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Pope Francis: to participants in Convention on Luther, “not long ago this would have been unthinkable”

“Gratitude” and “surprise” at the thought that “not long ago a meeting like this would have been unthinkable”. These feelings were expressed by Pope Francis to the participants in the International Study Convention organised by the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences to mark the fifth centenary of the Lutheran Reformation on the theme: “Luther 500 after. A rereading of the Lutheran Reformation in its historical ecclesial context” which took place in Rome from 29 to 31 March. “Discussing Luther, Catholics and Protestants together, on the initiative of an Office of the Holy See”, Pope Francis continued during the audience, “we are truly experiencing first-hand the results of the action of the Holy Spirit, Who overcomes all barriers and transforms conflicts into opportunities for growth in communion”. “From conflict to communion” this is the way to go as summed up by Pope Francis with reference to the title of the Document drafted by the Lutheran/Roman Catholic Commission ahead of the joint commemoration of the 500 years since the start of the Protestant Reformation.

“Serious research into the figure of Luther and his critique of the Church and Papacy of his time certainly contributes to overcoming that climate of mutual distrust and rivalry which for too long has characterised relations between Catholics and Protestants”, Pope Francis said, adding that “a careful and rigorous study, free from ideological controversies and prejudice, enables the Churches, now in dialogue, to discern and to take on all that was positive and legitimate in the Reformation, whilst distancing themselves from errors, exaggerations and failures, and acknowledging the sins that have led to the division”. “We are all well aware that the past cannot be changed”, the Pope admitted. “Yet today, after fifty years of ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Protestants, we can undergo a purification of memory, which does not mean that we have to undertake an impracticable correction of all that happened five hundred years ago, but rather that we should tell that story differently, without any lingering trace of that resentment over our past wounds which has distorted the way we see one another”. “Today, as Christians, we are all called to free ourselves from prejudice towards the faith that others profess with a different language or accent, to forgive one another for the sins committed by our fathers, and, together, to implore from God the gift of reconciliation and unity”, Pope Francis concluded.

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