Lutherans & Catholics: Celebration



(Bishop Victor Phalana)

On October 31 2016, Lutherans and Catholics agreed on the need for unity that can be built through 5 common commitments. Working together for the suffering and for the protection of Creation.

The fact is that the success of the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reform went beyond every expectation. “Christ wants us to be one so that the world may believe,” Lutherans and Catholics proclaimed, convinced that “their way of relating with one another does have an effect on their witness to the Gospel.”

On that same day, a Joint Declaration was read in the Cathedral of Lund, in the presence of Pope Francis and the highest representation of the World Lutheran Federation. The Declaration looks beyond the JDDJ, it looks to the future and to daily life: moving beyond ourselves, our communities, our churches, to take action together “in service, in defence of human dignity and human rights, especially of the poor, working for justice and rejecting all forms of violence.” They agreed to work together “in welcoming the stranger and helping all those who have had to flee from war and persecution, to defend the rights of refugees and those seeking asylum.” They agreed to work together for the protection of Creation “that suffers from exploitation and the effects of insatiable greed.” The Declaration became global in its final appeal to Catholics and Lutherans of the whole world that “in every parish and Lutheran and Catholic community” they might be “courageous and creative,” completely forgetting conflicts of the past so that “the unity among us might guide our collaboration and deepen our solidarity.”

But beyond the history of individual nations, today we are witnessing the “Unity Reform” that is overwhelmingly desired by both the Catholic and Lutheran Church. This reform is also destined to become part of popular culture. It is founded on 5 commitments:

1) to begin from the perspective of our unity, not from the perspective of divisions;

2) to allow ourselves to be continually transformed by the encounter with the other;

3) to take concrete steps in seeking full visible unity;

4) to rediscover the power of the Gospel;

5) to offer a common witness to God’s mercy.

Such commitments enable us to bear witness to the beauty of being Christians in diversity, because of the fact that what unites us is much more than what divides us.

‘The Second Vatican Council in its decree on ecumenism, says “Christ summons the Church to continual reformation as she sojourns here on earth. The Church is always in need of this, in so far as she is an institution of men here on earth.”[1] If we observe the history of the Church, and in particular the years when Christians were still united, we see that Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, has always thought, willed, directed his Bride towards a continuous reformation, bringing about in it a constant renewal. For this reason he sends on earth, from time to time, gifts, charisms of the Holy Spirit who has given rise to new spiritual currents and new religious families. And with these he has presented again the vision, in men and women, of a life that is evangelical, totally dedicated and radical.’

The historically important Lund event was preceded by the document, “From conflict to communion,” published in 2013 by the Lutheran–Catholic Commission for Unity, which works on behalf of the World Lutheran Federation and the Pontifical Council for the promotion of unity among Christians. The text indicates five “ecumenical imperatives” to definitively overcome the causes of disagreements and live a season of common commitment in mutual trust. The First imperative: Catholics and Lutherans strongly united by baptism should start always from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division, to strengthen what they have in common, instead of underlining and experiencing differences.

The Catholic and Lutheran Churches, in the course of history have defined themselves through disagreements. Now there is need of the contrary, of the experience of encouragement and reciprocal criticism. Then comes the second imperative: continually letting oneself be transformed by the encounter with the other and the reciprocal witness of faith, through dialogue that opens to various ways and degrees of communion. The Third: renewed commitment of oneself to seek visible unity and elaborate and develop together the concrete steps this implies, and constantly strive towards this objective. The Fourth: rediscover together the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for our time. And lastly the fifth: the missionary task of ecumenism becomes greater inasmuch as our societies become pluralistic from the religious standpoint, and this is why together we have to bear witness to God’s mercy in the Gospel announcement and service to the world. The report ends by saying: “The beginnings of the Reformation will be remembered in an adequate and just manner when Lutherans and Catholics will listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ together, and will once again let themselves be called to form a community together with the Lord”.

It would have been unimaginable to our parents’ generation to think that the Pope would be joining in the 500th commemoration of Martin Luther. The pope’s action gives us encouragement to continue on the path of Ecumenical Dialogue with confidence. It the right thing to do.

At the event in Lund, the Pope appealed to Catholics and Lutherans to “mend” history and look with honesty at the past, “recognising error and seeking forgiveness”.

“The fact that Pope Francis travelled to Lund, and that the ceremony was co-hosted by both the Catholic Church and the World Federation was very significant. Pope Francis underlined how Martin Luther can be understood within the perspective of the Church always reforming itself. The Pope has also spoken of the need for us all to engage in drawing ‘closer’ to one another. He certainly was giving an example in that.”

“Pope Francis has underlined that it’s not enough to have theological dialogue. We need also to ‘do’ things together, particularly in the area of works of mercy. That doing together will probably grow stronger now”. The pope encouraged Catholics saying: “We can learn a lot about Reform and about the appreciation of the Word of God from Lutherans.”

I am grateful that we, locally have taken the JDDJ seriously and have continued to share in a deeper way as Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, Presbyterians and our friends from the Reformed Tradition. In this way we will strive to bring the fruits of JDDJ to the laity so that they too can appreciate what was achieved and relate ecumenically with conviction.

1] Unitatis Redintegratio, 6.