Roman Catholics can learn from the 16th-century Protestant reformer Martin Luther, the Vatican's top official for Christian unity, has said, as Protestant churches in Germany prepare to launch a 10-year series of events leading up to the 500th anniversary in 2017 of the Lutheran Reformation.
In an interview published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, Cardinal Walter Kasper encouraged Catholics to read Luther's commentaries on the Bible, and his "hymns full of spiritual power", the German Protestant news agency epd reported.
"One will then discover a Luther who is full of the power of faith, whom one cannot simply make Catholic, whom we find provoking and even alien in many respects, but from whom even Catholics can learn," said Kasper, who has been president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity since 2001.
Germany's biggest Protestant grouping, the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), is to launch its Luther Decade on 21 September with a service at the castle church in Wittenberg, where Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses to the door on 31 October 1517. It was this event that set in train Luther's breach with the Roman Catholic Church.
Bishop Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and president of the Lutheran World Federation, will preach at the service as a representative of world Lutheranism.
A series of events, seminars and exhibitions are planned for the Luther Decade, which will continue until 2017 and is intended to remember "the epoch-making significance and impact of the Reformation", the EKD said on its Web site (www.ekd.de).
In his interview, Cardinal Kasper said he hoped Catholics would "get to know Luther better and not just interpret him from his polemical writings, still less from a few sentences taken out of context". The cardinal said he also hoped Protestantism would return to the faith of Martin Luther, "who would have been deeply averse to all of today's liberal tendencies".
On 20 September, Lutheran Bishop Johannes Friedrich of Bavaria will take part in a ceremony to break the ground for a Luther Garden in Wittenberg, about 110 kilometres (62 miles) south of Berlin.
Churches worldwide are being encouraged to adopt one of the 500 trees planned for the 230-metre-long site. Churches are also being asked to plant a tree themselves to denote a link with the birthplace of Luther's Reformation.
The EKD notes that the September 2008 starting date for the Luther Decade has a specific historical background in that Luther arrived in Wittenberg for the first time in the second half of 1508. He then taught as an Augustinian monk in the newly founded Wittenberg University.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]