October 31, 1517. Five hundred years ago, Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, theology professor at the University of Wittenberg, wrote to the archbishop of Brandenburg, and then to a certain number of theology colleagues, a letter presenting his 95 Theses, so that they might be brought up in an academic debate. He wrote: “Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place.”
October 31, 2017. Five centuries have gone by since then. But today, thanks to the theological dialogue begun by the Second Vatican Council, it is possible for Catholics and Lutherans to look over the past and ask for forgiveness from one another.
One year ago, on October 31st, the common prayer service in Lund, Sweden, marked the opening of the Year of Commemoration of the Protestant Reform, in the presence of Pope Francis and Bishop Younan, then president of the Lutheran World Federation. “As we overcome those events in history that weigh on us,” the declaration states, “we commit ourselves to testifying together to the merciful grace of God and to further growth in communion rooted in Baptism, striving to remove the remaining obstacles that prevent us from reaching full unity. Christ desires that we are one, so that the world may believe” (see Jn 17:2).
It concludes with an appeal, to everyone, to move forward in communion towards full and visible unity: “We invite our fellow travellers on the ecumenical journey to remember our commitments and to encourage each other. We ask them to continue praying for us and to walk with us.”
The Focolare Movement has embraced this appeal. With the Declaration of Ottmaring, named after the ecumenical town where it was signed, Maria Voce and Jesús Morán sealed the Movement’s total adherence to the invitation given at Lund.
Throughout the year numerous encounters, conferences, ecumenical days and moments of common prayer in a variety of contexts and settings were held, almost always at local churches. They were opportunities to delve into the treasure of the different Christian traditions not only Catholic and Lutheran in a genuine family atmosphere.
In May, during the Ecumenical Week called “Walking Together” and held at the Mariapolis Centre in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Maria Voce spoke to 700 people from 42 countries and 69 different churches, identifying in the “five imperatives” of the Walking Together document the basis for any kind of fruitful ecumenical effort.
Several presentations were made, including that of a new biography Lutero, L’uomo della Rivoluzione [Luther, the Man of the Revolution], written by Mario Dal Bello from Città Nuova.
In Italy, the Focolare community held two evening programmes at Torino and Bra, with presentations by Hubertus Blaumeiser, a Catholic expert on Luther, and by Waldensian, Dr Paolo Ricca.
In Holland, leaders of the main Christian Churches began the Unity On the March Day.
Luther at the Magnificat, an evening at Mariapolis Ginetta, was followed via live streaming by many young people in 650 listening locations.
In Venezuela several encounters and moments of prayer were held by the focolare communities.
At Mariapolis Fiore in Poland the day event held in September for the 500th anniversary was the opportunity for a particular kind of witness: the fifteen year ecumenical pilgrimage shared by the people of Poland and Germany.
In Ireland, on the initiative of the Focolare Movement and the Lutheran Church, studies were held, conference and an Ecumenical Bible week, which also involved the Anglican and Presbyterian Churches.
There were also journeys to significant landmarks of the Reformation and of the life of Martin Luther. In the month of August, there was a seminar on Luther in Zwochau with fifty Catholics, Lutherans Waldensians and one Coptic-Orthodox, from several European countries, Egypt and Argentina. Included in the programme was a visit to Wartburg Castle and the city of Wittenberg, Effort where the young Luther entered the Augustinian Order, and Lipsia where his legacy met up with the musical genius of J. S. Bach.
One Italian group visited another significant landmark, the city of Augusta, to get to know the Ecumenical Mariapolis of Ottmaring. A similar pilgrimage took place in June, promoted by the Ecumenical Commission of Hong Kong and accompanied by several focolarini.
In Sweden, the Focolare community solemnly signed on to “the imperatives” and handed their signatures over to the Lutheran Archbishop. Gen Verde also offered its contribution with the On the Other Side show.
These were but a few steps on a road that is still very long, which are added to many others that set the direction of the common search for truth and salvation, with an open gaze focused on all the Churches. It’s a new page in history.
Listen to interview given to the BBC Radio (Ulster) by Swiss theologian Fr Hubertus Blaumeiserduring the Sunday Sequence program on The Reformation (30/10/2017). Fr Blaumeiser is recognised as one of the leading authorities on Luther.