VATICAN CITY, JAN. 19, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II expressed his gratitude for the “ecumenical progress made between Catholics and Lutherans” as he received a delegation from Finland.
The ecumenical, led by Lutheran Bishop Eero Huovinen of Helsinki, arrived on the feast of St. Henry, patron of Finland. Lutherans account for 85.7% of the country’s 5 million inhabitants. It was also the second day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
“In this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I wish to express my gratitude for the ecumenical progress made between Catholics and Lutherans in the five years since the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” the Pope said in his message to the delegation.
The Holy Father acknowledged as a “promising sign of this progress on our path to full and visible unity” the “establishment of a new dialogue group between Lutherans and Catholics in Finland and Sweden.”
The Joint Declaration of the Catholic Church and the World Lutheran Federation on the Doctrine of Justification was signed on Oct. 31, 1999, in Germany.
The Pope said the document was received by the Catholic Church as a significant step “in mutual understanding and in the rapprochement of the parties in dialogue,” evidencing “many points of convergence” on “such a controversial question during centuries.”
It was then stressed that “the fundamental truths of salvation offered by Christ and accepted in faith, of the primacy of grace over any human initiative, of the gift of the Holy Spirit who makes us capable of living in keeping with our condition of children of God” are “essential aspects of the Christian message that should enlighten believers of all times.”
“It is my hope that Lutherans and Catholics will increasingly practice a spirituality of communion, which draws on those elements of ecclesial life which they already share and which will strengthen their fellowship in prayer and in witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” the Pope told the ecumenical delegation.
“The ecumenical way advances,” the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper, said on Vatican Radio.
The process has problems, Cardinal Kasper noted. “We are not naively optimistic, but we have the promise of the Holy Spirit and, in the strength of the Holy Spirit we advance, especially with our brothers and sisters in Scandinavia, who are very close to us.”
In an ecumenical celebration attended by the Finnish delegation, Cardinal Kasper opened the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in St. Bridget’s Church in Rome.
Through next Sunday, Christians of various confessions and traditions throughout the world are meeting to pray for full unity.
Cardinal Kasper will close the Week of Prayer with a liturgy next Sunday in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls next Sunday.