Pope Francis and the global Lutheran leader have jointly pledged to remove the obstacles to full unity between their Churches, leading eventually to shared Eucharist.
They made the commitment in a joint statement signed before a congregation of Catholic and Lutheran leaders at the conclusion of a joint service in Lund, Sweden, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation.
The statement was signed by Pope Francis and Bishop Munib Younan, who is president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), which was founded in Lund in 1947. After they finished signing, the congregation stood for a long round of applause as the two leaders hugged each other.
The two leaders appeared to single out married couples where one partner is Catholic and the other Lutheran. “Many members of our communities yearn to receive the Eucharist at one table, as the concrete expression of full unity,” they noted.
“We experience the pain of those who share their whole lives, but cannot share God’s redeeming presence at the Eucharistic table,” they said, adding: “We acknowledge our joint pastoral responsibility to respond to the spiritual thirst and hunger of our people to be one in Christ.”
“We long for this wound in the Body of Christ to be healed,” they continued. “This is the goal of our ecumenical endeavors, which we wish to advance, also by renewing our commitment to theological dialogue.”
In their statement, the leaders acknowledged that “Lutherans and Catholics have wounded the visible unity of the Church.”
“Theological differences were accompanied by prejudice and conflicts, and religion was instrumentalized for political ends,” they said, adding later: “Today, we hear God’s command to set aside all conflict. We recognize that we are freed by grace to move towards the communion to which God continually calls us.”
As well as pledging to work towards intercommunion, the leaders prayed that Catholics and Lutherans will be able to witness together to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and work for justice and peace.
“We urge Lutherans and Catholics to work together to welcome the stranger, to come to the aid of those forced to flee because of war and persecution, and to defend the rights of refugees and those who seek asylum,” they said, adding that their “joint service” must also extend to God’s creation.
“We recognize the right of future generations to enjoy God’s world in all its potential and beauty,” they continued. “We pray for a change of hearts and minds that leads to a loving and responsible way to care for creation.”
The Pope and Lutheran leader ended by calling on their respective parishes and communities to be “bold and creative, joyful and hopeful in their commitment to continue the great journey ahead of us.”
They concluded: “Rooted in Christ and witnessing to him, we renew our determination to be faithful heralds of God’s boundless love for all humanity.”