“A day of joy”: churches celebrate reconciliation

Healing of Memories service in Hildesheim sends a clear message of ecumenism

With a joint service of penitence and reconciliation in St Michael’s Church in Hildesheim, Catholics and Protestants today formally turned their back on the centuries of history characterized by mutual wounds and separation. At the service, attended by President Joachim Gauck, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Parliamentary Speaker Norbert Lammert, the churches also gave thanks for their burgeoning mutual trust, 500 years after the Reformation.

The Reformation commemoration is meant to be a new departure on a road that no longer separates us as churches, but brings us together,” said Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chair of the EKD Council in a dialogue sermon with Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chair of the German Bishops’ Conference. “We intend no longer to be divided in faith. We want to believe together,” he continued. “If all of us here today, and also those who are watching and listening, commit to witnessing together to the power of God’s love in our lives, and radiate it themselves, then we can renew this society.”

500 years after the Reformation, Cardinal Reinhard Marx spoke of a “day of joy”. He added: “I am happy that today we are sending this message of conciliatory togetherness today. We accept our history, looking at what Christians have done to each other, and go forward together. We do so without accusation or feeling downcast, but in an attitude of hope and a fresh start. I am grateful for that.“

St. Michael’s Church is shared by both a Catholic and a Protestant congregation. During the service, young parishioners lifted up a symbolic barrier in the central aisle and gave it the shape of a cross. “There is a way around a roadblock; there are ways of overcoming divisions. And we have seen what the key to that is: the barrier has turned into a cross,” Bedford-Strohm commented. Cardinal Marx also emphasized: “I hope that we can say: Christians in our country will no longer be driven apart. They stand by the sign of the cross, not for themselves but as bearers of hope for all people and particularly for the poor, the weak and the hopeless.”

At the end of the service, the liturgists pledged, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, “to take further steps on the path towards visible church unity”.

In the 500 years of Reformation history, the 2017 anniversary is the first to be commemorated together by both Protestant and Catholic churches. The ecumenical highpoints have included a joint pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the visit by a church delegation to Rome, where Cardinal Marx and Bedford-Strohm also met Pope Francis.

The service in Hildesheim is the central event in a Healing of Memories process through which the churches together seek ways towards reconciliation. There are models for this process in different parts of the world. For example, the truth and reconciliation process at the end of apartheid in South Africa was also under the heading „Healing of Memories". In September 2016 the German Catholic and Protestant Churches present a joint statement entitled “Healing of memories – witnessing to Jesus Christ”. In it they agreed to “take an honest look at what divisions between the churches, to consider their painful effects and to ask one another for forgiveness for the failures on both sides”.

The next ecumenical milestone in 2017 will be a joint event by the German Protestant Kirchentag, the Central Committee of German Catholics, the EKD and the German Bishops’ Conference in Bochum on 16 September 2017.

Hanover, 11 March 2017

EKD Press Office
Carsten Splitt

Note: Latest videos of the "Healing of Memories" service in Hildesheim at: https://www.youtube.com/wwwEKDde