Pope Francis marks 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in Sweden

Pope Francis marked the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation by travelling to secular Sweden on Monday and encouraging Catholics and Lutherans to forge greater unity.

Pope marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in Sweden and praises Martin Luther in hugely powerful symbolic gesture

  • Pope went to Sweden in first papal visit to country in more than 25 years
  • Francis marked the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation
  • He presided over an ecumenical prayer service in the Lund cathedral
  • Francis praised Luther for having restored centrality of Scripture to church

The Pope marked the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation by praying with Lutherans in Sweden.

In the first papal visit to Sweden in more than 25 years, Francis encouraged Catholics and Lutherans to forge greater unity, including sharing in the Eucharist – an issue he has put at the heart of his papacy.

Francis, who is seen as breathing freshness into traditional Catholic doctrine, and the leaders of the Lutheran World Federation presided over an ecumenical prayer service in the Lund cathedral.

This is the first time a pope has commemorated the anniversary of Martin Luther’s revolt with such a symbolically powerful gesture.

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Queen Silvia of Sweden is given flowers by a boy as Pope Francis and King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden look on in front of the Lund Cathedral

Queen Silvia of Sweden is given flowers by a boy as Pope Francis and King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden look on in front of the Lund Cathedral

Pope Francis kisses a child during his visit in Lund as he marked the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation 

Pope Francis kisses a child during his visit in Lund as he marked the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

Pope Francis waves to wellwishers as he makes his way from the King's House to the Lund Cathedral

Pope Francis waves to wellwishers as he makes his way from the King’s House to the Lund Cathedral

The Protestant Reformation started in 1517 after Luther nailed 95 theses on the church door in the town of Wittenberg, denouncing what he saw as the abuses of the Catholic Church, especially the sale of indulgences [a way of buying one’s way to heaven].

Pope Leo X excommunicated him, but the church couldn’t stop his teachings from spreading throughout northern Europe or the world.

As Protestantism spread, religious wars erupted, including the Thirty Years War in 1618-48, one of Europe’s bloodiest conflicts.

In Sweden, Catholics who rejected the new Lutheran faith were punished with deportation or death.

Pope Francis blesses a child outside the cathedral in  Lund, Sweden, during his visit today

Pope Francis blesses a child outside the cathedral in Lund, Sweden, during his visit today

Pope Francis is flanked by the General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation Rev. Martin Junge, right, and the President of the Lutheran World Federation Bishop Munib Younan

Pope Francis is flanked by the General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation Rev. Martin Junge, right, and the President of the Lutheran World Federation Bishop Munib Younan

Pope Francis, Sweden's Queen Silvia, centre and King Carl Gustaf arrive at the King's House

Pope Francis, Sweden’s Queen Silvia, centre and King Carl Gustaf arrive at the King’s House

During the service, Francis quoted Luther and praised him for having restored the centrality of Scripture to the church.

He said: ‘The spiritual experience of Martin Luther challenges us to remember that apart from God, we can do nothing.’

He added: ‘There was corruption in the church, worldliness, attachment to money and power.’

At the end of the service Francis and Bishop Munib Younan, Lutheran federation president, signed a joint declaration pledging to improve relations, while working together to heal conflicts, welcome refugees and care for the planet.

Pope Francis' trip to Sweden was the first papal visit to the country for more than 25 years

Pope Francis’ trip to Sweden was the first papal visit to the country for more than 25 years

Candles are lit ahead of Pope Francis' arrival for an ecumenical prayer at Lund's Lutheran Cathedral

Candles are lit ahead of Pope Francis’ arrival for an ecumenical prayer at Lund’s Lutheran Cathedral

Francis travelled to secular Sweden to mark 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

Francis travelled to secular Sweden to mark 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

Theological dialogue between Roman Catholics and Lutherans began 50 years ago but they are still officially not allowed to take communion at each other’s services.

Conservative Catholics believe their Church has conceded too much to Lutherans and should not be taking part in any event that praises Luther.

MARTIN LUTHER AND THE SPLIT IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

Martin Luther, a German, started the Protestant Reformation in 1517

Francis continues his visit tomorrow with a Catholic Mass in the Malmo sports stadium

Francis continues his visit tomorrow with a Catholic Mass in the Malmo sports stadium

Francis said: ‘We have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another.

‘We too must look with love and honesty at our past, recognizing error and seeking forgiveness, for God alone is our judge.’

After the Lund event, the Vatican and Lutheran delegations rode together on a bus to attend an event highlighting both churches’ peace-making and humanitarian efforts.

Elsewhere, revellers in the German town of Wittenberg celebrated the 500th anniversary at the Schlosskirche church today

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