ELCA Presiding Bishop Meets Pope John Paul II

 — Mar. 25, 200325 mars 2003

VATICAN CITY (ELCA) — The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), called for the possibility of “limited interim Eucharistic sharing” between Lutherans and Roman Catholics in a brief meeting here March 24 with Pope John Paul II. Currently, it is not possible for Lutherans to commune in most Roman Catholic congregations. ELCA congregations generally welcome all who believe in Jesus Christ and are baptized to participate in Holy Communion.

Hanson, who is visiting here for the first time, made his comment in a 15-minute audience with the pope in a meeting room near St. Peter’s Basilica. Hanson and 20 other leaders and representatives of the ELCA met with the pontiff and shared formal statements.

Hanson greeted the pope on behalf of the 5.1-million member ELCA and Lutheran World Federation (LWF), a global communion of 136 Lutheran churches in 76 countries. The LWF’s worldwide membership includes 61.7 million Lutherans. The ELCA is an LWF member.

Acknowledging the pope’s statement that prayer is important for the ecumenical movement, Hanson said Lutherans “pray that Lutherans and Roman Catholics will continue to grow closer together” and “look for ways to celebrate our baptismal unity.” One possible “door” to full communion with Roman Catholics is limited interim Eucharistic sharing, Hanson said.

“Truly, the sacramental presence of our Lord might be an instrument of healing,” he said. Hanson called for a “new Pentecost in our time” so that the Holy Spirit might unite our diversity of language, history and experience.

Hanson emphasized the ecumenical commitment of the ELCA to seek full communion with all Christian denominations. He asked that Lutherans and Roman Catholics use the time before 2017 — the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation — “for mutual reflection and that we will seek together real and substantive steps toward even greater reconciliation.”

Hanson said the 2017 observance must not be a time “of celebrating our division,” but it should focus on “our growing understanding and affection for each other.”

Though Pope John Paul II did not address Hanson’s specific requests, the pontiff focused most of his comments on church unity. “May your visit confirm you in your commitment to the cause of Christian unity,” the pope said in his response. “The quest for full communion among all Christians is a duty which springs from the prayer of the Lord himself.”


Hanson and the pope pointed specifically to the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification as a signal of greater unity between the two Christian churches. The signing was the culmination of several years’ work in which the two churches reached a common understanding on justification, agreeing that believers are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and not by works.

With the signing on Oct. 31, 1999, in Augsburg, Germany, the churches settled a disagreement that had its beginnings in 1517. Martin Luther, a German monk, publicly disagreed with the Roman Catholic Church on several theological issues, including justification. His writings led to the Protestant Reformation of the church.

“The joyous celebrations throughout our land, upon the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, are great testimonies to the love and hope that we may be able to move under the guidance of God’s Spirit to greater unity in faith and life,” Hanson said.

“We have come to appreciate more deeply the fellowship existing between Lutherans and Catholics, which led to the Joint Declaration signed in 1999,” said Pope John Paul II. “In that document we are challenged to build on what has already been achieved, fostering more extensively at the local level a spirituality of communion marked by prayer and shared witness to the gospel.”

The two church leaders commented briefly on the U.S.-led war with Iraq that began last week.

“Our hearts are heavy laden as the world again experiences the tragedy of war,” said Hanson, an opponent of the war. The ELCA’s resolve to work for peace remains strong; its prayers for peace are fervent, he said. “May the deepening of our unity in Christ reflect our commitment to God’s will for peace for the whole creation,” Hanson said.

Noting the world situation is filled with “danger and insecurity,” the pontiff said all Christians “are called to stand together in proclaiming the values of the Kingdom of God. The events of recent days make this duty all the more urgent.”

Hanson thanked the pope for his desire that divisions within the church be healed. He praised the pontiff for his “concern for the poor, his commitment to justice for all people and his passion for the young people of the earth.” Hanson presented the pope with a framed mosaic design of the ELCA emblem.

The 82-year-old pontiff gestured his appreciation to Hanson for the ELCA presiding bishop’s remarks. “I join you in praying that Almighty God will bestow upon the world that peace that is the fruit of justice and solidarity. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke God’s blessings,” the pope’s statement concluded.

The two church leaders exchanged brief greetings and the pontiff presented a memento to each of the ELCA representatives as the audience concluded.

Having the opportunity to meet and address Pope John Paul II “was a deeply emotional moment for me,” Hanson said afterward.

Hanson and the ELCA delegation were here as part of an “ecumenical journey” during which the presiding bishop is meeting world church leaders in several European countries, March 14-31. He said he plans to use the meetings to emphasize the ELCA’s commitment to ecumenism and said he will thank the church leaders for their efforts to seek peace.

Posted: Mar. 25, 2003 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=4795
Categories: ELCA News
Transmis : 25 mars 2003 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=4795
Catégorie : ELCA News

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