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As Rome honors Martin Luther, Catholics and Protestants enjoy thaw
"Piazza Martin Lutero" is the new Italian name of this square in Rome. It will formally be named for Martin Luther, the German reformer who broke with the Roman Catholic Church, headquartered about 3.7 miles away, some 500 years ago. - photo by Mark A. Kellner
Nearly 500 years after a Roman Catholic priest named Martin Luther famously broke with the Vatican by nailing a list of grievances to a German cathedral door, Catholicism's headquarters city will honor Luther with a square named for him.

"Piazza Martin Lutero" will be dedicated Sept. 16. It's located on the Oppian Hill, along Fortunato Mizzi Avenue, about 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) from the entrance to Vatican City.

The move comes about five centuries after Luther, then an Augustinian monk, visited Rome to bring a complaint to the Pope. The evangelical website (original in Italian) states biographers differ on whether Luther was affected by the corruption he found in the Eternal City. But by the time he posted his "95 Theses" in 1517, he was clearly no fan of the Papal system.

In a letter to Pope Leo X, who ultimately excommunicated Luther, the reformer wrote, "The Church of Rome, formerly the most holy of all Churches, has become the most lawless den of thieves, the most shameless of all brothels, the very kingdom of sin, death, and hell; so that not even antichrist, if he were to come, could devise any addition to its wickedness."

It would appear that in the case of Luther, time has indeed healed all or almost all wounds. Vatican press office deputy director the Rev. Ciro Benedettini told Religion News Service the designation is "a decision taken by Rome city hall which is favorable to Catholics in that its in line with the path of dialogue started with the ecumenical council," which referred to a gathering of churchmen to rule on faith matters.

According to the Italian-language wesbite Notizie Avventisti, both Lutherans and Seventh-day Adventists requested a plaza to honor Luther in 2009, preparing for the 500th anniversary of his visit to Rome. Evangelical churches in Rome along with the Waldensians, Methodists and Baptists later joined the request.

"I am very pleased that our request has become reality before the anniversary of the Reformation (in) 2017," said the Rev. Heiner Bludau, a Lutheran. The German reformer's visit in 1510 "was part of the history of the Reformation and then to that of Europe. Therefore, (to) dedicate the great reformer a square in Rome, from the point of view of the churches, is a momentous step of symbolic value," the Rev. Bludau said.

While it may seem odd for the Vatican to offer its own approval of the designation, the move is part of a series of Roman Catholic efforts over the course of more than 50 years to bridge the centuries-old divide with Protestants. The late Saint John XXIII, the pontiff at the time, convened the Second Vatican Council in 1962 in part to open the church up to the rest of the Christian world.

Another aspect of papal outreach came last November when Pope Francis greeted President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at a Vatican conference on marriage and family. Earlier, Pope Francis hosted Pentecostal preachers James Robison and Kenneth Copeland at the Vatican and prayed with them. He also received Salvation Army leader General Andr Cox in a private audience.

The current pope's outreaches to other Christians included a June 2015 visit to a Waldensian Church in Italy where he asked forgiveness from the evangelical Protestant congregation for Catholicism's previous persecution of the group.
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