Pope Francis has urged Catholics and Lutherans to ask forgiveness for the harm they have caused one another.
Pope Francis was speaking during a meeting with representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and members of the Catholic-Lutheran international theological dialogue.
As the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation approaches, he said, “Catholics and Lutherans can ask forgiveness for the harm they have caused one another and for their offences committed in the sight of God”.
The Pope said commemorations in 2017 of the beginning of the Reformation must take place in a spirit of dialogue and humility.
“I believe that it is truly important for everyone to confront in dialogue the historical reality of the Reformation, its consequences and the responses it elicited,” the Pope told the group.
While the Reformation fractured Western Christianity, he said, for the past 50 years Catholics and Lutherans have been committed to dialogue in an effort to restore full unity.
“Together we can rejoice in the longing for unity which the Lord has awakened in our hearts, and which makes us look with hope to the future,” Pope Francis said. “Patience, dialogue and mutual understanding” will be necessary as the two communities seek to overcome what separates them.
While theological dialogue is important, he said, the key to unity lies in prayer and trying to follow more closely the teachings of Jesus.
“In the measure in which we draw closer to our Lord Jesus Christ in humility of spirit, we are certain to draw closer to one another,” he said. “We must let ourselves be taken by the hand by Jesus Christ.”
Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan of Palestine and Jordan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, told Pope Francis that Catholics and Lutherans must solemnly vow to never again use violence against one another or use the power of being a majority to silence their minority counterpart. Instead, he said, they must be committed to “listening and learning from one another”.
After the formal speeches were made, the Rev Martin Junge, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, presented Pope Francis with a battered teapot. He told the pope the fire-charred teapot had belonged to a Somali woman he met at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya; the camp is often described as the largest refugee camp in the world.
Although a papal aide offered to take the teapot, Pope Francis cradled it in his hands and told the Lutheran delegates that it reminded him of another form of ecumenism, “the ecumenism of martyrdom.”
Persecution, the Pope said, “does not know denominational barriers. Religious divisions do not define people fleeing conflict or migrating in order to safeguard their own lives. They are ultimately defined by what they are: children of God.”
In May, Pope Francis had spoken with the head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox community of the “ecumenism of suffering,” telling Pope Tawadros II, “Just as the blood of the martyrs was a seed of strength and fertility for the church, so too the sharing of daily sufferings can become an effective instrument of unity.”