LWF Delegation’s Audience With the Pope Brings Strong Affirmation of Ecumenical Commitment

During an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican on October 21, leaders from The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) expressed gratitude for the partnership with the Roman Catholic Church that makes it possible for churches to strengthen their commitment to the poor and vulnerable. In her role as LWF Vice-President (North America), ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson was a member of the LWF delegation.

“As people who have been encountered by Christ, we are called to accompany the poor and vulnerable. The message of reconciliation entrusted to us turns into the hope for our fragmented world and its yearning for peace with justice,” LWF President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan said in LWF’s greeting to the Pope. Younan expressed gratitude for the ecumenical milestones of the partnership with Catholics, including the recent publication of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission’s report “From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration in 2017.”

For his part, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude for the “many advances made in relations between Lutherans and Catholics in these past decades, not only through theological dialogue, but also through fraternal cooperation in a variety of pastoral settings, and above all, in the commitment to progress in spiritual ecumenism.”

In connection with the report Pope Francis observed “I believe that it is truly important for everyone to confront in dialogue the historical reality of the Reformation, its consequences and the responses it elicited. Catholics and Lutherans can ask forgiveness for the harm they have caused one another and for their offenses committed in the sight of God. Together we can rejoice in the longing for unity which the Lord has awakened in our hearts, and which makes us look with hope to the future.”

During the audience, LWF General Secretary Rev. Martin Junge thanked the Pope for his clear and passionate reminder to the human family and to governments of the duty to protect migrants and refugees. Junge was referring to remarks occasioned by the pontiff’s recent visit to the island of Lampedusa, an arrival port for migrants from Northern Africa.

Junge presented Francis with a teapot from a Somali refugee woman at the world’s largest refugee camp – Dadaab. He explained that the hot tea was almost all that sustained this group of refugees as they fled to neighbouring Kenya. The General Secretary observed “As people who have been met by Christ, we are freed and sent to meet our suffering neighbour. Let this gift therefore be an invitation to do more together for the sake of the suffering.”

In thanking the delegation, Pope Francis expressed gratitude for the small yet significant token of human suffering, saying that it will serve “as a reminder of this dimension of ecumenism, the ecumenism of martyrdom." Persecution, he noted, “does not know denominational barriers. Religious divisions do not define people fleeing conflict or migrating in order to safeguard their own lives.” “They are ultimately defined by what they are: children of God.”

Following the meeting, National Bishop Susan C. Johnson said "It was an honour to be a part of the LWF delegation that had an audience with Pope Francis. The content of the greetings from both the LWF President and the Pope were a strong reminder of our ecumenical commitment to engage in both theological dialogue and shared witness and service." She went on to  "encourage members of the ELCIC to study the document From Conflict to Communion with their Roman Catholic neighbours as a way of enhancing our shared commitment to the gospel and preparing ourselves for an ecumenical commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017."

The LWF delegation included Vice-Presidents National Bishop Susan C. Johnson (North America), Rev. Dr. Gloria Rojas Vargas (Latin America and the Caribbean), and Ms. Eun-hae Kwon (Asia), and Bishop Dr Milos Klátik (Chairperson of the Council Committee for Theology and Ecumenical Relations). Other members were Rev. Dr. Kaisamari Hintikka, LWF Assistant General Secretary for Ecumenical Relations; the Commission’s co-chairperson Bishop emeritus Dr Eero Huovinen (Finland), and Prof. Theodor Dieter, director of the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France.

With contributions from Vatican Radio and The Lutheran World Federation.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is Canada’s largest Lutheran denomination with 145,376 baptized members in 594 congregations. It is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, the Canadian Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.

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