Pope praises Luther 'passion' in historic conciliatory step
Pope Benedict XVI praised reformer Martin Luther as a passionate Christian Friday, as he urged German Lutherans and Catholics to focus on what united them in response to a secularised world.
Speaking after a historic meeting with Lutheran leaders in the Augustinian monastery where Luther himself studied 500 years ago, Benedict said: "What constantly exercised him was the question of God, the deep passion and driving force of his whole life's journey."
"'How do I receive the grace of God?' The fact that this question was the driving force of his whole life never ceases to make an impression on me," said Benedict, who has made outreach to other religions a centrepiece of his trip.
He said the different wings of the Church should "keep in view just how much we have in common, not losing sight of it amid the pressure towards secularisation -- everything that makes us Christian in the first place and continues to be our gift and our task."
The 84-year-old pontiff has stressed his goal of mutual tolerance in the Christian demoninations during his six-year papacy, and Germany, the cradle of the Protestant Reformation, is neatly divided between Catholics and Lutherans.
In his speech, in the eastern German city of Erfurt, Benedict said much progress had been made in becoming aware of the "common ground" between the two sects, but warned: "The risk of losing this, sadly, is not unreal."
The pope cited two dangers: the transformation of the Christian faith into a "form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability."
Secondly he said that the increasing secularisation of society posed a danger to ecumenism, the drive for greater unity in the Christian Church.
"God is increasingly being driven out of our society ... yet it is not by watering the faith down, but by living it today in its fullness that we achieve this. This is a key ecumenical task," said the pope.
The head of the Lutheran Church in Germany, Nikolaus Schneider, has vowed progress on bridging differences, saying: "It's clear to everyone that we're not going to go by the motto 'it's nice that we all met up'."
The pope later led an ecumenical service for around 300 invited guests including Chancellor Angela Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor.
The monastery in Erfurt where Benedict, Schneider and 20 other religious leaders met for 30 minutes is a hallowed site for Protestants.
It is where Luther studied in 1505, some 12 years before his split with Rome unleashed the Reformation in Europe.
© 2011 AFP