Pope Francis said that Catholics can learn a great deal from Lutherans, in an interview published as he prepared for a trip to Sweden to join in commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
The Holy Father’s latest interview appeared in the Italian Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica. The Pope was interviewed by Father Ulf Jonsson, the editor of a Swedish Jesuit magazine, Signum.
Speaking about what Catholics should learn from Martin Luther, the Pope said: “Two words come to my mind: reform and Scripture.” He explained that Luther set out to reform “a complex situation” in the Church, but because of political considerations his effort caused “a state of separation, and not a process of reform of the whole Church.” Regarding Scripture, he said, “Luther took a great step in putting the Word of God into the hands of the people.”
Speaking more generally about ecumenical relations, the Pontiff said, “Personally, I believe that enthusiasm must shift toward common prayer and the works of mercy” rather than concentrating on theological discussions. “To do something together is a high and effective form of dialogue,” he said.
Responding to questions about the objections that were raised to a papal Mass in Sweden, the Pontiff said that he deliberately avoided scheduling a Mass on the same day as the ecumenical prayer service that he will lead, to “avoid confusing plans.” He added: “The ecumenical encounter is preserved in its profound significance according to a spirity of unity; that is my desire.”
The Pope brushed away complaints by some Catholics that his visit to Sweden, and his celebration of the Reformation, will suggest a surrender of Catholic claims. “You cannot be Catholic and sectarian,” he said. “We must strive to be together with others.” He denounced the idea that Catholics should seek to convince Lutherans about the truths of the Catholic faith. “Proselytism is a sinful attitude,” he insisted.
Addressing ecumenical and inter-religious questions in a broader context, Pope Francis said that the prayer service in Assissi offered an opportunity for religious leaders of all faiths to take a common stand against the political manipulation of religious beliefs. “We together said strong words for peace: what all religions truly want,” he said. He went on to say that the exploitation of religion for ideological purposes is a form of idolatry, and continued:
“There are idolatries connected to religion: the idolatry of money, of enmities, of space greater than time, the greed of the territoriality of space. There is an idolatry of the conquest of space, of dominion, that attacks religions like a malignant virus.”