Announcement comes amidst a week of unprecedented ecumenical action by the Vatican
Pope Francis celebrated the close of the Week of Christian Unity with a plea for God’s mercy upon a divided Christendom, and an apology from the Roman Catholic Church to fellow Christians whom it had mistreated. The pope’s remarks follow a week where Lutheran clergy from the Church of Finland were offered and received Holy Communion from their Catholic hosts at a meeting in the Vatican, and the announcement that Francis will travel to Lund, Sweden to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
“As bishop of Rome and pastor of the Catholic Church, I want to beg for mercy and forgiveness for un-Gospel-like behaviour on the part of Catholics against Christians of other churches,” the Pope said on Monday at a prayer service concluding the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
“We ask most of all for forgiveness for the sin of our divisions, which are an open wound on the body of Christ,” Pope Francis said.
“At the same time, I ask all my Catholic brothers and sisters to forgive if, today or in the past, they were hurt by other Christians,” he said. “We cannot erase what happened, but we do not want to allow the burden of past faults to continue to poison our relationships.”
Joining the pope at the service held at the Basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls were representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Metropolitan Gennadios, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop David Moxon of New Zealand. The Vespers service marking the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is traditionally held on the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul and held at the Basilica, the traditional burial site of the apostle.
In a post on the Anglican Centre in Rome’s Facebook page, Archbishop Moxon wrote the joint blessing offered by the three church leaders were “ “very powerful words and a very powerful gesture.”
Archbishop Moxon wrote the pontiff’s words “immediately challenges Christians who aren’t Roman Catholic to respond in the same way, asking for forgiveness for the wrongs we have done and the wounds we have inflicted on the body of Christ.”
“This mutual confession automatically brings forth a sense of forgiveness, grace, and hope and we can be closer than we were before because of this. Such a movement of grace is indeed a blessing we can all share,” Archbishop Moxon said”
The Vatican press office also announced on Monday that Francis “intends to participate” in a ceremony on October 31 in Lund with Bishop Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, and the Rev. Martin Junge, federation general secretary. “The event will include a common worship based on the recently published Catholic-Lutheran ‘Common Prayer’ liturgical guide,” and will highlight the ecumenical developments of the past 50 years, the press release said.
Cardinal Kurt Koch, council president, said in the press release, “By concentrating together on the centrality of the question of God and on a Christocentric approach, Lutherans and Catholics will have the possibility of an ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation, not simply in a pragmatic way, but in the deep sense of faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ.”
On 31 Oct 1517, Martin Luther posted his “95 Theses” on the front door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, an event commonly held to mark the start of the Reformation.
Last week Ruth Gledhill of Christian Today reported a delegation of Finnish Lutherans received the Eucharist after meeting Francis. The delegation led by the Bishop of Oulu attended the communion service, but when they went forward folded their arms across their chest in the traditional manner, indicating they wished to receive a blessing, but not the sacrament.
The Kotimaa news agency wrote:
“Catholics shared the Eucharist. I also got to be part of it,” said Bishop Salmi, who made it clear the Catholic priests had known who the Lutherans were so they had not been invited to partake by mistake. He also spoke of the Pope’s opponents who oppose any move towards relaxing the rules on who can receive Communion.
However, Marko Tervaportti, director of the Diocese of Helsinki Catholic Information Centre told Finnish media the Catholic priest who had given the Lutherans had made a mistake, as “Only members of the Catholic Church in the state of grace may receive the Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.” He speculated the priest did not know with whom he was dealing, as the “doctrine and practice of the Catholic Church with regard for whom it is possible to receive Holy Communion has not changed in recent years and decades. If it does change, it will not happen ‘in the field’, but through an alteration of Church law and additions to teachings regarding the sacraments of the Catholic Church.”