Pope to stress Christian unity in Luther's monastery

23rd September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Pope Benedict XVI was to lead historic prayers Friday with Protestant leaders in the German monastery where Martin Luther studied, on the second day of his trip to his increasingly secular homeland.

The 84-year-old has stressed his goal of unity in the Christian Church during his six-year papacy, and Germany, the cradle of the Protestant Reformation, is neatly divided between Catholics and Lutherans.

Germany's top archbishop Robert Zollitsch said in the run-up to the visit that the pope's trip lent a "new impetus" to ecumenism -- reuniting the Christian Church -- and that "great progress" had already been made.

Benedict will meet the country's top Protestant, Nikolaus Schneider, who also vowed progress, saying ahead of the meeting: "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 was then expected to lead an ecumenical service for around 300 invited guests including Chancellor Angela Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor.

The monastery in the eastern city of Erfurt where Benedict, Schneider and 20 other religious leaders were set to meet for a planned 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.

Welcoming Benedict on Thursday, President Christian Wulff stressed that Christians should strive for unity in Germany where there were 24.7 million Catholics in 2010 and 24.2 million Protestants.

"Germany is home to the Reformation. I am happy that tomorrow you will travel to Erfurt, a town which strongly influenced Martin Luther, to meet with representatives of the Protestant Church," said Wulff.

"I'm convinced that we need an explanation for what divides us, not what unites us," he said.

The Erfurt region was also home to one of the largest and most resilient Catholic communities in communist East Germany before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

Benedict's gruelling schedule Friday begins with a private mass in the apostolic nunciature, the Vatican embassy in Berlin, where he spent the night.

He was then to meet leaders of Germany's large Islamic community before flying to Erfurt, some 300 kilometres (200 miles) to the southwest.

On his last trip to his native land, in 2006, he offended the Muslim community by appearing to link Islam with violence in a speech at his former university in Regensburg.

The pope's first day in Germany, spent entirely in Berlin, was marked by an outpouring of joy from the faithful during a colourful mass for around 70,000 at Berlin's Olympic Stadium, but also a protest by approximately 10,000.

Papal opponents, some dressed as condoms or nuns, protested against his opposition to artificial contraception, homosexuality and a more prominent role for women in the Church -- as well as his handling of a paedophile priest scandal.

The pope himself said he understood those who had turned away from the Church after the recent sex abuse scandals, with people leaving both the Catholic and Protestant Church in droves.

On a whirlwind trip through the capital, he also delivered an historic address to the Bundestag lower house of parliament, in which he called on politicians "to serve right and fight against the dominion of wrong."

He discussed the financial crisis at a meeting with Merkel, and met Jewish community leaders, where he called for closer ties between the Catholic and Jewish faiths, drawing lessons from the Nazi Holocaust.

"Financial crisis, religion and a bit of protest," said the influential Spiegel news weekly on its website, summing up the pope's first day.

In total during his four-day trip home, the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics was expected to give 18 sermons and speeches.

The next stop on the papal tour after Erfurt is the predominantly Catholic city of Freiburg, addressing an estimated total of 260,000 people in the two cities in his mother tongue before departing Sunday.

© 2011 AFP

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