Celebrating 50 years of Catholics and Lutheran dialogue in 2017 is a key way of remembering conflicts started in Europe after the Reformation, and of expressing hope for deeper unity between both partners.
Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said this when he addressed Lutheran World Federation church leaders in Europe, at their regional meeting in Rome, October 27 to 29.
Discussing the ecumenical dimension of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, Koch emphasized how important it is for Roman Catholics to reflect on what it means to commemorate the anniversary.
"In the past, for example, the date of 31 October - the day in 1517 when Luther made public the 95 theses against indulgences - was used and perceived as anti-Catholic," the LWF quoted him saying in a statement.
"Today, however, historians tell us that in 1517 Luther could still be considered a Catholic. This is an important point for us," Koch said.
He noted three main elements for an ecumenical commemoration of 2017 from the view point of the Catholic Church.
First, that date will also mark the 50 years of dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the LWF.
"The most significant expression of this dialogue was the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification [signed in 1999]. This is a document, which I hope, one day will be followed by a further joint statement on the church, Eucharist and ministry," he said.
Secondly, in order to qualify as ecumenical, the Reformation jubilee should be a time of critical remembrance and of reconciliation in view of the memory of conflicts born out of the Reformation, Koch said.
The 2017 commemoration will also be a sign of hope about deeper unity between Roman Catholics and Lutherans.
"Hope to witness together to the society of our time, the presence of God in the world," he added.
At a panel discussion, chaired by Württemberg Bishop Frank O. July, LWF vice-president for Central Western Europe, the preparatory journey of commemorating the Reformation and its ecumenical implications in three countries of the continent was venerated.
SWEDEN, POLAND AND GERMANY
The countries are: Sweden, where Lutherans are the majority, Poland, where Lutherans are a minority, and Germany, where there is a virtual numerical balance between Catholics and Lutherans.
Wherever the debate, it is characterized by reception of the document From Conflict to Communion, prepared by the Lutheran - Roman Catholic Study Commission on Unity in view of 2017.
In Sweden, said Rev. Kristin Molander, head of the office for Ecumenical Affairs of the Church of Sweden, reflection is carried out by small ecumenical groups at the parish level.
The aim of this is to express purpose of bringing the dialogue from the institutional and the academic dimension to the membership of the two churches.
Dr. Iwona Baranevic from the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland explained that in her country, the Lutheran church has taken the lead in promoting From Conflict to Communion.
It has been translated into Polish, and representatives of the Roman Catholic Church have been invited to ecumenical events.
However, she noted, more encouragement is required for official joint ecumenical initiatives to promote the document.
She mentioned a November 2013 conference in Warsaw by Lutherans with Catholics participating. Catholics requested to get 150 copies of the document for distribution to local parishes as a good example.
Oberkirchenrat Norbert Denecke, general secretary of the LWF German National Committee, presented the website www.2017gemeinsam.de designed jointly by Catholics and Lutherans.
The platform allows visitors to express comments, opinions and suggestions on From Conflict to Communion and the 2017 celebrations.