Posted September 21, 2015 | Rome, Italy | By Andreas Mazza, EUD, with Adventist Review staff
Seventh-day Adventist leaders praised the naming of a downtown Rome square after Protestant reformer Martin Luther at a ceremony attended by German and Italian politicians and diplomats, Adventist believers, and even a Martin Luther lookalike.
The square, Piazza Martin Lutero, was inaugurated at Colle Oppio park, close to the Colosseum, during an event eagerly anticipated by the small Protestant community in Rome.
“This is an important moment … for the Protestant world,” Dora Bognandi, associate director of the Adventist Church’s religious liberty department in Italy, said at the square’s inauguration on Sept. 16.
“This is an important moment for European citizens because Martin Luther’s reformation strongly influenced Western culture, and for the Italian institutions, too,” said Bognandi, who is spokeswoman for the Committee of Evangelical Churches in Rome. “This is also important for the Catholic Church because minorities often play a critical role in matters of conscience that bring about change.”
The Adventist Church in Italy applied to city authorities to name a square or street after Luther, a Roman Catholic priest from Germany, in 2009. Unknown to the church, Lutheran leaders made a similar request to the city at the same time.
Authorities approved the proposal several months later but only acted after several appeals from local Protestants, including members of the Baptist, Methodist, Salvation Army, and Waldensian churches who backed the bid.
A senior Catholic clergyman attended the ceremony. The Catholic Church, which counts a vast majority of Rome’s residents among its members, has said it supports the naming of the square after Luther.
Also at the event were Germany’s ambassador to Italy, Susanne Wasum-Rainer; Germany’s ambassador to the Holy See, Annette Schavan; a parliamentary delegation from Berlin; Jutta Fischer, the mayor of Eisleben, Luther’s hometown; and Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino.
“We are really pleased as the Adventist Church to have contributed to this recognition,” said Stefano Paris, president of the church in Italy.
Torsten Lange Klemmstein, who traveled from Luther’s hometown for the event, showed up on the square dressed in a cassock, a black hat, and white shirt like Luther.
“I wanted to be here on this important day,” he said.
Prolonged applause broke out when a red and yellow cloth dropped to reveal a white marble plaque engraved with the name of the square. Some onlookers spontaneously began singing, “Praise to the Lord, praise to the Lord of glory.”
“Today’s gesture means that Rome has to respect every religion and faith,” Rome’s mayor said. “Einstein said that it is easier to smash an atom than prejudice. And here we have broken some prejudices.”
Adventist leaders said Rome could not have chosen a better place to pay tribute to Luther. The square has a large circular fountain where people can sit and relax — and perhaps at times share religious literature that underscores their Protestant faith.
“It is a dry fountain now, but we hope that fresh, living water will soon gurgle out in an image of the gospel that recalls Christ, the Living Water, the Savior, and the free gift from God,” the Adventist Church in Italy said in an e-mailed statement. “Martin Luther rediscovered salvation by grace in Scripture and gave back hope to every man and woman.”