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February 11, 2010

ELCA delegation, Pope Benedict XVI meet, exchange greetings


Continuing dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics was a common theme expressed in an exchange of messages here between a delegation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Pope Benedict XVI. Speaking for the Lutherans, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop and president of the Lutheran World Federation, called such dialogues "a sign of hope and commitment," while the pope emphasized hope for the continuing Lutheran-Catholic dialogue.

The world church leaders spoke to each other in a brief, formal private meeting Feb. 10, following Pope Benedict XVI's regular weekly audience.

"The current international LWF-Catholic dialogue focusing on the theme 'Baptism and Growth in Communion' and the very rich U.S. Catholic-Lutheran dialogue now focusing on 'The Hope of Eternal Life' are very important for our relationship and for our hope for unity in Christ," Hanson said.

Hanson is leading an official ELCA delegation of clergy and lay leaders on a "2010 Ecumenical Journey" to visit leaders of three of the world's largest churches — Anglican, Eastern Orthodox and Catholic. The Lutherans will conclude their meetings with LWF leaders and other global church partners in Geneva next week.

"Our ecumenical journey that is now bringing us to you is a sign that we bear witness to John's prayer -- that we might be one, as the Father and the Son are one, so that all might believe," Hanson said to Pope Benedict XVI.

Hanson noted that last month, the pope welcomed representatives of the Church of Finland for their 25th annual visit during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Hanson said Lutherans "were deeply moved when you said to them it is your prayer that our efforts at understanding and reconciliation would blossom into perfect, visible unity in Christ Jesus."

The Lutheran leader said last year's celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the signing of The Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification by the LWF and The Vatican were "another sign of commitment and hope." Hanson said he was pleased by comments made at one celebration in Chicago by Catholic Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, in which Gregory stated deeper dialogue is needed between Lutherans and Catholics.

Lutherans and Catholics "have great challenges before us as we address concerns in the areas of ethics, morality, theology — and we pray for the Spirit's guidance in our biblical and theological conversations as we grow in faith and life," Hanson said.

Hanson said he hoped Lutherans and Catholics might make "a united witness to the world" as the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation approaches in 2017. He added that Lutherans join Catholics in praying for Middle East peace and greater interfaith understanding.

In his response, Pope Benedict XVI said he hoped "the continuing Lutheran-Catholic dialogue both in the United States of America and at the international level will help to build upon the agreements reached so far."

He said it is important to build on the results of the dialogues started in the 1960s. "To build on what has been achieved together since that time, a spiritual ecumenism should be grounded in ardent prayer and in conversion to Christ, the source of grace and truth," Pope Benedict XVI said.

"May the Lord help us to treasure what has been accomplished so far, to guard it with care, and to foster its development," the pope said to Hanson and the delegation.

Quoting his predecessor John Paul II, who in 1985, received a similar Lutheran delegation, the pope said, "Let us rejoice that an encounter such as this can take place. Let us resolve to be open to the Lord so that He can use this meeting for His purposes, to bring about the unity that He desires. Thank you for the efforts you are making for full unity in faith and charity."

Hanson presented Pope Benedict XVI with a "Savior of the World" cross made by Sally Stewart, a Johnstown, Pa., artist, which contains woods from throughout the world. Hanson also presented the pope an expanded written message, available on the ELCA Web site.

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