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Pope Asks Christian and other Churches for Forgiveness

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
27 Jan 2016

Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios of Italy, Pope Francis and Anglican Archbishop David Moxon, the archbishop of Canterbury''s representative to the Vatican

Pope Francis has asked for "forgiveness for the behaviour of Catholic's towards Christians of other Churches which has not reflected Gospel values during the course of history.

He has also called for all Catholic brothers and sisters to forgive other Christians who may have offended them recently or in the past.

The Holy Father made his remarks during an ecumenical celebration of Vespers in the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, which marked the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and was attended by many representatives of other religions.

Like the other three major basilicas in Rome, St. Paul Outside the Walls has a Holy Door, for the pope's special Holy Year of Mercy.

At the beginning of Monday's ceremony, the Pope, together with Metropolitan Gennadios representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and Bishop David Moxon from the Anglican Church, walked through the door together.

Pope Francis told the packed Basilica that walking and working together we will "realise that we are already united in the name of the Lord".

Pope asks Protestants and other Churches for forgiveness

He said; "In this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, let us remember that one cannot search for true Christian unity without completely entrusting themselves to the mercy of the Father. Let us above all ask for forgiveness for the sin of our divisions, which constitute an open wound on the Body of Christ. As Bishop of Rome and Pastor of the Catholic Church, I wish to ask for mercy and forgiveness for the behaviour of Catholics towards Christians of other Churches which has not reflected Gospel values. At the same time, I invite all Catholic brothers and sisters to forgive other Christians who may have offended them recently or in the past. We cannot erase what happened but we should not allow the weight of past faults to go on contaminating our relationships. God´s mercy shall renew our relationships."

The pope then called for Christian churches to work together spreading the Gospel even as they work to achieve full communion and asked everyone present to pray for unity.

At the same time the Vatican announced the Pope would visit Sweden on 31 October.

Pope Francis will visit the southern Swedish city of Lund, where the Lutheran Federation was founded in 1947. He will attend a joint service with Lutherans to mark the launch of Reformation commemorations that will continue throughout the world next year.

Martin Luther - initiated the Reformation

The service will take place exactly one year before the 500th anniversary of German monk and theologian Martin Luther nailing his famous written protest of what he saw as the Church's abuses of power to the door of a church in Wittenberg.

It was this action and following writings by Luther questioning some of the basic tenets of Roman Catholicism that initiated the Protestant Reformation.

In 1521 Luther was officially excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. Although the now former monk cited a number of disagreements with Catholicism, a basic platform was that Luther and his followers believed in faith alone, grace alone. Nothing we do can earn our salvation.

Catholics believe salvation comes by God's graced and our cooperation with it - faith and good works.

Centuries of conflict left a deep divide between Catholics and Protestants  which has only subsided to any degree in the last half-century.

A major step forward was the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed by the Lutherans and Catholic Church on 31 October 1999  in Germany on Reformation Sunday-the anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses of protest to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.

The document says the Lutheran Church and Roman Catholic Church explain justification in different ways but share the same basic understanding. The central passage reads, "Together we confess: by grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to good works." The declaration acknowledges that good works are a genuine response to God's grace-not the cause of it. The declaration also rescinds the formal condemnations of both the Catholic and Lutheran Churches against one another.

Some theologians say the prayer to be used on the Pope's visit to Sweden and also during the 2017 commemorations is excessively praising of Luther, who was a heretic and excommunicated.

However a highlight of the pontificate of Francis has been dialogue with all religions and forgiveness of those who persecute and those who have been persecuted.