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THE CHURCH IN THE WORLD Vatican and Lutherans to ‘heal memory of the Reformation’

Christa Pongratz-Lippitt

THE VATICAN and the Lutheran World Federation have formed a joint commission to discuss the Reformation ahead of the 500th anniversary of the 1517 schism in 2017, Cardinal Kurt Koch has revealed. According to the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, discussions have begun at the Vatican and he hopes it will result in “healing” between the Churches.

“There will no doubt be a joint document in which we will try to express what views on the Reformation we have in common – both the positive and the negative views,” Cardinal Koch said in an end-of-year interview with Deutsche Welle television. He then underlined that in his view “healing the memory of the Reformation” was the foremost aim.

In the same interview Cardinal Koch called for a new approach to ecumenical relations between the Catholic Church and the Lutherans. He argued that Protestant disappointment over the Pope’s visit last September to the Augustinerkloster monastery in Erfurt, where Luther lived for six years, was in many ways misplaced. At the time Manfred Kock, the former chairman of the German Protestant Churches, said the Erfurt visit was a “demonstration of Roman centralism”, while the current chairman, Nikolaus Schneider, said: “We are standing on the half-landing and will have to strive to remain at this level.”

If one reads the Pope’s Erfurt speeches carefully, it is clear that they are “full of hope” and “groundbreaking for the future,” Cardinal Koch said, adding that the Pope’s appraisal of Luther had been “most positive”.

Pope Benedict had clearly laid out the future path of ecumenism, he continued, which was that in future the Churches’ main ecumenical emphasis must be on how to bear joint witness to the presence of God in a secular society. “I therefore also look to the future of ecumenism in Germany with great optimism,” Cardinal Koch said. Many in the Vatican had noticed how positively the Pope had spoken about Luther and how positively Pope Benedict saw the roots of ecumenism, he added.

Cardinal Koch called on Protestants and Catholics in Germany jointly to reflect on the first 1,500 years of the history they shared when they were still one Church, as this might lead to new insights for understanding the Reformation. “Luther, after all, did not want to found a new Church. He was not for a total break but for church renewal,” he said.

Asked why it was not possible for mixedmarriage couples to partake in Catholic Communion, Cardinal Koch said that perhaps the fact that they could not as yet share the Eucharist could act as a “strong incentive” for further ecumenical dialogue on the subject. Meanwhile the President of the German bishops’ conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, has called on German Catholics to

Cardinal Kurt

Koch. Photo: CNS

study Martin Luther. In an interview for the German weekly news magazine Focus, Archbishop Zollitsch recalled that the church schism “which Luther never wanted, led to a fearful calamity in Germany”. For Catholics, the commemoration of the Reformation was an opportunity to read and study Luther and “discover in him a deeply committed person”, Archbishop Zollitsch said.

On his visit to Erfurt, Pope Benedict had “left no doubt that Martin Luther, with his immense spiritual strength, was concerned with belief in Jesus Christ, a God of grace, mercy and love”, Archbishop Zollitsch added.

After the interview was broadcast Nikolaus Schneider told the Passauer Neue Presse that the German Protestant Churches want Protestants and Catholics jointly to reappraise the history of their Churches by the time of the Reformation Commemoration in 2017. The aim is to clarify where each had incurred guilt against the other, he said. Both Catholics and Protestants had “denigrated and vilified one another” and “a lot of blood has flowed”, he underlined, insisting that it was necessary to find a common view of the past and to name clearly the mistakes that had been made on both sides.

Pope says values-based education is path to world peace

THE NEED to provide youngsters with an allround values-based education rather than merely give them technological instructions has been highlighted by Pope Benedict XVI, who said this was a “decisive challenge” on which world peace depended, writes Robert Mickens.

“In the face of the shadows that obscure the horizon of today’s world, to assume responsibility for educating young people in knowledge of the truth and in fundamental values and virtues is to look to the future with hope,” he said at the New Year’s Day Mass (Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God) in St Peter’s Basilica.

Addressing diplomats, Roman Curia officials and Catholic faithful on what the Church marked as the forty-fifth annual World Day of Peace, the Pope warned that it was indispensable to teach young people “the art of peaceful coexistence, mutual respect, dialogue and understanding”. He said only a “solid education of their consciences” could stop them embracing intolerance and even violence.

Pope Benedict’s World Day of Peace Message, issued in the days preceding the annual commemoration, focuses on the need to educate youngsters in justice and peace. And in his homily on Sunday he said this had become a “decisive challenge … In the first place because in the present age the desire to educate and not merely to instruct cannot be taken for granted”, and secondly because the “culture of relativism” made people wonder whether it still made sense to educate at all.

The Pope said the family was the place where education began. It was then “developed” in school and in other formative experiences. “It is essentially about helping infants, children and adolescents to develop a personality that combines a profound sense of justice with respect for their neighbour … with the inner strength to bear witness to good, even when it involves sacrifice and with forgiveness and reconciliation,” he said. Religious communities, he added, bore “particular responsibility” for forming the young.

The need to better educate young people and all Catholics in their faith was the focus of the Pope’s words on New Year’s Eve. During Vespers, featuring Eucharistic Adoration, he said: “Young generations have an especially keen sense of the present disorientation, magnified by the crisis in economic affairs, which is also a crisis of values; and so they need to recognise in Jesus Christ ‘the key, the centre and the purpose of human history’,” he said, quoting Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes.

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