Lutherans, Mennonites and Catholics Meet in Rome
ROME, Italy/GENEVA, 19 December 2012 (LWI) – The first ever international trilateral dialogue between the Catholics, Lutherans and Mennonites was held in Rome, 10-14 December, launching a five-year discussion focusing on baptism.
“Baptism and Incorporation into the Body of Christ, the Church,” was the topic of the inaugural meeting attended by representatives of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the Mennonite World Conference (MWC). The PCPCU hosted the gathering.
The Lutheran – Roman Catholic – Mennonite Trilateral Dialogue Commission comprises five members each from the three Christian World Communions, including staff members as co-secretaries.
Baptism has generally been considered as the ecumenical theological topic where substantial agreement exists within the main Christian traditions. However, emphasis on infant or adult baptism remains a challenge in ecumenical relations where these rites differ.
While Catholics and Lutherans practice infant baptism, Mennonites follow the 16th century Anabaptist practice of adult baptism.
Papers presented at the Rome meeting provided background for the trilateral dialogue, summarized presentations of past dialogues on baptism, and discussed the understanding and practice of baptism. The group agreed that in the course of the process, papers produced will be for internal use only.
The atmosphere of the talks was enthusiastic and promising because of the challenging but central topic and particularly because of the new trilateral method of dialogue, which is being used for the first time at the international level, noted LWF Assistant General Secretary for Ecumenical Relations Rev. Dr Kaisamari Hintikka.
Lutherans have a history of bilateral discussions with Catholics and Mennonites respectively but this is the first time that all three Christian traditions have met together in a formal ecumenical theological dialogue.
Lutherans’ historic agreements with Catholics on the one hand, and with Mennonites on the other have provided a strong basis for widening the circle of dialogue beyond the bilateral signatory partners. In 1999 the LWF and the Vatican signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, ending centuries of dispute and conflict over the crucial subject of justification. At the LWF Eleventh Assembly in 2010, the LWF formally asked the Mennonites for forgiveness for past wrongdoings and persecution towards Anabaptists, considered as the direct forebears of Mennonites.
Because of its importance to the nature of the church, baptism will also feature in discussions at the 2014 meeting of the Lutheran – Roman Catholic Commission on Unity, under the theme “Growth in Communion.”
The Rome meeting was co-chaired by Archbishop Luis Augusto Castro Quiroga (Colombia) on behalf of the PCPCU; Prof. Turid Karlsen Seim (Norway) as proxy for Prof. Friederike Nüssel (Germany) on behalf of the LWF; and Prof. Alfred Neufeld (Paraguay) for the MWC.
PCPCU President Kurt Cardinal Koch and the council’s secretary, Archbishop Brian Farrell, brought greetings to the meeting.
The trilateral commission will hold its second round of conversations in January 2014 to study “Baptism: God’s Grace in Christ and Human Sin.” Future topics will include “Baptism: Communicating Grace and Faith” and “Living Out Baptism.”