Pope Highlights Ecumenical Advances With Lutherans

Joint Document on «Apostolicity of the Church» in the Works

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 7, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI highlighted the progress made in the ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans, and noted the forthcoming joint document on «The Apostolicity of the Church.»

The Pope made this assessment today in his address to the Reverend Mark Hanson, bishop president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), who arrived in the Vatican accompanied by a delegation.

The private audience, which was also attended by the LWF general secretary, the Reverend Dr. Ishmael Noko, was the first meeting of an LWF delegation with Benedict XVI.

«The International Lutheran Roman-Catholic Commission on Unity will soon complete its fourth phase of dialogue and publish its findings in a document on the Apostolicity of the Church,» announced the Pope during the meeting.

Publication is expected in 2006, according to an LWF source.

The Holy Father said: «We are all aware that our fraternal dialogue is challenged not just by the need to verify the reception of these shared formulations of doctrine in our respective communions, but even more so today by a general climate of uncertainty regarding Christian truths and ethical principles which formerly went unquestioned.»

«This common patrimony in certain cases is being undermined by changed hermeneutical approaches,» the Pope said.

Dialogue since ’67

Members of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity gathered Sept. 23-29 in Bari, Italy, to discuss «The Apostolicity of the Church» in the last meeting of the current phase of the international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue.

The dialogue, begun in 1967, is conducted under the auspices of the LWF and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The phase being concluded began in 1995.

The pontifical council was the host this year for the commission. The commission deliberated on the four main parts of its report: Apostolicity of the Church — New Testament Foundations; The Apostolic Gospel and the Church as Apostolic; Apostolic Succession and Ordained Ministry; and, Church Teaching that Remains in the Truth.

In his audience, the Pontiff mentioned one of the most important results of the dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans, the 1999 Declaration on Justification, which «constitutes a significant milestone on our common path to full visible unity.»

«This is an important achievement,» Benedict XVI said. «In order to build on this accomplishment, we must accept that differences remain regarding the central question of justification; these need to be addressed, together with the ways in which God’s grace is communicated in and through the Church.»

The Pope acknowledged: «Our ecumenical path together will continue to encounter difficulties and will demand patient dialogue. I draw much encouragement, however, from the solid tradition of serious study and exchange which has characterized Catholic-Lutheran relations over the years.»

«We are comforted by the fact that our search for unity is guided by the presence of the Risen Lord and by the inexhaustible power of his Spirit ‘which blows where it wills,'» he added.

Recalling 1517

The Holy Father then referred to Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses in Wittenburg, which helped trigger the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.

«As we prepare to mark the 500th anniversary of the events of 1517, we should intensify our efforts to understand more deeply what we have in common and what divides us, as well as the gifts we have to offer each other,» Benedict XVI said.

The audience with the Pope will be the highpoint in connection with the Nov. 7-8 annual joint staff meeting between the LWF and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

«Relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the LWF have come to be open and trusting,» LWF General Secretary Noko said after the visit.

«Pope Benedict XVI has emphasized that service to the unity of the whole Christian Church will be a high priority during his pontificate,» Noko added. «The LWF is looking forward to making substantial contributions to this ecumenical vision.»

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