Lutherans and Catholics Commemorate Reformation Together

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Reformation service has been changed to April 4

As a sign that animosity can heal into friendship, Catholic and Lutheran leaders in Southwestern Pennsylvania are holding a shared commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The first event will be “An Evening of Repentance” for harm done by followers of each tradition to the other. A public prayer service will take place on April 4th in St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cathedral, Munhall.

Events and reflections related to the 500th anniversary can be found on the Facebook page “Lutherans and Roman Catholics on the Way in Southwestern Pennsylvania!”

The Reformation, which tore apart Western Christianity, began on October 31, 1517, when a monk named Martin Luther issued a public challenge to a list of Catholic doctrines and practices. Luther was excommunicated, sparking religious and political conflict that played out in wars and persecution.

The 20th century saw many efforts to heal those wounds and pursue Christian unity. In 1999 the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation signed the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” outlining a common understanding on the main doctrine that had sparked the Reformation. Last year the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs signed the “Declaration on the Way” including 32 statements of agreement on issues that no longer divide the two traditions. Other differences remain, including over ordination and papal authority.

Last month local Catholic and Lutheran bishops formally announced the joint observances.

“[B]ecause we share a warm, forthright and collegial relationship with each other, we invite you to join us as we celebrate our unity in Jesus Christ,” said the letter from Bishop Kurt Kusserow of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Archbishop William Skurla of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh; Bishop Edward Malesic of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg and Bishop David Zubik of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

“Five centuries ago an attempt to bring reform to the Church resulted in division and schism among followers of Jesus Christ. . . . During this year of commemoration, we invite you to join us in allowing the gospel of Jesus Christ under the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us for a more visible unity manifested in prayer, acts of mercy and common pursuit of peace with justice.”