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Pope Encourages Lutheran-Catholic Efforts at Unity

Ecumenical Delegation From Finland Visits Vatican

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 19, 2006 ( Benedict XVI encouraged Catholics and Lutherans to overcome divisions, as they did in 1999 with the historic Joint Declaration on Justification.

The Pope’s exhortation was heard by an ecumenical delegation from Finland, which visited the Vatican today on the occasion of the feast of the country’s patron, St. Henrik.

The Finnish delegation’s visit was a standard event in Pope John Paul II’s agenda during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The visits now continue under Benedict XVI’s pontificate.

Lutheran Bishop Mikko Heikka of Espoo and Catholic Bishop Jozef Wróbel of Helsinki headed the delegation.

“These visits are an occasion for further productive work, as well as for a deepening of the spiritual ecumenism, which prompts divided Christians to appreciate how much already unites them,” the Holy Father said in his address in English to his guests.

Benedict XVI observed: “The present Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue Commission in Finland and Sweden builds upon the substantial accomplishment of the Joint Declaration on Justification,” signed in Germany in 1999.

The declaration allows for overcoming one of the theological reasons that gave origin to the Protestant Reformation triggered by Martin Luther.

A grace

“The commission is continuing to study the achievements and practical implications of the Joint Declaration,” the Holy Father noted. “In this way it seeks to address the still existing differences between Lutherans and Catholics concerning certain questions of faith and ecclesial life while maintaining fervent witness to the truth of the Gospel.”

The Bishop of Rome added: “We are especially aware that unity is a grace, and that we need continually to ask the Lord for this gift.

“Let us thank God for all that has been achieved so far in Catholic-Lutheran relations and let us pray that he may fill us with his Spirit, who guides us towards the fullness of truth and love.”

Vatican Radio reported that on Friday the ecumenical delegation will take part, with Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in a solemn Liturgy of the Word in the Roman church of St. Bridget of Sweden.

According to an old tradition, this church welcomes Lutheran delegations visiting the Eternal City, as Lutherans feel a special affection for this Nordic mystic.

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