Pope Francis is on an official Oct. 31-Nov. 1 visit to Sweden for a joint-commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. His visit marks the first time a Pope has traveled to Scandinavia since St. John Paul II’s 1989 visit.
After landing at the International Airport of Malmö, the Pope paid a courtesy visit to the Royal Family before joining an ecumenical moment of prayer at Lund’s Lutheran cathedral.
Following the prayer, Francis then headed to the Malmö Arena for the primary ecumenical event, during which he was greeted by Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan, President of the LWF.
In his speech, Younan said “it brings me immense joy to be here today, bearing witness to the work of the Holy Spirit sowing unity among the followers of Jesus.”
The historic gathering, he said, sends a message to the entire world that strongly-held religious convictions “can lead toward peaceful reconciliation rather than always contributing more conflict to our already troubled world.”
“When religious people work for unity and reconciliation, religion can promote the flourishing of all human communities,” Younan said.
“As we meet here, Catholic and Lutheran, with many other ecumenical guests, we are challenged to move forward in the Holy Spirit, he concluded, adding that this meeting “is not the end of our dialogue, but a new beginning.”
“I am confident that our common purpose will be found not just in theological dialogue, but in the practical witness, the ‘martyria,’ of prophetic ‘diakonia.’”
Before their speeches, the Pope and Younan also listened to four testimonies from both Catholics and Lutherans working for the common good and the advancement of various sectors of society.
After hearing the testimony of Pranita Biswasi, a Lutheran woman from the district in Orissa, India speak about the effects of climate change on the poor and the need to take better care of the environment, the Pope noted that creation “is a sign of God’s boundless love for us.”
He thanked Biswasi, who was a delegate from the LWF to 2015’s COP21 climate summit in Paris, for her work, telling her that he shares her concerns for the “abuses” that harm the plant and cause “grave effects on the climate.”
“As you rightly mentioned, their greatest impact is on those who are most vulnerable and needy; they are forced to emigrate in order to escape the effects of climate change,” he said, adding that everyone, especially Christians, “are responsible for protecting creation. Our lifestyle and our actions must always be consistent with our faith.”
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The Pope then turned to the testimony given by Msgr. Héctor Fabio Henao Gaviria of Colombia, who serves as director of Caritas and the National Secretariat of Social Pastoral Ministry.
After hearing the priest speak about the problem of violence in Colombia, the initiatives of Caritas and the need for peace in the country, Francis said “it is good to know that Christians are working together to initiate communitarian and social processes of common interest.”
“I ask you to pray in a special way for that great country, so that, through the cooperation of all, peace, so greatly desired and necessary for a worthy human coexistence, can finally be achieved,” he said.
Francis then pointed to the testimony of Marguerite Barankitse of Burundi. After receiving death threats for speaking out against conflict that erupted in the country last year, she has been a refugee in Rwanda.
Barankitse is Catholic and is the foundress of the Maison Shalom organization, which is a complex of schools, hospitals and a care network extending throughout Burundi focusing specifically on child welfare and ending ethnic discrimination.
Referring to the work Barankitse carries out, the Pope said that striving to achieve peace and help children who are victims of various atrocities “is both admirable and a summons to take seriously the countless situations of vulnerability experienced by so many persons who have no way to speak out.”