“A momentum which is irreversible”

Bishop Ulrich and Pope Francis during the audience in the Vatican. Photo: VaticanPress
Bishop Ulrich and Pope Francis during the audience in the Vatican. Photo: VaticanPress

German Lutherans meet LWF member church and Pope Francis in Italy

(LWI) - "We have experienced a lot of encouragement for the ecumenical journey of Lutherans and Catholics worldwide," the chairman of the German National Committee (GNC/LWF) of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Bishop Gerhard Ulrich, said following a private audience of the GNC with Pope Francis.

“With God's help, we hope for a future that aims at a complete overcoming of divergences. We have to go on.” Pope Francis told the German Lutheran delegation, according to the Vatican. “The Joint Commemoration of the Reformation anniversary has confirmed to us that ecumenism continues to guide our path. We must go and move forward, but not rush impetuously to achieve desired goals, but walk together patiently under the gaze of God.”

Both identified questions of the eucharist and the ministry of the church as topics to be addressed now on the global level. "These are central themes which will be thoroughly worked on by the LWF and the Vatican so that they can be followed by results that will be effective throughout the world," Bishop Ulrich said.

The audience with Pope Francis was part of a journey of encounter of the GNC/LWF in Italy from 2 to 7 June 2018. Bishop Dr. Karl-Hinrich  Manzke of Schaumburg-Lippe, secretary for ecumenical affairs of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany, were part of the delegation as well. LWF Council member Cordelia Vitiello of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Italy (ELCI) accompanied the group.

Joint diaconal work

During the audience with Pope Francis, Bishop Ulrich recalled the Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation on 31 October 2016 in Lund, Sweden, co-hosted by Pope Francis and the LWF leadership: “The spirit of Lund, the ecumenical spirit of the commemoration of the Reformation, released a momentum which is irreversible and which will call us to act together after 2017.”

The spirit of Lund, the ecumenical spirit of the commemoration of the Reformation, released a momentum which is irreversible and which will call us to act together after 2017.
Gerhard Ulrich, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northern Germany and GNC chair

In addition, Bishop Ulrich mentioned with appreciation that LWF and Caritas Internationalis had committed themselves during the Joint Commemoration in Lund and Malmö to expand their joint diaconal work. Rather than presenting Pope Francis with a gift, he promised support for the work of LWF and Caritas in Nepal, where a three-year project is currently being set up for the empowerment of women. This joint action is “a wonderful sign of our journey together and a resounding praise to God,” Bishop Ulrich said.

Theological questions and ecumenical relations were also the focus of talks with Monsignore Matthias Türk, of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU), and Archbishop Luis Ladaria, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Besides the global Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, the GNC/LWF delegation also discussed ecumenical issues in Germany with the Vatican representatives, among them the question of a shared eucharist for interconfessional couples in Germany.

The program in Rome also included meetings with the Community of Sant’Egidio, as well as a service in the Lutheran Christuskirche in Rome. The group then continued its journey to Naples, to visit congregations and diaconal projects of the local LWF member church ELCI.