At 10 o’clock this morning, Pope Francis received in audience an Ecumenical delegation of the Evangelical Church of Germany. Here is a translation of the Pope’s address to those taking part in the meeting.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
I am pleased to welcome you and I greet you warmly. I thank the regional Bishop Bedford-Strohm for his kind words – ein Mann mit Feuer im Herzen – and I am happy for Cardinal Marx’s presence: that the President of the German Episcopal Conference accompanies the delegation of the Evangelical Church in Germany is fruit of a long-standing collaboration and an expression of a matured ecumenical relation over the years. I hope you will go ahead on this blessed path of fraternal communion, proceeding with courage and determination towards an ever fuller unity. We have the same Baptism: we must walk together, tirelessly!
It is significant that, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Evangelical and Catholic Christians take up the occasion, of the common commemoration of historical events of the past, to put Christ again at the center of their relations. In fact, “the question of God,” on “how there can be a merciful God” was the “profound passion, the mainspring of Luther’s life and his entire journey” (cf. Benedict XVI, Meeting with the Representatives of the Evangelical Church in Germany, September 23, 2011). What animated and made the Reformers anxious was, at bottom, to point out the way to Christ. It is what must be at heart for us also today, after having undertaken again, thanks be to God, a common path. This year of commemoration offers us the opportunity to take a further step forward, looking at the past without rancor, but according to Christ and in communion with Him, to propose again to the men and women of our time the radical novelty of Jesus, God’s limitless mercy: precisely what the Reformers at their time wished to stimulate. The fact that their call to renewal sparked developments that led to divisions among Christians was certainly tragic. Believers no longer felt themselves brothers and sisters in the faith, but adversaries and competitors: for too long they have fueled hostility and were avid in fights, fomented by political and power interests, sometimes without having the least scruples in using violence against one another, brothers against brothers. Today, instead, we thank God because finally, “we have put down all that is a burden,” and “we run”, fraternally, “with perseverance on the course that is before us, keeping our gaze fixed on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
I am grateful to you because, with this gaze you have the intention of approaching together, with humility and frankness, a past that grieves us, and of sharing soon an important gesture of penance and reconciliation: an ecumenical function entitled “To Heal the Memory — To Witness Jesus Christ.” Catholics and Evangelicals in Germany, can thus respond in prayer to the strong call that you perceive together in the country of origin of the Reformation: to purify the memory in God to be renewed interiorly and sent by the Spirit to take Jesus to the men of today. With this sign and with other ecumenical initiatives planned this year – such as the joint pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the joint Biblical congress to present together the new translations of the Bible and the Ecumenical Day dedicated to the social responsibility of Christians – you have in mind to give a concrete configuration to the “Feast of Christ” that, on the occasion of the commemoration of the Reformation, you intend to celebrate together. May the rediscovery of the common source of faith, the healing of the memory in prayer and in charity, and concrete collaboration in spreading the Gospel and serving brothers be impulses to proceed still more speedily on the way.
It is the reality of the one Baptism that makes us brothers and sisters and in the common listening to the Spirit, we are able to appreciate, in a now reconciled diversity, the spiritual and theological gifts that we received from the Reformation. Last October 31 at Lund, I thanked the Lord for this and asked forgiveness for the past; for the future, I wish to confirm our call to witness the Gospel together and to continue on the path to full unity. Doing so together, the desire is also born to advance of new ways. Increasingly we learn to ask ourselves: can we share this initiative with our brothers and sisters in Christ? Can we undertake together another stretch of the way?
The differences in questions of faith and morality that still exist, remain challenges on the path towards visible unity, for which our faithful long. Spouses that belong to different confessions feel the pain especially. We must commit ourselves wisely, with insistent prayer and all our strength, to overcome the still existing obstacles, intensifying the theological dialogue and reinforcing collaboration between us, especially in the service of those that suffer greatly and in the protection of the threatened creation. Jesus’ urgent call to unity (cf. John 17:21) comes to us, as well as the entire human family, in a period in which grave lacerations and new forms of exclusion and marginalization are being experienced. Because of this too, our responsibility is great. Great!
In the hope that this meeting will ultimately enhance communion between us, I ask the Holy Spirit, architect and renewer of unity, to fortify us on our common way with the consolation that comes from God (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:4) and to indicate to us His prophetic and audacious ways. I invoke from my heart upon all of you and your communities God’s blessing and I ask you, please, to remember me in prayer. I thank you so much and would like to invite you now to pray the Our Father together.[Original text: Italian]