This morning, Pope Francis received in audience a Delegation of the German Lutheran Evangelical Church.
Here is a translation of the Pope’s address to those present.
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Sisters and Brothers,
I greet you cordially and thank Bishop Ulrich for his words, which clearly witness his ecumenical commitment. I also greet the other representatives of the Lutheran Evangelical Church of Germany and of the Ecumenical Commission of the German Episcopal Conference, on ecumenical visit to Rome.
The official dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics can today look back on its almost 50 years of intense work. The notable progress that, with God’s help, has been accomplished constitutes a solid foundation of sincere friendship lived in faith and in spirituality. Despite the theological differences that remain on various questions of faith, collaboration and fraternal coexistence characterize the life of our Churches and Ecclesial Communities, committed today in a common ecumenical path. The ecumenical responsibility of the Catholic Church, as Saint John Paul II stressed in the Encyclical Ut Unum Sint, is, in fact, an essential task of the Church herself, called and orientated by the unity of the One and Triune God. Joint texts, such as the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” — to which you made reference – between the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, signed officially 15 years ago at Augsburg, are important milestones; they enable us to continue with confidence on the path undertaken.
The common objective of the full and visible unity of Christians sometimes seems to be distant due to the different interpretations, within the dialogue, on what the Church is and her unity. Despite these questions that are still open, we must not be resigned but rather concentrate on the next step possible. Let us not forget that, together, we are following a path of friendship, of mutual esteem and of theological research, a path that makes us look to the future full of hope. This is why last November 21 the bells of all the Cathedrals in Germany rang, to invite Christian brothers everywhere to a common liturgical service for the 50thanniversary of the promulgation of the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio of Vatican Council II.
I rejoice that the Commission of Bilateral Dialogue between the German Episcopal Conference and the Lutheran Evangelical Church of Germany is about to finish its work on the theme “God and Man’s Dignity.” Of great timeliness are the questions regarding the dignity of the human person at the beginning and end of his life, as well as those regarding the family, matrimony and sexuality, which cannot be silenced or neglected seeking not to jeopardize the ecumenical consensus reached up to now. It would be a sin if, on such important questions connected to human existence, new confessional differences were verified.
Today the ecumenical dialogue can no longer be separated from the reality and the life of our Churches. In 2017 Christians and Lutherans will commemorate jointly the fifth centenary of the Reformation. On this occasion, for the first time Lutherans and Catholics will have the possibility to share the same ecumenical commemoration throughout the world, not in the form of a triumphalist celebration, but as the profession of our common faith in the One and Triune God. Therefore, common prayer will be at the center of this event as well as the profound request for forgiveness addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ for the reciprocal faults, together with the joy of following a shared ecumenical path. Making reference to this in a significant way is the document produced by the Lutheran-Catholic Commission for Unity, published last year and titled “From Conflict to Communion. The Joint Lutheran-Catholic Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017.” May this commemoration of the Reformation encourage all of us to take, with God’s help and the support of His Spirit, further steps towards unity and not to limit ourselves simply to what we have already achieved.
In the hope that your fraternal visit contributes to reinforce the good collaboration that exists between Lutherans and Catholics in Germany and in the world, I invoke from my heart the Lord’s blessing upon you and upon your communities.[Original text: German] [Translation by ZENIT]