Serving the neighbor together in hope
LWF President Younan and Pope Francis call for joint witness in a fragmented world
(LWI) – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan and Pope Francis today responded with words of compassion, encouragement and hope to people struggling for peace and a dignified life amid conflict and the devastating impact of climate change.
During the public event of the first ever Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation at Malmö Arena, Sweden, the Pope and the LWF President thanked Catholic and Lutheran speakers from Burundi, Colombia, India, South Sudan and Syria for their faith-driven advocacy for social justice.
The five testimonies offered a call for unity to reach out to those needing hope and encouragement.
The Pope encouraged environmental activist and Lutheran youth leader Sunemia Pranita Biswasi to persevere in her advocacy for millions in India displaced and rendered destitute by increased flooding and drought. In her testimony she said: “We cannot change the climate but we can change the system, so let us all work together to make a one better world for all.”
Pope Francis shared her concerns about the “abuses harming our planet, our common home” and for Christians in particular to emulate a lifestyle and actions that “must always be consistent with our faith.”
The pontiff emphasized the greatest impact is on the vulnerable and needy who are “forced to emigrate in order to escape the effects of climate change.”
Younan thanked Biswasi and many young activists “who have converted us older leaders to the cause of confronting climate change.” He said churches have a strong role in shaping climate policy and encouraged Christians to “never keep silent” and keep working for change.
‘Craziness of love for God and our neighbor’
Marguerite Barankitse described how she gathered orphaned child victims of atrocities in Burundi “to love and educate them, to see them grow up and, through them, build a new generation that can break this cycle of violence.”
Responding, the pope expressed gratitude for her “craziness of love for God and our neighbor.” He added, “We need more of this craziness, illuminated by faith and confidence in God’s providence.”
Rose Nathike Lokonyen from South Sudan spoke of her own experience as a refugee, and the hope and opportunities sport provided her, leading to her being part of “Team Refugees” at the Rio Olympics. She ended her testimony with a call for peace: “Please talk to the leaders of the world, because we need peace. We who are displaced from other countries need education so we can go back and help rebuild.”
Pope Francis said to her, “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.”
Reflecting on both testimonies, Younan noted that children constitute about 41 percent of the world’s 43 million refugees and close to half of all refugees are women. A refugee himself, he affirmed LWF’s commitment to educate and empower all refugees so that they can also build up their own civil society.
Give peace a chance
Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo Antoine Audo spoke of peace and the role of religion, stating that “in mutual respect and attention to the poorest—whether Christian or Muslim—[religion] should encourage us to defend the human values of dignity, solidarity and seeking the common good.”
Pope Francis noted the heroic actions of men and women who have remained in Syria and are offering material and spiritual assistance in the midst of so much devastation. “Let us implore the grace of heartfelt conversion for those responsible for the fate of that region,” he prayed.
In his response LWF President Younan lifted up prayers for Syria and other strife-torn countries. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, highlighted in particular the challenges of persecuted Christian communities and their yearning to be “integral parts of their societies, equal citizens with equal rights and responsibilities, embracing diversity.”
He challenged churches to speak with one voice, “aligning with all people of good will to form a symphony of justice disturbing all who would promote oppression.”
Monsignor Héctor Fabio Gaviria of Colombia also spoke of his hope for peace: “We have high hopes in this period of implementation of the accords signed with the FARC guerrillas to end the armed conflict,” said Gaviria in his testimony.
Responding, the LWF president pleaded with the Colombian people to “give peace a chance. Give your people the chance to live in dignity and justice.”
The global leader of the Roman Catholic Church asked for prayers for all countries facing conflict so that the “peace so greatly desired and necessary for a worthy human coexistence can finally be achieved.”
Welcome the stranger, the outcasts
The two church leaders thanked LWF’s and the Catholic humanitarian service agencies—Lutheran World Service and Caritas Internationalis respectively—for their work in serving “the neighbor” and encouraged them to seek greater cooperation. A highlight of the event in Malmö Arena was when the two agencies signed a Declaration of Intent, to strengthen their cooperation and global engagement as an expression of their common faith in God.
Bishop Younan called on all churches to “welcome the stranger” and each State to “set aside political interests and work for the dignity of every child of God.”
Pope Francis thanked governments who have assisted refugees and further challenged Christians 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.”