Vatican City, 18 December 2014 (VIS) – Official dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics has been in place for almost 50 years and the progress made in this half century “constitutes a solid foundation for sincere friendship lived in faith and spirituality,” Pope Francis said this morning on receiving a delegation from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany on an ecumenical visit to Rome.
Despite theological differences that persist in various issues of the faith, collaboration and fraternal coexistence characterize the life of our churches and ecclesial communities, which are committed to a common ecumenical journey and joint documents. One such text was the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” between the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which was officially signed fifteen years ago in Augsburg. “These are,” Pope Francis said, “important milestones that allow us to confidently continue along the path undertaken.”
Although the common goal of full and visible unity of Christians sometimes seems to become more difficult to achieve because of different interpretations regarding the church and its unity, we must not give in to resignation but concentrate on the next possible step. “Do not forget,” the Pope stressed, “that we are walking together the path of friendship, mutual respect, and theological research. It is a path that makes us look with hope to the future. That is why, this past 21 November, bells of all the cathedrals in Germany rang to invite all Christian brothers and sisters to a common liturgical service for the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of Unitatis Redintegratio, the Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism.”
The Holy Father expressed his satisfaction that the Commission on Bilateral Dialogue between the German Bishops' Conference and the German Evangelical Lutheran Church is about to finish its work dedicated to “God and the Dignity of Man”. He emphasized the relevance of “issues related to the dignity of the human person at the beginning and end of life, as well as those related to family, marriage, and sexuality, which cannot be excluded or left to the side just because one doesn't want to endanger the ecumenical consensus reached thus far. It would be a shame if new confessional differences arose in such important topics related to human existence.”
“Ecumenical dialogue today can no longer be separated from the reality and the life of our churches. In 2017, Lutheran and Catholic Christians will jointly commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On that occasion, Lutherans and Catholics around the world will, for the first time, have the opportunity to share the same ecumenical commemoration, not in the form of a triumphalistic celebration, but as the profession of our common faith in the Triune God. At the center of this event, therefore, there will be common prayer and the plea that our Lord Jesus Christ pardon for our mutual faults, along with the joy of journeying together on a shared ecumenical path. This meaningfully references the document produced by the Lutheran-Catholic Commission for Unity published last year entitled “From Conflict to Communion: The Joint Lutheran-Catholic Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017”. May this commemoration of the Reformation encourage us all to carry out, with God's help and the support of his Spirit, further steps towards unity and to not just limit ourselves to what we have already achieved!”