Pope Francis’ visit to Lund, Sweden, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation will comprise “two parts” beginning with a “common prayer” service in Lund's Lutheran cathedral and continuing with a public event at Malmö Arena that will be open to wider participation, Vatican and Lutheran leaders have announced.

In a joint statement issued today by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, they reiterated that the Oct. 31 event will be centered on the themes of “thanksgiving, repentance and commitment to common witness".

It also said the overall aim of the ecumenical event “is to express the gifts of the Reformation and ask forgiveness for division perpetuated by Christians from the two traditions.”

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi was keen to stress that the entire program of the Holy Father’s trip to Sweden will be published at a later date, and will include a Mass with the Catholic community on the morning of November 1st.

The joint statement said Pope Francis, LWF president Bishop Munib A. Younan and LWF General Secretary Rev. Martin Junge will lead the common prayer service in Lund's Lutheran cathedral and the event in Malmö in cooperation with leaders from Church of Sweden and the Catholic diocese of Stockholm.

One of the highlights of the Malmö event, it added, will be a feature on the joint work of LWF World Service and Caritas Internationalis, covering the areas of “care for refugees, peacebuilding, and advocacy for climate justice.”

Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said that by concentrating together on the centrality of the question of God and on “a Christocentric approach,” Lutherans and Catholics will have the possibility of “an ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation, not simply in a pragmatic way, but in the deep sense of faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ.”

Bishop Anders Arborelius of the Catholic diocese of Stockholm said "history will be written when Pope Francis and the LWF leaders visit Lund and Malmö to encourage all of us to go further on the road towards Christian unity.”

Lutheran leaders Younan and Junge said: “There is power when communities find their way out of conflict. In Christ we are encouraged to serve together in this world. The joint commemoration is a witness to the love and hope we all have because of the grace of God."

“We look forward to this event which can gather up to 10,000 people," said archbishop Antje Jackélen of the Lutheran Church of Sweden. "The idea behind the arena event is to further describe the development from conflict to communion with a focus on hope for the future and common service in the world."

Earlier this year, the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican issued a jointly prepared common prayer. The year 2017 will also mark 50 years of the international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, which led to the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. The declaration effectively nullified centuries’ old disputes between Catholics and Lutherans over the basic truths of the doctrine of justification, which was at the center of the 16th century Reformation.

Pope Francis visited the Evangelical Lutheran church in Rome last autumn, during which he controversially appeared to suggest that a Lutheran married to a Catholic could receive holy Communion based on the fact that she is baptized and would be acting in accordance with her conscience.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, later said the Pope's words were misunderstood and that he was not opening the door to holy Communion for Lutherans. 

Information on the Joint Ecumenical Commemoration will be updated on the event website www.lund2016.net