Pope’s Visit to Lutheran Community in Rome

When I see the Lord as a servant that serves, I like to ask Him to be the servant of unity, that He help us to walk together”

 

On Sunday, Pope Francis went to visit the Lutheran Evangelical Community of Rome at the Christuskirche on via Sicilia.

The meeting began with the greeting of Pastor Jens-Martin Kruse, then the Pope spoke with three members of the Community – a child and two women – answering their questions.

The evening prayer was followed by the reading of a Gospel passage according to Matthew (25:31-46), at the end of which the Pope delivered a homily.

Here is a translation of the transcription of Pope Francis’ conversation with members of the Lutheran Evangelical Community and the transcription of the homily that the Holy Father ad-libbed, as well as the text prepared for the visit.

The Pope’s Conversation with Members of the Community

  1. My name is Julius. I am nine years old and I like very much to take part in the children’s worship in this community. I am fascinated by the stories of Jesus and I also like the way He behaves. My question is: What do you like most about being Pope?

The answer is simple. What I like … If I ask you what do you like most about the food, you will say the cake, the sweet! O, no? But it’s necessary to eat everything. Sincerely, what I like is to be a parish priest, to be a Pastor. I don’t like doing office work. Such work doesn’t please me. I don’t like to do protocol interviews – this one isn’t protocol, it’s a family ! – but I must do so. So, what do I like most? To be a parish priest. There was a time, while I was Rector of the Faculty of Theology, I was parish priest of the parish that is next door to the Faculty, and you know, I liked to teach the catechism to children and on Sundays to say the Mass with children. There were more or less 250 children; it was difficult for all of them to be silent, it was difficult. Conversation with children – this pleases me. You are a boy and, perhaps, you’ll understand me. You are concrete, you do not ask unfounded, theoretical questions: “Why is this so? Why? …?”

See, I like to be a parish priest, doing what the parish priest does. What I like most is to be with children, to talk with them, and one learns so much, one learns so much. I like to be Pope with the style of a parish priest — service. I like it in the sense that it makes me feel good, when I visit the sick, when I speak with people who are somewhat in despair, sad. I like very much to visit prisons, but not to be taken to jail!

Because to speak with prisoners – perhaps you will understand what I’ll say to you – every time I enter a prison, I ask myself: “Why them and not me?” And there I feel the salvation of Jesus Christ, the love of Jesus Christ, for me. Because He it is who has saved me. I’m not less of a sinner than they are, but the Lord took me by the hand. I also felt this. And I am happy when I go to a prison.

To do what a Pope does, to do what a Bishop does, to do what a parish priest does, to do what a Pastor does. If a Pope does not do what a Bishop does, if a Pope does not do what a parish priest does, if he does not do what a Pastor does, he might be a very intelligent person, very important, have much influence in society, but I think – I think! — he’s not happy in his heart. I don’t know if I’ve answered what you wanted to know.

  1. My name is Anke de Bernardinis and, like many persons of our community, I’m married to an Italian, who is a Roman Catholic Christian. We have been living happily together for many years, sharing joys and sorrows. And, therefore, it’s quite painful to be divided in the faith and to be unable to take part together in the Lord’s Supper. What can we do on this point to finally attain communion?

Thank you, ma’am. It’s not easy for me to respond to your question about sharing in the Lord’s Supper. especially in the presence of a theologian such as Cardinal Kasper. I’m afraid!

I think the Lord has said it to us, when He gave this mandate: “Do this in memory of me.” And when we share the Lord’s Supper, we recall and imitate, we do the same thing that the Lord Jesus did. And there will be the Lord’s Supper, there will be the last banquet in the New Jerusalem, but it will be the last.

Instead on the journey, I wonder – and I don’t know how to answer, but I make your question my own,  — I wonder: is the sharing of the Lord’s Supper the end of a journey or the viaticum to journey together? I leave the question to the theologians, to those who understand.

It’s true that in a certain sense to share is to say that there are no differences between us, that we have the same doctrine – I stress the word, a word that is difficult to understand – but I wonder: don’t we have the same Baptism? And if we have the same Baptism, we must walk together.

You are also a testimony of a profound journey, because it’s a conjugal journey, in fact, a family journey, of human love and shared faith. We have the same Baptism. When you feel yourself a sinner – I also feel myself very much a sinner – when your husband feels himself a sinner, you go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness; your husband does the same and goes to the priest and asks for absolution. They are remedies to keep Baptism alive. When you pray together, that Baptism grows, it becomes strong; when you teach your children who Jesus is, why Jesus came, what Jesus did for us, do the same, be it in Lutheran language or in Catholic language, but it’s the same.

The question: and the Supper? There are questions to which only if one is sincere with oneself and with the few theological “lights” that I have, the same must be answered, you see to it. “This is my Body, this is my Blood,” said the Lord, “do this in memory of me,” and this is a viaticum that helps us to walk.

I had a great friendship with an Episcopalian Bishop, 48, married, with two children, and he had this anxiety: his wife was Catholic, his children were Catholics, he was a Bishop. On Sundays he accompanied his wife and his children to Mass and then he went to worship with his community. It was a step of participation in the Lord’s Supper. Then he went on, the Lord called him, a righteous man.

I answer your question only with a question: what can I do with my husband so that the Lord’s Supper accompanies me on my way? It’s a problem to which each one must respond. But a friend who was a Pastor said to me: “We believe that the Lord is present there. He is present. You believe that the Lord is present. And what is the difference?” Alas, they are explanations, interpretations …” Life is greater than explanations and interpretations. Always make reference to Baptism: “One faith, one Baptism, one Lord,” so Paul says to us, and from there take the consequences. I would never dare to give permission to do this because it’s not my competence. One Baptism, one Lord, one faith. Speak with the Lord and go ahead. I don’t dare say more.

  1. My name is Gertrud Wiedmer. I come from Switzerland. I’m the Treasurer of our community and I am involvedd in our project for refugees. It is called “Teddy Bear” and, with it, we support about 80 young mothers and their small children, who have come to Rome from North Africa. We see the misery. We try to be of help, but we also know that the possibilities have a limit. What can we do as Christians so that persons do not become resigned or erect new walls?

Being Swiss, being Treasurer, you have all the power in hand! A service … The misery. You said this word: misery. There comes to my mind to say two words. The first, the walls. From the first moment man – if we read the Scriptures – has been a great builder of walls, which separate from God. We see this in the first pages of Genesis. And there is a fantasy behind human walls, the fantasy of becoming like God. For me the myth, to say it in technical words, or the account of the Tower of Babel, is in fact the attitude of man and woman who construct walls, because to build a wall is to say: “We are the powerful, you out.” But in this “we are the powerful, you out” is the arrogance of power and the attitude proposed in the first pages of Genesis: “you will be like God” (cf. Genesis 3:5).

To make a wall is to exclude, it’s in this line. The temptation: “If you eat this fruit, you will be like God.” In connection with the Tower of Babel – perhaps you have heard me say this, because I repeat it, but it’s so “plastic” – there is a midrash written more or less in 1200, in the time of Thomas Aquinas, of Maimonides, more or less at that time, by a Jewish Rabbi who explained to his own in the Synagogue the construction of the Tower of Babel, where man’s power made itself felt. It was very difficult, very costly, because the clay had to be molded and water was not always close; find straw, mix it, then cut and have them dry, then have them dried, then bake them in the furnace, and in the end they came out  and the workers took them … If one of these bricks fell it was a disaster because they were a treasure, they were costly, they cost. Instead, if a laborer fell nothing happened!

A wall always excludes,  power is preferred – in this case the power of money because the brick cost, or the tower that they wanted to have reach the sky – and thus humanity always excludes. A wall is a monument to exclusion. In us also, in our interior life, how often riches, vanity, pride become a wall before the Lord, distance us from the Lord. To build walls. For me, the word that comes to me now, somewhat spontaneous, is that of Jesus: what to do not to make walls? Service. Take the part of the last. Wash feet. He gave you the example. Service to others; service to brothers, to sisters, service to the neediest. With this endeavor of supporting the 80 young mothers, you don’t make walls, you do service.

Human egoism wants to defend itself, to defend its power,  its egoism, but in that defense it moves away from the source of richness. In the end, walls are like suicide; they close you. It’s an awful thing to have a closed heart. And today we see it, the drama.

Today my brother Pastor has called Paris: closed hearts. The name of God is also used to close hearts. You were asking me: “We try to help the misery, but we also know that the possibilities have a limit. What can we do as Christians  so that people won’t be resigned or not erect new walls?” Speak clearly, pray – because prayer is strong – and serve. And serve.

One day Mother Teresa of Calcutta was asked a question: “But what is all this effort that you do only to have these people die with dignity who are three, four days from death?” It’s a drop of water in the sea but, after this, the sea is not the same. And, always with service, walls fall by themselves; but our egoism, our desire for power always tries to build them. I don’t know, this is what comes to me to say. Thank you.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]  

The Holy Father’s Homily

During his life, Jesus made many choices. The one we heard today will be his last choice. Jesus made so many choices: the first disciples, the sick that he healed, the crowd that followed Him … it followed him to listen, because He spoke as one who has authority, not like the Doctors of the Law who showed off; but we can read who these people were two chapters earlier, in Matthew 23.

They saw authenticity in Him, and those people followed Him. Jesus made choices and also corrections, with love. When the disciples made a mistake in the methods: Shall we call fire come down from heaven? …” “But you do not know what your spirit is.” Or when the mother of James and John went to ask the Lord: “Lord, I want to ask you a favor, that in the moment of your Kingdom my two sons be one at your right hand and one on your left …” And He corrected these things: He always guided, accompanied.

But also after the Resurrection, it was so tender to see how Jesus chose the moments, chose the persons, did not frighten. We think of the road to Emmaus, how He accompanies them [the two disciples]. They had to go to Jerusalem but they fled Jerusalem, out of fear, and He goes with them, He accompanies them. And then He makes himself seen; He recovers them. It is a choice of Jesus. And then the great choice that has always moved me, when He prepared the son’s nuptials and says: “But go to the crossroads and bring the blind, the deaf, the lame …” The good and the bad! Jesus always chooses. And then the choice of the lost sheep. He does not make a financial calculation: “But I have 99, I lose one …” No. But the last choice will be the definitive one.

And what are the questions that the Lord will ask us that day: “Did you go to Mass? Did you have a good catechesis?” No, the questions are about the poor, because poverty is at the center of the Gospel. He, being rich, made himself poor to enrich us with His poverty. He does not hold it a privilege to be like God but He annihilated himself, He humbled himself to the end, to death on the Cross (cf. Philippians 2:6-8)

It’s the choice of service. Is Jesus God? It’s true. Is He the Lord? It’s true. But He is the servant, and He makes this choice. You, have you used your life for yourself or to serve? to defend yourself from others with walls or to receive them with love? And this will be Jesus’ last choice. This page of the Gospel tells us so much about the Lord. And I can ask myself the question: but we, Lutherans and Catholics, on what side shall we be, on the right or the left? However, there have been bad times between us … Think of the persecutions … between us! – with the same Baptism!. Think of the many burnt alive. We must ask for forgiveness for this, for the scandal of division, because all, Lutherans and Catholics, are in this choice, not in other choices, but in this choice, the choice of service as He indicated to us being servant, the servant of the Lord.

I like, to end, when I see the Lord as a servant that serves, I like to ask Him to be the servant of unity, that He help us to walk together. Today we prayed together — you pray together, to work together for the poor, for the needy, to love one another together, with the true love of brothers. “But, Father, we are different, because our dogmatic books say one thing and yours say another.” However, one of your great exponents once said that it is the hour of reconciled diversity. Let us ask for this grace today, the grace of this reconciled diversity in the Lord, that is, in the Servant of Yahweh, of that God who came among us to serve and not to be served.

I thank you so much for this fraternal hospitality. Thank you.

[Original text: Italian]

[Translation by ZENIT]  

Text Prepared by the Holy Father

Dear Sisters and Brothers in the Lord,

Today’s meeting enables us to share a moment of fraternal prayer, and it also gives us the opportunity to reflect on our relations and on the ecumenical situation in general. First of all, we can thank the Lord because we have taken numerous steps towards unity, even if we are aware that the path to travel is still long.

Today the ecumenical movement has become a fundamental element of the life of our communities. For many persons, of different generations, the progress in the ecumenical field has become an object for which it is worthwhile to be committed in a stable way. Many men and women are willing to cooperate to surmount together the divisions still present between us Christians. At the local, regional and global level, a very live ecumenism is being felt. Also outside of our communities, the men and women of today are searching for a faith lived in an authentic way. And this search is also the principal reason for the ecumenical progress.

An ecumenism that wishes to have a future cannot but begin from the concerns and problems of the man of today. In the first place, it is about recognizing ourselves mutually as communities of believers that seek the Kingdom of God and His justice, knowing well that in this way we will receive all the rest (cf. Matthew 6:33). In this common journey we can learn from one another, supporting one another, encouraging each other and experiencing the gifts of a lived faith as richness and source of strength.

The Gospel we heard proposed to us the parable of the Last Judgment (cf. Matthew 25:31-46). It reminds us that we will be, rather, we are judged on the basis of our concrete closeness to a brother in his real situation, in his condition.  This presupposes a capacity for attention, compassion, sharing and service.

It is a way of being Church, as it is presented by Vatican Council II in the initial words of the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes. “The joys and the hopes, the sadness and the anxieties of the men of today, of the poor especially and of all those that suffer, are also the joys and hopes, the sadness and the anxieties of the disciples of Christ (n. 1). This is also the vocation and the ecumenical mission of Catholics and Lutherans.  And of all Christians: a common commitment in the service of charity, especially to the littlest and the poorest, renders credible our belonging to Christ. Otherwise it remains compromised by divisions and conflicts between the Churches and between believers. We can assume together the joy and the effort of the diakonia of charity in greater ecumenical cooperation. We can do so with the most straitened children and elderly, with refugees, with all those in need of care and support.

Another very important aspect for our journey of unity is to rediscover all the richness of common prayer, of liturgical texts and of the various forms of worship — the ecumenical celebrations of the Word, as for instance the ecumenical Liturgy of the Hours. Belonging specifically to the ambit of spiritual ecumenism is the common reading of the Bible.  And I recall in particular the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the Day of Ecumenical Prayer for the Care of Creation, on September 1 of every year, and other moments, which your community already organizes with commitment together with different ecumenical partners.

Moreover, illumined by our common Baptism, we Lutherans and Catholics are called to continue with the theological dialogue. After 50 years of ecumenical dialogue, the efforts made show that all that unites us is already much more than what still divides us. We are continually seeking a more profound knowledge of the divine truth. The experience of the last decades shows us that we must persevere in our efforts, to discover together new aspects of divine revelation and to give witness to it together, in keeping with the Lord’s will. With such confidence in the dialogue we will be able to reflect further, in particular, on the subjects of the Church, the Eucharist and the Ministry.

It also seems essential to me that the Catholic Church also carry forward courageously the careful and honest re-evaluation of the intentions of the Reformation and of the figure of Martin Luther, in the sense of an “Ecclesia semper reformanda,” in the great track traced by the Councils, as well as by men and women animated by the light and strength of the Holy Spirit. The recent document of the Lutheran-Catholic Commission for Unity, “From Conflict to Communion – Joint Lutheran-Catholic Commemoration of the Reformation in the Year 2017,” has addressed and carried out this reflection in promising way.

Therefore, the ecumenism between Catholics and Lutherans, which is a fundamental condition for a convincing witness of our faith in Christ in face of the men of our time, must be founded on these pillars: common prayer, sharing with the poor and the theological dialogue.

The Jubilee of Mercy will begin shortly. I invite you to accompany us in this journey, in ecumenical communion, at Rome and in all the Churches and local communities, so that it can be for all a moment of rediscovery of the mercy of God and of the beauty of love for brethren.

May the Lord bless you and keep you in His peace.

[Original text: Italian]

[Translation by ZENIT]

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