Catholics And Protestants Mark 500th Anniversary Of Martin Luther's Reformation

Carol Kuruvilla

Five hundred years after German theologian Martin Luther published a diatribe against some of the practices of the Catholic Church, Catholics and Lutherans marked the historic anniversary with a strong display of unity. 

Pope Francis’ Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation, a global network of Lutheran churches, issued a joint statement on Oct. 31, expressing thanks for the “spiritual and theological gifts received through the Reformation.”

“Likewise, we begged forgiveness for our failures and for the ways in which Christians have wounded the Body of the Lord and offended each other during the five hundred years since the beginning of the Reformation until today,” the statement read. 

President of the Lutheran World Federation Bishop Munib Younan (L)and Pope Francis attend an ecumenical event at the Malmo Arena on October 31, 2016 in Malmo, Sweden. Pope Francis kicked off a two-day visit to Sweden to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation -- a highly symbolic trip, given that Martin Luther's dissenting movement launched centuries of bitter and often bloody divisions in Europe.  (JONATHAN NACKSTRAND via Getty Images)

The global Catholic Church, the Lutheran World Federation, and other Protestant denominations have been preparing for the Reformation anniversary over the past year, beginning with a common prayer service in Sweden on Oct. 31, 2016 attended by Pope Francis and the LWF’s then-President, Bishop Munib A. Younan.

There have also been other prayer, worship, and educational events in Luther’s native Germany, and throughouttheworld

In the statement, both groups reiterated a desire to achieve greater unity ― including the ability to celebrate the Eucharist together, despite theological differences about the nature of this sacred Christian ritual.

People take pictures of a statue of German Church reformer Martin Luther holding a book including his translation into German of the New Testament of the Bible at the main square in front of the city hall in Wittenberg, eastern Germany, where celebrations take place on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on October 31, 2017. 

“We recognize that while the past cannot be changed, its influence upon us today can be transformed to become a stimulus for growing communion, and a sign of hope for the world to overcome division and fragmentation,” the statement read. “Again, it has become clear that what we have in common is far more than that which still divides us.

The Protestant Reformation is traditionally believed to have begun in 1517, when Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church ― although some historians have disputed the historical accuracy of that story. 

Nevertheless, Luther’s provocative theological musings ― particularly his critique of indulgences and his insistence that salvation was granted by faith and grace alone ― would have lasting effects on Christianity and on Europe. 

A traditional wood cutter engraves wood in the main square in Wittenberg, eastern Germany, where celebrations take place on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on October 31, 2017.  (JOHN MACDOUGALL via Getty Images)

Copies of the 95 Theses were distributed throughout Germany. Luther was later excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the movement he helped spark soon resulted in the splintering of the church, and the birth of Protestantism. 

Luther’s life story is marred by thevirulently anti-Semitic writings he completed near the end of his life ― views that were later used by the Nazis to justify their persecution of Jewish people. 

An effigy of German Church reformer Martin Luther reading 'The naked truth about Martin Luther' (on the socle) and 'Hitler precisely executed Luther's advices against the Jews' (in the coat) is seen close to the Schlosskirche (All Saints' Church, Castle Church) in Wittenberg, eastern Germany, where celebrations were under way on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on October 31, 2017.  (HENDRIK SCHMIDT via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, German politicians and leaders gathered in Wittenberg to attend church services and a ceremony at city hall. Wittenberg’s city center has been transformed into a medieval-era town, complete with performers and visitors dressed in period attire.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, his wife Elke Buedenbender, the Chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, the President of the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) Wolfgang Schaeuble, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Federal Government's Commissioner for Culture and the Media Monika Gruetters and Saxony-Anhalt's State Premier Reiner Haseloff attend a religious service to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation at Schlosskirche church on Reformation Day on October 31, 2017 in Wittenberg, Germany.  (Pool via Getty Images)
  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.