Pope Francis is heading to secular Sweden to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, a remarkably bold gesture given his very own Jesuit religious order was founded to defend the faith against Martin Luther's "heretical" reforms five centuries ago.
While the visit initially raised eyebrows, the Vatican and Lutheran church both insist that Monday's event is no celebration of Luther's revolt. Rather, they say, it's a solemn commemoration to ask forgiveness for the schism in Western Christianity and rejoice that relations have improved in the last five decades.
Francis has prioritized these deeply symbolic encounters to show that even while divided on dogma, the Christian faithful must work together and pray together, especially in times of religious persecution.
"If we don't do it, we Christians hurt ourselves by division," Francis said in an interview this weekend with a Jesuit journal.
The Protestant Reformation started in 1517 after Luther nailed 95 theses on the church door in the town of Wittenberg, denouncing what he saw as the abuses of the Catholic Church, especially the sale of indulgences. Pope Leo X excommunicated him, but the church couldn't stop his teachings from spreading throughout northern Europe or the world. Catholics persecuted Protestants and vice-versa for hundreds of years.