Vatican City, 16 November 2015 (VIS) – Yesterday afternoon the Holy Father met with the evangelical Lutheran community of Rome in the Christuskirche, where he was warmly welcomed by Pastor Jeans-Martin Kruse, who in his welcome discourse also recalled the visits to the same temple by St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
Francis then answered questions from three members of the community, a child and two women, and after the vespers prayer, with the reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew (25, 31, 46), he pronounced an off-the-cuff homily in which he emphasised that Lutherans and Catholics must ask mutual forgiveness for persecutions against each other and for the scandal of divisions.
The first question to which the Pope responded was from a child who wanted to know what he liked the most about being the Pope. “The thing I like best, sincerely, is being a pastor”, Francis replied. “I like being the Pope in the style of a parish priest. Service: I like it, in the sense that I feel good, when I visit the sick, when I speak with people who are desperate or sad. I like going to prisons … to speak with detainees. … Every time I enter a prison I ask myself, 'Why them and not me?'. And I am aware of the salvation of Jesus Christ, His love for me. Because He saved me. I am no less a sinner than they are, but the Lord took me by the hand. And when I go into a prison I am happy. Being a Pope is being a bishop, being a pastor. If a Pope is not also a bishop, if a Pope is not also a pastor, he may be a very intelligent person, very important and hold great influence in society, but I think that inside he will not be happy”.
The second question came from a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic, who lamented the fact they cannot participate together in the Lord's Supper. “It is not easy for me to answer this”, affirmed the Pope. “I think that the Lord told us the answer when He gave us this mandate: 'Do this in memory of me'. And when we share the Lord's Supper, we remember and we imitate, we do the same thing that the Lord Jesus did. And there will be the Supper of the Lord, the final banquet in the New Jerusalem. … However on the path, I wonder – and I do not know how to answer, but I make your question my own – I wonder, is sharing the Lord's Supper the aim of the path, or the way of walking together? I leave this question to theologians, to those who understand. It is true that in a certain sense sharing means saying that there is no difference between us, that we have the same doctrine … but do we not have the same Baptism? And if we have the same Baptism, we should walk together. … When you pray together, this Baptism grows and becomes strong; when you teach your children who Jesus is … you do the same thing, in both a Lutheran and Catholic language, but it is the same thing. Your question: and the Supper? There are questions to which only if one is sincere with oneself and with the few theological 'lights' I have, it is necessary to answer in the same way. 'This is my body, this is my blood' said the Lord, 'do this in memory of me', and this is a viaticum that helps us to walk together. … To your question I respond only with a further question: what can I do with my husband, so that the Lord's Supper accompanies us as we walk together? It is a problem that each of us should respond to. A pastor friend said to me, 'We believe that the Lord is present there. He is present. You believe that the Lord is present. So what is the difference?' 'Ah, these are explanations, interpretations'. Life is greater than explanations and interpretations. Always make reference to your Baptism: 'one faith, one Baptism, one Lord', as St. Paujl said, and take it from there. I would never dare give permission to do this as it is not my competence. One Baptism, one Lord, one faith. Speak with the Lord and go ahead. I dare not say any more”.
The final question, from the treasurer of a project to help refugee families, related to how to combat poverty and to ensure that Christians do not consider this inevitable or, worse, erect new walls to defend themselves against it.
“Man, from the first moment, according to the Scriptures, was a great builder of walls that separate him from God”, said the Holy Father. “And there is a fantasy behind human walls, the fantasy of becoming like God. For me the myth … or the narrative of the Tower of Babel shows the attitude of men and women who build walls, because building a wall is like saying, 'We are the powerful, and you are outside'. Building a wall of exclusion follows this approach. The wall is a monument to exclusion. … For us too … how often do wealth, vanity and pride become walls … that distance us from the Lord? … What can we do to avoid building them? Let us do as Jesus did … by placing ourselves in the place of the least among us. … With this work of yours, helping young mothers, you do not build walls, you carry out service. … Human selfishness seeks to defend its own power, its own selfishness, but this defence distances it from the source of true richness. Walls, in the end, are a form of suicide. They close you in”.
Following this discussion the Pope said vespers and pronounced a brief homily in which, citing the Gospel of St. Matthew, he spoke about the questions that Jesus will ask us on Judgement Day. “Did you go to Mass? Did you receive a good catechesis? No. His questions will be about the poor, as the poor are at the centre of the Gospel. He, being rich, made Himself poor to enrich us with His poverty. … It is the choice of service. Did you use your life for yourself or to serve? To defend yourself from others with walls or to welcome them with love? This will be the final decision of Jesus”.
“And I wonder: we, Lutherans and Catholics, on what side will we be on that day, the right or the left? There have been many bad times between us …. Think of the persecutions – between us! With the same Baptism! Think of the many people burned alive. We must ask forgiveness for this, for the scandal of division, so that all of us, Lutherans and Catholics, are together in this choice, the choice of service that He has indicated to us, the servant of the Lord”.
“Finally, I like to ask Him, He Who serve unity, to help us to walk together. Today we have prayed together. Let us pray together, walk together for the poor, for the needy; let us love each other with true fraternal love. 'But father, we are different, because our dogmatic books say one thing and yours say another'. But a great exponent of yours once said that there is the time of reconciled diversity. Let us ask today for this grace, the grace of this diversity reconciled in the Lord, that is, the Servant of Yahweh, the God Who came among us to serve and not to be served”.