Pope at Malmö ecumenical event: Christian unity a priority

(Vatican Radio) Saying Christian unity is a priority, Pope Francis spoke on Monday about the fruits of the ongoing dialogue between the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church and said this mutual dialogue has “confirmed our desire to advance towards full communion.” Addressing an ecumenical event in the Swedish city of Malmö, the Pope also spoke about practical cooperation between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation exemplied by the signing of a joint statement between Caritas Inernationalis and the Lutheran World Federation World Service (its charitable arm) to promote human dignity and social justice across the world. 

Please find below an English transcript of the Pope’s prepared remarks at the ecumenical event in Malmö:

I thank God for this joint commemoration of the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation.  We remember this anniversary with a renewed spirit and in the recognition that Christian unity is a priority, because we realize that much more unites us than separates us.  The journey we have undertaken to attain that unity is itself a great gift that God gives us.  With his help, today we have gathered here, Lutherans and Catholics, in a spirit of fellowship, to direct our gaze to the one Lord, Jesus Christ.

Our dialogue has helped us to grow in mutual understanding; it has fostered reciprocal trust and confirmed our desire to advance towards full communion.  One of the fruits of this dialogue has been cooperation between different organizations of the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church.  Thanks to this new atmosphere of understanding, Caritas Internationalis and the Lutheran World Federation World Service will today sign a joint agreed statement aimed at developing and strengthening a spirit of cooperation for the promotion of human dignity and social justice.  I warmly greet the members of both organizations; in a world torn by wars and conflicts, they have been, and continue to be, a luminous example of commitment and service to neighbour.  I encourage you to advance along the path of cooperation.

I have listened closely to those who gave the witness talks, how amid so many challenges they daily devote their lives to building a world increasingly responsive to God’s plan.  Pranita talked about creation.  Clearly, creation itself is a sign of God’s boundless love for us.  Consequently, the gifts of nature can themselves lead us to contemplate God.  I share your concern about the abuses harming our planet, our common home, and causing grave effects on the climate.  As you rightly mentioned, their greatest impact is on those who are most vulnerable and needy; they are forced to emigrate in order to escape the effects of climate change. All of us, and we Christians in particular, are responsible for protecting creation.  Our lifestyle and our actions must always be consistent with our faith.  We are called to cultivate harmony within ourselves and with others, but also with God and with his handiwork.  Pranita, I encourage you to persevere in your commitment on behalf of our common home.

Mgr Héctor Fabio told us of the joint efforts being made by Catholics and Lutherans in Colombia.  It is good to know that Christians are working together to initiate communitarian and social processes of common interest.  I ask you to pray in a special way for that great country, so that, through the cooperation of all, peace, so greatly desired and necessary for a worthy human co-existence, can finally be achieved.  May it be a prayer that also embraces all those countries where grave conflicts continue.

Marguerite made us aware of efforts to help children who are victims of atrocities and to work for peace.  This is both admirable and a summons to take seriously the countless situations of vulnerability experienced by so many persons who have no way to speak out.  What you consider a mission has been a seed that has borne abundant fruit and today, thanks to that seed, thousands of children can study, grow and enjoy good health.  I am grateful that even now, in exile, you continue to spread a message of peace.  You said that everybody who knows you thinks that what you are doing is crazy.  Of course, it is the craziness of love for God and our neighbour.  We need more of this craziness, illuminated by faith and confidence in God’s providence.  Keep working, and may that voice of hope that you heard at the beginning of your adventure continue to move your own heart and the hearts of many young people.

Rose, the youngest, gave us a truly moving testimony.  She was able to profit from the talent God gave her through sport.  Instead of wasting her energy on adverse situations, she found fufilment in a fruitful life.  While I was listening to your story, I thought of the lives of so many young people who need to hear stories like yours.  I would like everyone to know that they can discover how wonderful it is to be children of God and what privilege it is to be loved and cherished by him.  Rose, I thank you from the heart for your efforts and your commitment to encouraging other young women to go back to school, and for the fact that you pray daily for peace in the young state of South Sudan, which so greatly needs it.

After hearing these powerful witnesses, which make us think of our own lives and how we respond to situations of need all around us, I would like to thank all those governments that assist refugees, displaced persons and asylum-seekers.  For everything done to help these persons in need of protection is a great gesture of solidarity and a recognition of their dignity.  For us Christians, it is a priority to go out and meet the outcasts and the marginalized of our world, and to make felt the tender and merciful love of God, who rejects no one and accepts everyone.

Shortly we will hear the testimony of Bishop Antoine, who lives in Aleppo, a city brought to its knees by war, a place where even the most fundamental rights are treated with contempt and trampled underfoot.  Each day the news tells us about the unspeakable suffering caused by the Syrian conflict, which has now lasted more than five years.  In the midst of so much devastation, it is truly heroic that men and women have remained there in order to offer material and spiritual assistance to those in need.  It is admirable too, that you, dear brother, continue working amid such danger in order to tell us of the tragic situation of the Syrian people.  Every one of them is in our hearts and prayers.  Let us implore the grace of heartfelt conversion for those responsible for the fate of that region.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us not become discouraged in the face of adversity.  May the stories we have heard motivate us and give us new impetus to work ever more closely together.  When we return home, may we bring with us a commitment to make daily gestures of peace and reconciliation, to be valiant and faithful witnesses of Christian hope.

(from Vatican Radio)

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Lutheran – Catholic humanitarian cooperation alive and well in Africa

On the occasion of Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to Sweden, Caritas Internationalis and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) ’s World Service sign a Declaration of Intent, to strengthen collaboration and cooperation. 

Through the signing, the humanitarian and development arms of the two Churches recommit themselves to working together in responding to the world’s humanitarian needs. Pope Francis is in Sweden for the ecumenical commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

In Africa, cooperation between Lutherans and Catholics is alive and well. In Zambia, for example, the signing ceremony will be seen as the cementing of a cordial relationship that has existed for years. Cooperation in the humanitarian and development areas has actually been going on for a long time. 

Christian denominations, in Zambia, tend to cooperate directly or through an alliance and platform popularly referred to (in the country) as the “three Church Mother bodies.” 

The three Church mother bodies comprise the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB); the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) which represents Charismatic and Pentecostal Churches as well as the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ). CCZ is the umbrella body for Protestant churches that traditionally are also members of the World Council of Churches.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zambia is a member of the Lutheran World Federation. With regard to size and numbers, there are not that many Lutheran Churches in Zambia. Notwithstanding this fact, the Lutheran Church in Zambia is spiritually vibrant and pulls more than its weight regarding humanitarian and development activities. As a core member of the three Church mother bodies in Zambia, the Lutheran Church participates and collaborates actively in the health and education sectors of the country. The Church mother bodies are also very outspoken on advocacy issues to do with democracy and the republican constitution.

Lutherans and Catholics have worked and continue to collaborate on HIV/AIDS and in the Malaria eradication campaigns under the auspices of the Churches Health Association of Zambia (CHAZ). The two Churches have been active in the management and implementation of Global Fund grants. In Zambia, Global Fund grants are channelled to Faith Based Organisations (FBOs) through CHAZ. 

Although the care of refugees in Zambia is a major reponsibility of the government and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Refugees have always been an important area of concern for both the Catholic Church and Lutherans. The Catholic Church in Zambia’s over fifty-year tradition of advocacy and care for refugees is equal to that of Lutherans. The latter started to care for refugees in Zambia when  Mayukwayukwa refugee camp was established to care for Angolans fleeing war in their homeland. Lutherans were also the lead agency for UNHCR Zambia’s Maheba camp and in 1986 when Ukwimi camp for Mozambican Refugees in the eastern part of the country was commissioned. 

It is therefore not surprising that the Declaration of Intent that re-commits the strengthening of collaboration between Caritas Internationalis and Lutheran World Federation/ World Service is being signed as Pope Francis is on this apostolic visit.  

Underlining the importance of the signing event, Caritas Internationalis’ Secretary General Michel Roy said the ecumenical activities in Sweden are more than commemoration. They also signal the start of concrete action by Lutherans and Catholics in service of the world’s poor.

(Fr. Paul Samasumo, Vatican Radio)

Email: engafrica@vatiradio.va

(from Vatican Radio)

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Pope and President of LWF sign Joint statement

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis and Bishop Mounib Younan, President of the Lutheran World Federation signed a Joint Statement on Monday in which Catholics and Lutherans pledged to pursue their dialogue in order to remove the remaining obstacles that hinder them from reaching full unity. They also stressed their commitment to common witness on behalf of the poor, the needy and the victims of injustice. The Declaration was signed during the ecumenical prayer service held in Lund’s Lutheran Cathedral on the first day of the Pope’s visit to Sweden.

Please find below the full text of the Statement:


on the occasion of the Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation

Lund, 31 October 2016


«Abide in me as I abide in you.  Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me» (John 15:4).

With thankful hearts

With this Joint Statement, we express joyful gratitude to God for this moment of common prayer in the Cathedral of Lund, as we begin the year commemorating the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation.  Fifty years of sustained and fruitful ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans have helped us to overcome many differences, and have deepened our mutual understanding and trust.  At the same time, we have drawn closer to one another through joint service to our neighbours – often in circumstances of suffering and persecution.  Through dialogue and shared witness we are no longer strangers.  Rather, we have learned that what unites us is greater than what divides us.

Moving from conflict to communion

While we are profoundly thankful for the spiritual and theological gifts received through the Reformation, we also confess and lament before Christ that Lutherans and Catholics have wounded the visible unity of the Church.  Theological differences were accompanied by prejudice and conflicts, and religion was instrumentalized for political ends.  Our common faith in Jesus Christ and our baptism demand of us a daily conversion, by which we cast off the historical disagreements and conflicts that impede the ministry of reconciliation.  While the past cannot be changed, what is remembered and how it is remembered can be transformed.  We pray for the healing of our wounds and of the memories that cloud our view of one another.  We emphatically reject all hatred and violence, past and present, especially that expressed in the name of religion.  Today, we hear God’s command to set aside all conflict.  We recognize that we are freed by grace to move towards the communion to which God continually calls us.

 Our commitment to common witness

As we move beyond those episodes in history that burden us, we pledge to witness together to God’s merciful grace, made visible in the crucified and risen Christ.  Aware that the way we relate to one another shapes our witness to the Gospel, we commit ourselves to further growth in communion rooted in Baptism, as we seek to remove the remaining obstacles that hinder us from attaining full unity.  Christ desires that we be one, so that the world may believe (cf. John 17:21).

Many members of our communities yearn to receive the Eucharist at one table, as the concrete expression of full unity.  We experience the pain of those who share their whole lives, but cannot share God’s redeeming presence at the Eucharistic table.  We acknowledge our joint pastoral responsibility to respond to the spiritual thirst and hunger of our people to be one in Christ.  We long for this wound in the Body of Christ to be healed.  This is the goal of our ecumenical endeavours, which we wish to advance, also by renewing our commitment to theological dialogue.

We pray to God that Catholics and Lutherans will be able to witness together to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, inviting humanity to hear and receive the good news of God’s redeeming action.  We pray to God for inspiration, encouragement and strength so that we may stand together in service, upholding human dignity and rights, especially for the poor, working for justice, and rejecting all forms of violence.  God summons us to be close to all those who yearn for dignity, justice, peace and reconciliation.  Today in particular, we raise our voices for an end to the violence and extremism which affect so many countries and communities, and countless sisters and brothers in Christ.  We urge Lutherans and Catholics to work together to welcome the stranger, to come to the aid of those forced to flee because of war and persecution, and to defend the rights of refugees and those who seek asylum.

More than ever before, we realize that our joint service in this world must extend to God’s creation, which suffers exploitation and the effects of insatiable greed.  We recognize the right of future generations to enjoy God’s world in all its potential and beauty.  We pray for a change of hearts and minds that leads to a loving and responsible way to care for creation.

One in Christ

On this auspicious occasion, we express our gratitude to our brothers and sisters representing the various Christian World Communions and Fellowships who are present and join us in prayer.  As we recommit ourselves to move from conflict to communion, we do so as part of the one Body of Christ, into which we are incorporated through Baptism.  We invite our ecumenical partners to remind us of our commitments and to encourage us.  We ask them to continue to pray for us, to walk with us, to support us in living out the prayerful commitments we express today.

Calling upon Catholics and Lutherans worldwide

We call upon all Lutheran and Catholic parishes and communities to be bold and creative, joyful and hopeful in their commitment to continue the great journey ahead of us.  Rather than conflicts of the past, God’s gift of unity among us shall guide cooperation and deepen our solidarity.  By drawing close in faith to Christ, by praying together, by listening to one another, by living Christ’s love in our relationships, we, Catholics and Lutherans, open ourselves to the power of the Triune God.  Rooted in Christ and witnessing to him, we renew our determination to be faithful heralds of God’s boundless love for all humanity.

(from Vatican Radio)

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Pope Francis: visit with Sweden’s King Karl XVI Gustav and Queen Silvia

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met with Sweden’s royal family on Monday, at the beginning of his visit to Malmo and Lund to participate in the start of a series of events that will culminate in a year’s time in the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Lutheran reform.

King Karl XVI Gustav and Queen Silvia of Sweden received the Holy Father at the king’s house in Lund, ahead of an ecumenical service in Lund’s Lutheran Cathedral.

The king and queen also attended the ecumenical service, which saw Pope Francis, Lutheran Bishop of Jordan and the Holy Land and President of the Lutheran World Federation, Munib Younan, and the Rev. Martin Junge, the General Secretary of the LWF jointly leading.

(from Vatican Radio)

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Pope urges Catholics and Lutherans to recognize past errors

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Monday urged Catholics and Lutherans to recognize past “errors” and seize “the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreement that have often prevented us from understanding one another.” He said the division between Catholics and Lutherans was “perpetuated historically by the powerful of this world” rather than by the faithful people of God. The Pope was speaking during his homily at an ecumenical prayer service in the Lutheran Cathedral of Lund shortly after his arrival in Sweden for a 26-hour pastoral visit.

Please find below an English transcript of the Pope’s prepared homily during the prayer service:

“Abide in me as I abide in you” (Jn 15:4).  These words, spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper, allow us to peer into the heart of Christ just before his ultimate sacrifice on the cross.  We can feel his heart beating with love for us and his desire for the unity of all who believe in him.  He tells us that he is the true vine and that we are the branches, that just as he is one with the Father, so we must be one with him if we wish to bear fruit.

Here in Lund, at this prayer service, we wish to manifest our shared desire to remain one with Christ, so that we may have life.  We ask him, “Lord, help us by your grace to be more closely united to you and thus, together, to bear a more effective witness of faith, hope and love”.  This is also a moment to thank God for the efforts of our many brothers and sisters from different ecclesial communities who refused to be resigned to division, but instead kept alive the hope of reconciliation among all who believe in the one Lord.

As Catholics and Lutherans, we have undertaken a common journey of reconciliation.  Now, in the context of the commemoration of the Reformation of 1517, we have a new opportunity to accept a common path, one that has taken shape over the past fifty years in the ecumenical dialogue between the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church.  Nor can we be resigned to the division and distance that our separation has created between us.  We have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another.

Jesus tells us that the Father is the “vinedresser” (cf. v. 1) who tends and prunes the vine in order to make it bear more fruit (cf. v. 2).  The Father is constantly concerned for our relationship with Jesus, to see if we are truly one with him (cf. v. 4).  He watches over us, and his gaze of love inspires us to purify our past and to work in the present to bring about the future of unity that he so greatly desires.

We too must look with love and honesty at our past, recognizing error and seeking forgiveness, for God alone is our judge.  We ought to recognize with the same honesty and love that our division distanced us from the primordial intuition of God’s people, who naturally yearn to be one, and that it was perpetuated historically by the powerful of this world rather than the faithful people, which always and everywhere needs to be guided surely and lovingly by its Good Shepherd.  Certainly, there was a sincere will on the part of both sides to profess and uphold the true faith, but at the same time we realize that we closed in on ourselves out of fear or bias with regard to the faith which others profess with a different accent and language.  As Pope John Paul II said, “We must not allow ourselves to be guided by the intention of setting ourselves up as judges of history but solely by the motive of understanding better what happened and of becoming messengers of truth” (Letter to Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, President of the Secretariat for Christian Unity, 31 October 1983).  God is the vinedresser, who with immense love tends and protects the vine; let us be moved by his watchful gaze.  The one thing he desires is for us to abide like living branches in his Son Jesus.  With this new look at the past, we do not claim to realize an impracticable correction of what took place, but “to tell that history differently” (LUTHERAN-ROMAN CATHOLIC COMMISSION ON UNITY, From Conflict to Communion, 17 June 2013, 16).

Jesus reminds us: “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (v. 5).  He is the one who sustains us and spurs us on to find ways to make our unity ever more visible.  Certainly, our separation has been an immense source of suffering and misunderstanding, yet it has also led us to recognize honestly that without him we can do nothing; in this way it has enabled us to understand better some aspects of our faith.  With gratitude we acknowledge that the Reformation helped give greater centrality to sacred Scripture in the Church’s life.  Through shared hearing of the word of God in the Scriptures, important steps forward have been taken in the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation, whose fiftieth anniversary we are presently celebrating.  Let us ask the Lord that his word may keep us united, for it is a source of nourishment and life; without its inspiration we can do nothing.

The spiritual experience of Martin Luther challenges us to remember that apart from God we can do nothing.  “How can I get a propitious God?”  This is the question that haunted Luther.  In effect, the question of a just relationship with God is the decisive question for our lives.  As we know, Luther encountered that propitious God in the Good News of Jesus, incarnate, dead and risen.  With the concept “by grace alone”, he reminds us that God always takes the initiative, prior to any human response, even as he seeks to awaken that response.  The doctrine of justification thus expresses the essence of human existence before God.

Jesus intercedes for us as our mediator before the Father; he asks him that his disciples may be one, “so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21).  This is what comforts us and inspires us to be one with Jesus, and thus to pray: “Grant us the gift of unity, so that the world may believe in the power of your mercy”.  This is the testimony the world expects from us.  We Christians will be credible witnesses of mercy to the extent that forgiveness, renewal and reconciliation are daily experienced in our midst.  Together we can proclaim and manifest God’s mercy, concretely and joyfully, by upholding and promoting the dignity of every person.  Without this service to the world and in the world, Christian faith is incomplete.

As Lutherans and Catholics, we pray together in this Cathedral, conscious that without God we can do nothing.  We ask his help, so that we can be living members, abiding in him, ever in need of his grace, so that together we may bring his word to the world, which so greatly needs his tender love and mercy.

(from Vatican Radio)

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Pope Francis in Sweden to mark 500th anniversary of Reformation

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis has arrived in Sweden for a two-day apostolic journey where, together with the heads of the Lutheran World Federation he will jointly preside at an ecumenical prayer service in Lund cathedral, followed by a public witness event in the nearby city of Malmö.

On Tuesday morning, All Saints Day, the Pope will celebrate Mass in Malmö for Sweden’s tiny Catholic community.

Highlighting the importance of this apostolic journey to Sweden to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the protestant Reformation, the Pope asked journalists to help the public understand.

Greeting media professionals travelling on board the papal plane to Malmo on Monday morning, Pope Francis said: “This journey is important because it is an ecclesial journey, it’s very ecclesial in the field of ecumenism.

“Your work will be a big contribution in making sure people understand well” he said.

The formal occasion for the Pope’s visit to Sweden is to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The event comes as the culmination of years of theological progress, from the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999, to the publication of a shared history of the Reformation in the 2013 document ‘From Conflict to Communion’.

Before travelling to the Lutheran Cathedral of Lund for the joint ecumenical prayer service on Monday afternoon, an official welcome ceremony at Malmö International Airport saw state and religious authorities on the tarmac to receive Pope Francis.

As per protocol, the Prime Minister of the host country, Sweden’s Stefan Löfven, and the Minister of Culture and Democracy meet privately with the Pope at the Airport.

Also before the ecumenical service which is scheduled to begin at 2.15pm, the Pope will pay a courtesy visit to the Swedish King and Queen, Carl XVI Gustav and Silvia, at Lund’s Royal Palace (the Kungshuset).


(from Vatican Radio)

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