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Lutheran bishop Margot Kässmann, “Pope Francis? He is telling the world who Christians are”

500 years ago Luther’s Reformation changed history forever. Interview with Lutheran bishop Margot Kässmann, Ambassador of the Evangelical Church in Germany for the Reformation Jubilee. “Church and society constantly need to be reformed. Pope Francis “is reforming today’s Catholic Church”, and “what he does, his gestures in a secularized world that has excluded God, testify to the significance of being Christians today”

Luther’s Reformation? 500 years later, Catholics and Lutherans are once again called to question lifestyle and consolidated practice to reflect on whether today’s Church has remained faithful to its Gospel roots and whether she is capable to present the quest of God in Western secularized societies. Lutheran bishop Margot Kässmann, ambassador of Germany’s Evangelical Church for the Reformation Jubilee has launched this provocation, indicating Pope Francis as the role model “reformer” for the third Millennium. Margot Kässmann is in Rome to attend an international Catholic-Lutheran Conference promoted by the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm, ahead of the commemorations marking the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Reformation (1517-2017). “Martin Luther – the woman bishop said – wanted to reform and not divide his Church, thus a Jubilee of the Reformation marking a separation would be meaningless.” She asked: “Are we able to dare carry out a critical revision in 2017, and consider the Reformation as an overarching event within the international and ecumenical landscape?”

What do Lutherans expect from Catholics in the year marking the anniversary of Luther’s Reformation?

It would be significant if the Catholic Church took part in these celebrations, as the Reformation is part and parcel of our common history. It doesn’t only belong to the Protestant realm; it involves all of us. Many German Catholics will be attending the commemorative events.

What does it mean to cherish the memory of Luther today?

He wanted to reform his Church, the Roman Catholic Church. We all know that the Church and society at large need to be constantly reformed. When we look at Pope Francis we see that he is reforming the Catholic Church today. I believe it’s important for every reform to start anew from the Bible even today.

What does this mean? Which direction should be followed by the Church’s Reform today?

In my opinion, every Reform process raises a question: it asks us to ascertain whether today’s Church has remained faithful to her Gospel roots. This was precisely Luther’s intention. His criticism of 16th century Church was rooted within this perspective. At the time, Luther criticised the way in which the Church collected alms to forgive individual sins, but this practice was not written in the Bible. Thus Luther intended to start anew from a Church that was in accordance with the Bible. The Church had grown distant from the Bible. The questions that Lutherans continue asking today are: What is the Bible’s message to us today?

What is it?

It is asking the Churches to be signs of forgiveness. It is asking us bear witness to the fact that each one of us can forgive the other person’s sins, as we all have a sin that needs to be forgiven. Western Europe in particular is to be blamed for the way it treats the refugees. We are to be blamed for all those dying in the Mediterranean Sea, fleeing from a hopeless situation in search of a future. We are to be blamed for having failed to live up to Jesus’ words in Matthew’s Gospel: “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me.” This is not what Europe is doing today.

You are a woman, a bishop, and today you were chosen as Ambassador of Germany’s Evangelical Church for the Reformation Jubilee year. What is women’s role in the Church?

In the Lutheran Church every baptized person can serve as priest, bishop and Pope. We, as Lutherans, have a deep experience, testified by the fact that the Lutheran Church has appointed women bishops throughout the world.

Who is Pope Francis?

The things he does, his gestures in a secularised world that excluded God, bear witness to what it means to be Christians today. Washing the feet of convicts in prison; bringing Muslim families with him; visiting those in desperate straits in the islands of Lampedusa and Lesvos are all signs of authentic ecumenical Christianity.

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