September 1, 2015

At Adventist Request, Rome Will Name Square After Martin Luther

, news editor, Adventist Review

Rome will name a central square after Protestant reformer Martin Luther in response to a request by the Seventh-day Adventist Church and with the support of the Roman Catholic Church.

The square on Oppian Hill, a park area that overlooks the Colosseum in the central Monti district, will be named Piazza Martin Lutero in honor of Luther’s achievements on Sept. 16.

“It’s a lovely square with a central fountain where believers will feel at home when they visit or even when they organize public opportunities to witness,” Dora Bognandi, associate director of the public affairs and religious liberty department of the Adventist Church in Italy, said in an e-mailed statement Monday.

The decision marks the end of a six-year process that began when local Adventists asked Rome authorities to name a street or square after Luther to commemorate the 500th anniversary of a historic trip that he made to the city.

Luther, a German Catholic priest and theologian, arrived in Rome in 1510 with a desire to fully confess his sins and pursue a holy life in a city that he had viewed as holy from faraway Germany. But Rome was a political and military power at the time, and Luther decided that it resembled Babylon more than Jerusalem. By the time he left, he was questioning his own Catholic faith, although not his faith in God.

He later wrote that he would not have believed how great and shameless was the godlessness and wickedness of Rome if he had not seen it with his own eyes.

“If there is a hell, Rome is built over it,” he said.

Luther went on to become the father of the Protestant Reformation, challenging the authority of the Catholic Church and angering Pope Leo X with his condemnation of corruption among clergy and belief in salvation through faith alone. He was excommunicated from the church in 1521.

In June 2009, a group of Adventists verified that no location in Rome was dedicated to Luther and approached Rome’s Toponymy Commission, which oversees the naming of places, with the request to honor Luther on the 500th anniversary of his trip.

“Five hundred years later, where are we as Christians in our spiritual journey?” Carlo Giliberti, the initiator of the proposal and religious liberty director of the Lungotevere Michelangelo Adventist church in Rome, said in an interview with the Notizie Avventiste magazine in 2009.

“We want to be like Luther, who from Rome began his conversion experience of following Jesus and Him alone,” Giliberti said. “Luther began the Protestant Reformation from Rome, but all of us as Christians are called to choose only Jesus in our lives.”

Giliberti, supported by the Adventist Church in Italy, invited other Protestant denominations to support the Luther initiative.

Unbeknown to the Adventists, the Lutheran Church made a similar proposal to the city of Rome at the same time.

The Toponymy Commission approved both proposals on June 7, 2010. But nothing happened. The Council of Evangelical Churches in Rome appealed to the mayor later that year to implement the commission’s decision.

A new mayor, Ignazio Marino, was elected in 2013, and he promised in 2014 to follow through with the Luther plan.

The square on Oppian Hill will officially be known as “Piazza Martin Lutero, teologo tedesco della Riforma (1483-1546),” or “Square of Martin Luther, German Theologian of the Reformation (1483-1546).”

Last week, the Catholic Church announced that it also backed the tribute to Luther.

“It’s a decision taken by Rome City Hall which is favorable to Catholics in that it’s in line with the path of dialogue started with the ecumenical council,” said the Reverend Ciro Benedettini, deputy director of the Vatican press office, in comments carried by the Religious News Service.

The ecumenical council is a Catholic-backed gathering of clergy from various denominations that meets to discuss religious issues. The council is in line with calls by Pope Francis for a more unified Christian voice in Europe.

Few Protestants live in Italy, where about 98 percent of the population of 60 million are Catholic. The Adventist Church has about 9,500 members worshiping in 111 churches and 19 companies in Italy, according to the latest statistics from the world church’s Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research.

Giliberti, the initiator of the Luther Square proposal, did not live to see his dream fulfilled. He died of cancer in October 2013.