(Source: Lutheran World Federation)

A strong sign for Christian ecumenism: the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, and the Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx were awarded the 2020 Augsburg Peace Prize for their “unconditional will to live together in peace”.

The church leaders reached out to one another on behalf of many Catholic and Protestant Christians, said Augsburg Mayor Eva Weber on 8 August when announcing the prize winners at this year’s Augsburg Peace Festival. They emphasized the similarities in church and society instead of differences.

“On the occasion of the 500th commemoration of the Reformation in 2017, Archbishop Reinhard Cardinal Marx and Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm have set a historic sign for all Christians worldwide,” said Weber, “and have given us an impressive testimony that true communion in faith is possible despite different confessional affiliations”.

On 11 March 2017, the then President of the German Bishops’ Conference, Reinhard Cardinal Marx, and the Chairperson of the Council of the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD), Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, jointly presided over a service of repentance and reconciliation in Hildesheim, Germany.

The painful divisions between the two separated churches were considered, and requests for forgiveness the failures of both sides exchanged. Also, thanks and joy were expressed for what both churches have in common and what they value in each other.

The liturgy of this service titled “Healing of memories – witnessing to Jesus Christ” builds on the 2016 Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation in Lund, Sweden, at which Pope Francis and The Lutheran World Federation’s (LWF) president, Bishop Munib Younan, and general secretary, Rev. Martin Junge, commemorated the 500th anniversary.

An ecumenical boost

The commitment of Bedford-Strohm and Marx for joint ecumenical steps was underlined by the Augsburg Protestant regional bishop Axel Piper who chaired the jury.

The two theologians “think and speak in the same spirit,” he said. With their common “passion for God and the world”, their work for for the peaceful development of ecumenism was exemplary.

“Christianity in Germany and Europe will only have a future if we strongly work together and stay together ecumenically. That is important, and that is where I see the prize as encouragement,” said Cardinal Marx in his reaction to the award.

Bishop Bedford-Strohm expressed his hope “that we will also make progress regarding joint Holy Communion. I see this prize as a public sign that this is expected of us and as a strong encouragement to continue the path of ecumenism. That is why I am also pleased to receive this prize together with Cardinal Marx”.

Bedford-Strohm was elected as Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, one of 148 member churches of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in 2011. He has chaired the EKD Council since 2014. He is a member of the Ecumenical Commission of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (VELKD) and the Catholic German Bishops’ Conference.

Marx was appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 2007. In 2010 he was admitted to the College of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church. Since 2013 he has been a member of the eight-member Cardinal Group advising Pope Francis on the governance of the universal church. The Archbishop served as Chairperson of the German Bishops’ Conference from 2014 to 2020.

The Prize Augsburg High Peace Festival

Since 1985, the city of Augsburg has awarded the Augsburg High Peace Festival Prize every three years – together with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria.

The prize honors personalities who have rendered outstanding services to a tolerant and peaceful coexistence of cultures and religions.

The last prize was awarded to LWF General Secretary Martin Junge in 2017. He was described as a “patient bridge-builder between the continents who, because of his theological background and his origins, connects Europe as the ‘global North’ and South America as the ‘global South’.”

The winner of the prize is announced on 8 August, the day of the High Festival of Peace. The award is endowed with EUR 12,500 and presented on 10 October.

The Augsburg High Peace Festival has been celebrated in the city since 1650. Its origins go back to the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, which ended a long period of wars and religious conflict in Europe.

More stories on Novena on ecumenism:

Francis reaffirms Catholic Church’s “irrevocable” commitment to cause of Christian unity

German Protestant head Bishop Bedford-Strohm sees Cardinal Marx as “ally” in search for shared communion