August 30, 2015:    To the surprise of many Catholics, Adventists and other Christians worldwide, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has announced support for a memorial to Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer, in Rome. The municipal government of the Italian city announced in recent days that in September (2015) a square on Oppian Hill will be named Piazza Martin Lutero.

Six years ago the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Italy made a request for the city to honor Luther at the time of the 500th anniversary of his visit to Rome in 2010. This set in motion the process that resulted in the announcement last week, according to La Repubblica, the leading newspaper in Rome.

“The Vatican reacted positively” to the news, reported Religion News Service (RNS) on Wednesday. RNS quoted Rev. Ciro Benedettini, deputy director of the Vatican press office, who described it as a decision “favorable to Catholics in that it’s in line with the path of dialogue started with the ecumenical council.” Pope Francis has shown openness to other Christian denominations and representatives of both Catholic and Lutheran faiths signed a document in 2013 which has launched a series of talks.

Luther was a Catholic priest and theology professor who was excommunicated in 1521 because he denounced heresy in Catholic theology and corruption among the clergy. Ellen G. White, one of the founders of the Adventist denomination, praised Luther repeatedly and the Adventist faith has embraced two of Luther’s key principles, salvation by faith alone and the Bible as the only standard for doctrine and practice.

The Adventist presence is so small in Italy, that it is generally ignored. Some 98 percent of Italians were baptized as Catholics at birth. There are about 10,000 Adventists among a population of 60 million with about 130 congregations. No Adventist is among the 800 residents of the Holy See, the papal state. The most well known Adventist witness in the nation is the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA Italy) which is listed on Italian income tax returns as one of a short list of charities to which citizens can donate a small percentage of their taxes.

Religion bloggers and newspaper columnists in Europe and North America expressed surprise at the announcement of a Luther Square in Rome. Some stated they were particularly surprised to learn that Adventists played a key role in the plan.