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Church, State Leaders Mark Anniversary of Martin Luther’s Death

February 18, 1996

EISLEBEN, Germany (AP) _ During the era of Communism in eastern Germany, he was portrayed as an early hero of the class struggle. Now, many hope his memory will boost tourism and help residents in his hometown achieve western standards of living.

On Sunday _ the 450th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther _ church and state leaders paid tribute to the rebel monk who was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church for doubting the pope’s infallibility.

``He deeply influenced the history and culture of our people and achieved worldwide importance,″ German President Roman Herzog said during a ceremony in the St. Petri-Pauli church, where Luther was baptized.

An earlier service was held at St. Andreas church, the site where Luther gave his last sermon a few days before his death on Feb. 18, 1546, at age 62.

Sunday’s ceremonies opened a year’s worth of planned exhibits, concerts and other events in the birthplace of the leader of the Protestant Reformation.

It was the first major Luther commemoration since the 1989 fall of Communism in former East Germany, where authorities tried to portray Luther as a hero of the workers’ struggle.

Since unification in 1990, that struggle has taken on a new meaning of finding jobs and reaching western standards of living.

Officials hope the memory of Luther, who sparked a movement that now has more than 70 million followers, will boost tourism.

``In rebuilding our part of the country, we have to show the same courage that Luther did in pursuing new paths in theology,″ said Reinhard Hoeppner, governor of Saxony-Anhalt state.

Another key site in the commemoration is Wittenberg, where Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the castle church on Oct. 31, 1517 _ the act generally seen as the trigger of the Reformation.

Luther had been transferred to Wittenberg by the church after challenging the harsh discipline imposed at the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt.

In Wittenberg, Luther taught theology and philosophy and also met Katharina von Bora, a lapsed Catholic nun who became his wife and gave birth to their six children.

When Emperor Charles V summoned Luther to Worms and ordered him to retract his criticism of the Catholic Church, Luther refused.

``Here I stand. I can’t do otherwise. God help me. Amen,″ Luther is said to have responded.

He was allowed to return to eastern Germany, but was forced to go into hiding in Eisenach’s Wartburg Castle. There, he spent 10 months translating a Greek version of the Bible into German, making the New Testament accessible to the general public for the first time.

The translation is seen as the basis for modern German, and paved the way for the spread of Protestantism.

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