LWF President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan, assisted by General Secretary Rev. Martin Junge, presents Pope Benedict XVI with a gift from Bethlehem depicting the Last Supper. Second from left is Vatican employee of the hall Francesco Cavaliere. (© Servizio Fotografico “L’Osservatore Romano”)
VATICAN City, Vatican/GENEVA, 16 December 2010 (LWI) – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan has invited Pope Benedict XVI to work together with the Lutheran communion in realizing an ecumenically accountable commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
“For us there is joy in the liberating power of the gospel proclaimed afresh by the reformers, and we will celebrate that,” said Younan in a message today, when he led a seven-member delegation in a private audience with the Pope. He underlined the need to recognize both the damaging aspects of the Reformation and ecumenical progress.
“But we cannot achieve this ecumenical accountability on our own, without your help. Thus we invite you to work together with us in preparing this anniversary, so that in 2017 we are closer to sharing in the Bread of Life than we are today.”
Greeting the LWF delegation, Pope Benedict expressed gratitude for “the many significant fruits produced” by decades of bilateral discussions between Lutherans and Roman Catholics, saying it had been possible “slowly and patiently to remove barriers and to foster visible bonds of unity by means of theological dialogue and practical cooperation, especially at the level of local communities.” In the years leading up to the next Reformation anniversary, “Catholics and Lutherans are called to reflect anew on where our journey towards unity has led us and to implore the Lord’s guidance and help for the future,” he said.
The Pope pointed out that the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ), whose tenth anniversary was marked in 2009, “has proved a significant step along the difficult path towards re-establishing full unity among Christians and a stimulus to further ecumenical discussion.”
He reiterated his expectation that the close contacts and intensive dialogue which have characterized ecumenical relations between Catholics and Lutherans would continue to bear rich fruit.
Representing every LWF region, the delegation included also the General Secretary Rev. Martin Junge and regional vice presidents from Africa, Presiding Bishop Alex G. Malasusa (Tanzania); from Central Eastern Europe, Bishop Tamás Fabiny (Hungary); and from the Nordic region, Presiding Bishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien (Norway); and staff. Also present was Kurt Cardinal Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU), and other Vatican staff.
In his statement, Younan reiterated the LWF’s commitment to “moving closer toward one another around this Table of the Lord, which Luther saw as the summa evangelii.” The LWF president pointed out that while it was important to “rejoice in each small step which brings us closer together, we do not want to be content with these steps. We remain strong in hope – both for the full visible unity of Christ’s Church and for the Eucharistic communion which is so crucial a manifestation of that unity.”
Younan presented to the Pope a gift from Bethlehem, a carving depicting the Last Supper. Referring to this image, he said, “Each of us can bear witness to the importance of this sacramental meal in nurturing our own Christian lives. Each of us also knows the yearning for the time when we will be able to celebrate this feast together,” said the LWF president.
Younan noted that the LWF had taken a significant step toward Christian reconciliation at its July 2010 Eleventh Assembly in Stuttgart, Germany, by asking forgiveness from Mennonites for the persecution of Anabaptists in the 16th century. In preparing for this act, he said, the LWF was mindful that this legacy was shared by other traditions, including Roman Catholics, who with other ecumenical guests stood in solemn solidarity when the action was pronounced at the Assembly.
“We believe that we took this action on behalf of the whole body of Christ. We pray that this spirit of repentance, reconciliation and renewal will continue to grow among us.”
Younan, who is head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, noted that Catholics and Lutherans share a vision for just peace in the Middle East and support a two-state solution with a shared Jerusalem. He thanked the Pope for his moral leadership in exposing the injustices and idolatries of the global financial crisis – also a concern shared by the LWF, notably in its advocacy against illegitimate debt. On both issues, he urged closer collaboration.
“Our witness will be stronger if we will work together on these problems. Thus we look forward to forging multiple cooperations with our Catholic sisters and brothers at all levels, locally as well as globally,” Younan said.
The LWF president noted that he and the General Secretary represent the new leadership of the global Lutheran communion. Younan was elected President at Stuttgart in July, while Junge began his term of office in November.
The audience with the Pope honors the extraordinary journey by the two churches in recent years, and is a sign of hope for their future relations, Younan said.
Lutherans continue to rejoice, he added, because of the ways the two churches have reached new degrees of theological understanding and agreement, noting in particular the landmark Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.
“Within our own lifetimes, the climate of relations between Lutherans and Catholics has warmed dramatically – and this climate change has been for the good! Around the world our churches live in a new ecology of relationship.” Younan concluded.