THE Pope and the President of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Dr Munib Younan, have said that they long for the day when Lutherans and Roman Catholics will be able to receive communion in each other’s churches.
The comments were made in a joint statement signed by Pope Francis and Dr Younan, who is the Bishop in Jordan & the Holy Land, during a joint ecumenical prayer service in Lund Cathedral, Sweden, on Monday. The service was held to mark the start of a year of commemorations before next year’s 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
”Many members of our communities yearn to receive the eucharist at one table, as the concrete expression of full unity,” they said. “We experience the pain of those who share their whole lives, but cannot share God’s redeeming presence at the eucharistic table.
”We acknowledge our joint pastoral responsibility to respond to the spiritual thirst and hunger of our people to be one in Christ. We long for this wound in the Body of Christ to be healed. This is the goal of our ecumenical endeavours, which we wish to advance, also by renewing our commitment to theological dialogue.”
They said that they committed themselves “to further growth in communion . . . as we seek to remove the remaining obstacles that hinder us from attaining full unity”.
Leaders and representatives from many different Christian denominations were among the 500-strong congregation in Lund Cathedral. They included the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, and Canon John Gibaut, the Anglican Communion’s director for faith, unity and order.
In his sermon, Pope Francis acknowledged the need to “look with love and honesty at our past, recognising error and seeking forgiveness”. It was necessary to recognise 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 need to be guided surely and lovingly by its good shepherd”.
In a separate sermon, the general secretary of the LWF, the Revd Dr Martin Junge, said: “Jesus never forgot us, even when we seemed to have forgotten him, losing ourselves in violent and hateful actions. . . As we see Jesus among us, we have also started to see each other anew.
”We acknowledge that there is much more that unites us than that which separates us. We are branches of the same vine. We are one in baptism. This is why we are here at this joint commemoration: to rediscover who we are in Christ.”
Lund was chosen to host the commemoration service because it was here, 50 years ago, that the LWF was founded. Today, the LWF comprises 145 Churches in 98 countries; and gives as its membership 74 million. The Roman Catholic Church reports a membership of 1.27 billion around the world.
After the service, the Pope and Lutheran leaders joined their ecumenical colleagues in the short journey to Malmö Arena, an indoor sports venue, where 10,000 people had been watching the service on large screens. Pope Francis’s arrival was marked by loud cheers and chanting of the kind associated more with football matches than church services.
While the focus of the cathedral service was reflecting on the past and shared hopes for the future, the Malmö Arena event was all about the present: the need for Christians to work together to address some of the pressing needs facing society.
There was a surreal atmosphere in the arena. The audience was bathed in blue light, facing a traditional stage, bathed in bright light. Between them, a large cross-shaped platform formed the centre-piece of the arena. At the four points of the cross, four people explained the needs in their parts of the world, interspersed with prayer.
Sunemia Biswasi, a 26-year-old environmental scientist from Jeypore in India, outlined the devastating effects of climate change; Hector Gaviria, from Colombia, spoke about attempts to end his country’s civil war, and the 2002 church-bombing that killed a hundred people; Rose Lokonyen, a 23-year-old South Sudanese woman living in Kenya, a refugee since the age of eight, spoke of her joy in participating in the Olympic Games’ refugee team; and Marguerite Barankitse, a refugee from the 1993 genocide in Burundi, recounted how she had established a Maison Shalom (House of Peace) to take in and support orphaned children, “to light a candle in the middle of the darkness”.
In response, Pope Francis told Ms Barankitse: “You said that everybody who knows you thinks that what you are doing is crazy. Of course, it is the craziness of love for God and our neighbour. We need more of this craziness, illuminated by faith and confidence in God’s providence.”
The gathering also heard from the Chaldean Catholic Bishop of Aleppo, Mar Antoine Audo, who spoke about the effects of war in Syria.
During the event, the director of the LWF World Service, Maria Immonen, and the secretary general of Caritas Internationalis, Michael Roy, signed a Declaration of Intent committing the two Churches’ humanitarian arms to focus on “common witness and service of Catholics and Lutherans in the world”.
Elsewhere, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, was in Erfurt monastery, where Martin Luther served as an Augustinian monk before nailing his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. “If we forget our own history, we cannot know who we are. We lose our identity. And we cannot shape our common future unless we acknowledge our common past,” he said in a sermon.
”If the Church is to fulfil its mission, it must learn from the bad memories and build on the good. Today we need to learn to meet people where they really are, and not where we want them to be, and to speak in a language that they can understand.
”After being surprised by the grace of God and freed from fear, Martin Luther opened the Bible for future generations to learn about that love and grace for themselves. So despite his many faults, he changed the world.”
The European Reformation Roadmap — a “show lorry” — set off from Geneva this week, and will visit 67 cities in 19 countries before arriving in Wittenberg for next year’s 500th anniversary. In February 2017 it will visit Dublin (8), Liverpool (21), Cambridge (23), and London (25).