Pope, Lutheran leader pledge to work for restored communion

October 31, 2016

“The spiritual experience of Martin Luther challenges us to remember that apart from God we can do nothing,” Pope Francis said at an ecumenical prayer service in Lund, Sweden on October 31.

 The Pope joined with leaders of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in the prayer service, marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. At the conclusion of the service, the Holy Father and Bishop Munib Youhan, the president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), in signing a joint statement pledging their efforts to continue working for a restoration of unity among Christians and full communion between Catholics and Lutherans.

Pope Francis flew to Malmo, Sweden, on Monday morning. He was greeted by Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, although his two-day visit is not an official state event, and he paid a courtesy call on King Carl Gustaf XVI and Queen Silvia before moving on to the Lutheran cathedral in Lund, where he was greeted by the Swedish Lutheran primate, Archbishop Antje Jackelen, for the prayer service.

Bishop Youhan spoke first at the service. A native of Chile, the Lutheran prelate delivered his address in Spanish. Pope Francis then spoke, also in Spanish.

“As Catholics and Lutherans, we have undertaken a common journey of reconciliation,” the Pontiff said. He offered prayers of thanksgiving for the successes of ecumenical work over the past 50 years, and suggested that the joint acknowledgment of the anniversary of the Reformation could be “a new opportunity to accept a common path.” The Pope said that “our separation has been an immense source of suffering and misunderstanding, yet it has also led us to recognise honestly that without [Jesus] we can do nothing.” He said:

We too must look with love and honesty at our past, recognising error and seeking forgiveness, for God alone is our judge. We ought to recognise with the same honesty and love that our division distanced us from the primordial intuition of God’s people, who naturally yearn to be one, and that it was perpetuated historically by the powerful of this world rather than the faithful people, which always and everywhere needs to be guided surely and lovingly by its Good Shepherd. Certainly, there was a sincere will on the part of both sides to profess and uphold the true faith, but at the same time we realise that we closed in on ourselves out of fear or bias with regard to the faith which others profess with a different accent and language.

In the joint statement that was signed at the conclusion of the service by Pope Francis and Bishop Youhan, the Catholic and Lutheran leaders together confessed: “Lutherans and Catholics have wounded the visible unity of the Church.” They continued:

Theological differences were accompanied by prejudice and conflicts, and religion was instrumentalized for political ends…Today, we hear God’s command to set aside all conflict. We recognize that we are freed by grace to move towards the communion to which God continually calls us.

”We long for this wound in the Body of Christ to be healed,” the statement read.

The joint statement specifically addressed the prospects for sharing Communion, with a focus on married couples of different faiths. “We experience the pain of those who share their whole lives, but cannot share God’s redeeming presence at the Eucharistic table,” the statement said, hinting that a first step toward shared Communion might be a policy aimed at such married couples.

The joint statement also pledged the Catholic Church and the LWF to work together for social causes on which Pope Francis has been outspoken, including protection for refugees and migrants and safeguarding the environment.

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