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To celebrate or not to celebrate: a look at Pope Francis' multifaceted trip to Sweden


When the Vatican announced the pope's trip to Sweden for the events commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, many critical voices arised in the Catholic Church, asking why the pope was going to take part in the celebration of the anniversary of a schism.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for the Unity of Christians, thinks that the  trip is multifaceted; firstly, it is a sign of the good relationship between Lutherans and Catholics.

President, Pontifical Council for Christian Unity
"This is not just the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, but also the celebration of fifty years of dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics. Dialogue with Lutherans was the first bilateral conversation that the Church started after Vatican II, in 1967.

Secondly, Cardinal Koch underlined the importance of the joint declaration by Catholics and Lutherans called "From Conflict to Communion,” key to understanding the pope's trip to Sweden. 

Quoting from the declaration, he said that the issue cannot be reduced to a discussion about whether the Church should or should not celebrate the anniversary. He said that there are some aspects to rejoice about. 

President, Pontifical Council for Christian Unity
"The first issue, gratitude, for everything that we have been able to rediscover as common ground between Lutherans and Catholics. Gratitude; for this, we can celebrate. Third issue: hope; that this commemoration might bring good things for the future.” 

But the Cardinal also pointed out some consequences of the Reformation that, far from being worthy of celebration, are an occasion for penance. 

President, Pontifical Council for Christian Unity
"Then came the division of the Church, and with it, horrible religious wars in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, especially the Thirty Years' War, which transformed Europe into a red sea of blood. What can we celebrate, with this point? This is the difficulty. There are three crucial issues. About the first, and the third, we can celebrate without problems, but about the second, we must do penance.

From the Lutheran side of things, this ecumenical meeting with the pope is an unprecedented sign of hope for their relationship with the Catholic Church.

Secretary General, World Lutheran Federation
"I believe, only a few years ago, if you would have said that there would have been a joint commemoration of the Reformation on the day Lutherans and Protestants all together commemorate and remember the Reformation, and that that would be done together, Catholics and Lutherans, many would have said "impossible,” so i take courage, personally, of the many impossible things that have become possible, because of dialogue and the many different ways in which we have been engaged.

The pope travels to Sweden on Monday, October 31, and he returns to Rome the next day, in what will possibly be his last trip outside Italy this year.