Pope Francis to focus on ecumenism during visit to Sweden next month

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Although he has set aside time for a Mass with Catholics in Sweden, Pope Francis’ trip to the Nordic country on 31 October-1 November will focus heavily on ecumenical relations, especially with the Lutheran Church.

From the beginning, the trip was designed around Pope Francis’ participation in events marking the beginning of a yearlong commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The pope will join Lutheran leaders for an ecumenical prayer service in their cathedral in Lund and move with them to an ecumenical event at a sports arena in Malmo on 31 October.

Organisers are asking a 10-euro (about $15) donation for tickets for the event in the arena. All the proceeds will go to projects run by the Lutheran World Federation and Caritas Internationalis for Syrian refugees in the Middle East.

Joint work on behalf of the poor and needy is a key component of how the Vatican and the federation have said Catholics and Lutherans should mark the anniversary of the Reformation.

Martin Luther, who was an Augustinian monk, priest and theologian, “had no intention of establishing a new church but was part of a broad and many-faceted desire for reform”, said a Catholic-Lutheran document issued in anticipation of the anniversary.

The commemorations, it said, are not a celebration of “the division of the Western church. No one who is theologically responsible can celebrate the division of Christians from one another”.

The morning Mass Pope Francis will celebrate on 1 November, the feast of All Saints, also will be in Malmo, although the Vatican did not give the exact location in the brief outline of events it published on 9 September.

According to Vatican statistics, there are about 110,000 Catholics in Sweden, less than 2 per cent of the population.