An “ecumenical pilgrimage” brought Lutherans from the place of the 1517 schism to the See of Peter, in the heart of the Catholic Church, from which they have been separated for half a millennium.
A few months from the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and three weeks from his historic trip to Sweden, Pope Francis received Thursday in the Vatican the representatives of the German Lutheran Church, after having done the same last week with the English Anglicans, having also an ecumenical celebration of Vespers with their Primate, Justin Welby, at Saint Gregory al Celio.
The meeting was something for which to “thank God,” because now “we are walking on the path that goes from conflict to communion,” stressed the Holy Father during the audience granted to the Lutheran pilgrims in Paul VI Hall.
“We have already gone together over an important stretch of the road,” he continued. Along the way we have experienced contrasting sentiments: grief for the division that still exists between us, but also joy for the fraternity already rediscovered.
Francis expressed his satisfaction with the “very numerous and enthusiastic presence” of Lutherans in the Vatican, received as “an evident sign of this fraternity,” that “fills us with hope that mutual understanding might continue to grow.”
As Saint Paul recalls, “in virtue of our Baptism, we all form the one Body of Christ. In fact, the different members form only one body,” hence “we belong to one another and when one suffers, all suffer, when one rejoices, all rejoice (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-26),” recalled the Pontiff.
“We can continue our ecumenical path with confidence, because we know that, beyond the many questions that still separate us, we are already united,” added the Pope, re-launching the ecumenical “motto” put forward for the first time by Saint John XXIII: “What unites us is much more than what divides us!”
Then the Holy Father recalled the purpose of his planned trip to Lund, in Sweden, on October 31-November 1: to “remember, after five centuries of the beginning of Luther’s Reformation” and to thank the Lord “for fifty years of official dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics.”
In reality, he explained, an “essential part of this commemoration will be the turning of our gaze to the future in view of a common Christian witness to today’s world, which has so much thirst for God and His mercy.”
From all Christians, without distinctions, the world expects a “testimony” that renders “visible the mercy that God has in our relations through the service to the poorest, the sick, to those who have abandoned their land to seek a better future for themselves and for their dear ones.”
It is, in fact, “ in putting oneself at the service of the neediest” that “we experience our being already united”: it is, therefore, “God’s mercy that unites us,” affirmed the Pope.
The Bishop of Rome requested young people in particular to be “witnesses of mercy.”
“While theologians carry forward the dialogue in the doctrinal field, you must continue to seek with insistence occasions to meet one another, to get to know one another better, to pray together and to offer your help to one another and to all those who are in need,” he said to them.
By way of conclusion to his address, the Pontiff exhorted the Lutherans to be “free of all prejudice” and to trust “only the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” in order to become “protagonists of a new stage of this journey that, with God’s help, will lead to full communion.”
Responding to questions from the pilgrims, Pope Francis confirmed one of his strong convictions: proselytism is the “worst poison against ecumenism.”
He then stressed that “Ecclesia semper reformanda,” the Church is always subject to reforms, although, in the course of history, many of these were not very “happy,” and often “mistaken” or “exaggerated.” In any case, he added, “the most important reformers in the Church were the Saints,” many of whom, maybe, were not “theologians” but “humble people,” “with their soul bathed by the Gospel.”
To the question of one who asked him what he appreciated most of the Lutheran church, he answered: “I like Lutherans who truly follow the faith of Jesus Christ,” while “I don’t like lukewarm Catholics and lukewarm Lutherans.”
It is “hypocritical,” the Pope then said, “to defend Christianity in the West” and “throw out a refugee, a famished person, one who is in need of help.”
While hypocrisy is “the sin that Jesus condemns the most,” a true Christian always imitates the Good Samaritan, and gets his pointers from the Beatitudes.
The Holy Father posed the last provoking question to himself: “who is better between Evangelicals and Catholics?” And the answer – in German – was: “Besser sind alle zusammen. Vielen Dank!” or <they are> “better if they are all together. Thank you very much!”