Lutherans brought into focus. This seemed more realistic, as there is still a long and winding road ahead.

A number of times the desire for inter-communion was raised from the Lutherans. As a hunger for unity, it seemed understandable; as a demand, it would be far fetched.

But certainly history has been made in Lund today.

Afterwards 10,000 people entered the Malmö Arena and shouts of joy were to be heard everywhere as the Pope entered the ecumenical gathering and festival filled with young people.