(LWI) In celebration of years of cooperation and dialogue already nurtured in the Holy Land, church leaders from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and the Catholic Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (LPJ) made a visible commitment to unity and shared witness to their communities in the Middle East. The service was co-hosted at The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Amman, Jordan on Sunday.
Leaders of both Jerusalem churches, The Right Rev. Dr. Bishop Munib Younan of The Evangelical Lutheran Church and The Most Rev. Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa of the Catholic Latin Patriarchate co-presided at the service and delivered homilies jointly in the Lutheran church, which served as a model for ecumenical relationships in the region.
Ecumenism does not come only through theological dialogue but through friendships and trust.
“Ecumenism does not come only through theological dialogue but through friendships and trust. We are thankful for the friendship and trust that will take us further as Lutherans and Catholics,” Bishop Munib Younan said of the service.
The Common Prayer in Amman was fashioned after the historic service in the cathedral of Lund, Sweden, on 31 October 2016, where Lutherans and Catholics jointly commemorated the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. The Common Prayer in Lund was co-hosted by Pope Francis on behalf of the Catholic Church and The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) President Bishop Munib Younan and LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge.
On a local level, leaders and members of the two denominations gathered to continue the healing and reconciliation which the service in Lund testified to. The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd was filled with equal parts Catholics and Lutherans. There were about 20 clergy present representing each church, including the Ambassador of the Vatican, Archbishop Alberto Ortega Martin and other church leaders from the Orthodox, Anglican, Syrian and other churches.
“Even though it was rainy and cold, it was a packed church. Some [attendees] asked, ‘Why didn’t we do this earlier,’” Bishop Younan said.
“[The Common Prayer] was a spiritual and a devotional moment of commemorating the Reformation, but we were celebrating unity in diversity,” he said. “You could hear a pin drop in the church it was so devotional and spiritual.”
The Common Prayer Liturgy was adapted and translated by Pastor Isaac of the Lutheran Church and Vicar Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate for this setting.
“What happened in Lund should take place at all levels. Unity is not simply between the heads of churches. It was not a one-time thing and then we go back, each to our own church life. We hope that more initiatives take place at smaller levels - in towns and in villages,” said ELCJHL Rev. Munther Isaac, Associate Pastor at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.
The liturgy begins with prayer then leads into thanksgiving for each church’s contribution to the world, confession and repentance of church sins against one another and a commitment to focus on the five ecumenical imperatives from the document “From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran – Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation 2017” published by The Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity after 50 years of previous dialogue.
Before the Holy Land churches assembled on Sunday, an Arabic translation of the booklet “From Conflict to Communion” was distributed. Some copies were available before and after the Common Prayer.
While some prayers followed the structure of the Common Prayer Liturgy verbatim, other prayers were given to petition God for the specific needs of their context such as prayers for refugees, the Middle East, and for Jordan. The roles involved in the service alternated between Catholics and Lutherans much like in Lund cathedral.
“What happened [tonight] is against division, against war and conflict of which there is too much of in the Middle East,” Rev. Isaac said.
“It [the service] was amazing. We felt the Spirit leading us. There was a sense of joy and reverence. It was mutual, both of our churches came together with a sense of enthusiasm, both the Bishops, clergy and the people.” “It is like there is a thirst for unity in our region.”
In his sermon on the Gospel of St. John 15:1-5, the same text proclaimed at Lund, Archbishop Pizzaballa was persistent about the importance of unity between the Jerusalem churches, “Where there is division we are not bearing the fruit that Jesus seeks from us.”
On Saturday 18 February, the two churches will meet again in Bethlehem for a second joint prayer, this time hosted by the Catholic Church of St. Catherine. While the service in Jordan at Good Shepherd utilized Lutheran hymns and traditions, the common prayer at St. Catherine’s will follow Catholic hymns and traditions and allow residents from Palestine to participate in the reformation commemoration.
“Christian unity is a living witness. Unity is the only way for reconciliation,” Bishop Younan stressed.
Contribution by ELCJHL Communications. Edited by LWF communications.