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German Protestant head visits pope, talks refugees

European nations have again been urged to help refugees and not erect more fences during a rare meeting between Pope Francis and the head of Germany's Protestant churches. The pair met like "brothers."

Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, the chairman of Germany's 22.6 million Protestants, said Thursday he and Pope Francis were "fully united" in urging all nations in Europe to show solidarity by taking in refugees, despite hesitancy in several European capitals.

Numerous European Union nations, including Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, have baulked at EU plans to distribute refugees from Greece and Italy across the 28-member bloc. Others, such as Hungary, have erected fences.

Heinrich Bedford-Strohm EKD Ratsvorsitzender

Nations need to show solidarity with refugees, Bedford-Strohm said

So far this year, Italy has taken in 25,000 boat migrants while more 50,000 remain in Greece as the EU tries to implement a complicated migration deal with Turkey.

If Europe seriously laid claim to its Christian tradition, then all countries must jointly and in solidarity take in people in need, said Bedford-Strohm who is a regional Protestant bishop in Bavaria.

Refugees visited on Lesbos

Last Saturday, Francis and two Orthodox leaders - despite a 1,000-year schism - jointly visited refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos. The pope returned to Rome with 12 Syrians - all Muslims.

"May all our brothers and sisters on this continent [Europe], like the Good Samaritan, come to your aid in the spirit of fraternity, solidarity and respect for human dignity that has distinguished its long history," said the Pope on Lesbos.

Ecumenism, visit to Sweden

Bedford-Strohm on Thursday said a planned trip by the pope to Lund in southern Sweden on October 31 was a "great" gesture in long-standing efforts to foster ecumenism.

No one could say when the goal of inner-Christian unity might be reached, Bedford-Strohm added, but Francis had made it clear that "we are jointly on the way."

Catholic traditionalists have in the past accused Francis of making too many concessions to Lutherans. The pontiff, however, has made dialog with other religions a hallmark of his papacy.

Reformation remembered

In January, the Vatican announced that Francis would travel to Lund to attend the "joint ceremony of the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation" (LWF) in the lead-up to the 500th anniversary in 2017 of the Protestant Reformation.

Mainz - Heinrich Bedford-Strohm und Reinhard Kardinal Marx

Seeking closer church ties - Bedford-Strohm and Cardinal Marx

Lund is where in 1947 the Lutheran federation was founded. It comprises 72 million Christians in 98 countries.

The Reformation began around 1517 as late medieval Europe split - often violently - into various confessions at odds with Catholic Rome, including Lutherism initiated by Martin Luther in Germany.

He challenged the Catholic doctrine of indulgences.

The highpoint in Germany next year is to be a reconciliation church service in Hildesheim in March 2017. Bedford-Strohm said he and leading German Catholic bishops' chairman Cardinal Reinhard Marx would take part.

In January, the Lutheran federation said celebrations would include "a common worship based on a recently published Catholic Lutheran liturgical guide."

ipj/sms (dpa, KNA, epd, AP)

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