MALMO, Sweden — Pope Francis pressed his call for Christians to forge greater unity, urging Sweden's tiny Catholic community on Tuesday to set aside divisions with Lutherans as the two churches commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
Francis proposed a new set of Beatitudes for all Christians today, saying they are called to be blessed “to confront the troubles and anxieties of our age.”
Francis celebrated Mass under chilly, 46-degree skies in the Malmo sports stadium, packed with Nordic Catholics as well as immigrants from the Philippines and beyond for the final event of his overnight trip to southern Sweden.
On Monday, Francis and the heads of the Lutheran World Federation commemorated Martin Luther's revolt against the abuses of the Catholic Church, praying together for forgiveness at Lund's cathedral. They signed a joint declaration pledging to put the errors of the past behind them and pursue theological talks with the goal of letting Lutherans and Catholics share in the Eucharist.
In his homily Tuesday, Francis continued with the theme of unity, urging the faithful to meekly draw close to Christ and one another as they commemorate the Reformation over the next year.
Meekness, he said, “enables us to set aside everything that divides and estranges us, and to find ever new ways to advance along the path of unity.”
“Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians,” the pope said.
It was one of the new Beatitudes, or biblical prayers, that he proposed at Mass. Other blessed: those who are close to the marginalized, who protect the environment, who help others.
“Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others, and forgive them from their heart,” he said.
The Protestant Reformation started in 1517 after Luther nailed 95 theses on the church door in the town of Wittenberg, Germany, denouncing what he saw as the abuses of the Catholic Church, especially the sale of indulgences.
As Protestantism spread, religious wars erupted, dividing western Christianity in a schism that resulted in hundreds of years of violence, persecution and discrimination.
As a result, the pope's visit to Sweden to start the yearlong Protestant anniversary raised eyebrows. But the Vatican and Lutheran church both insisted the event was no celebration but rather a solemn commemoration to ask forgiveness for the division and rejoice that relations have improved.
Francis added Tuesday's Mass in at the last minute after Sweden's tiny Catholic community protested that Francis was ignoring them and coming only for the Protestant commemoration.
“For us Catholics in the periphery it was a gift and a surprise to find out that the Holy Father wanted to come here,” said the Rev. Anders Arborelius, the Catholic Bishop of Stockholm, thanking the pope for his visit.
Many Catholics from neighboring Denmark crossed the bridge-and-tunnel link to southern Sweden to join the Mass in Malmo.
“It certainly was a great experience,” said Peter Franklin, headmaster of the Sankt Joseph Catholic school in Copenhagen. “Pope Francis has made his mark far beyond the Catholic Church's boundaries and did it again here.”