Saints Serve as Models of Ecumenical Unity
Ecumenism is currently living in a situation of intense, but not yet
full, unity. To the ecumenism of love and truth, which naturally holds its
central importance, must be added the ecumenism of life.
This means that the communion to which we have arrived up to this
moment by means of dialogue and mutual relationship must be translated
into the real lives of each and every single person. It is about coming to
a renewed ecumenical spirituality that is in a position to spiritually
deepen mutual understanding.
This ecumenism of life already exists, not only in many religious
communities and ecumenical groups, but also at the diocesan and parochial
levels. Catholics and Lutherans have learned how important it is to enrich
one another through prayer and the sharing of experiences. Only by basing
ourselves upon a similar spiritual communion can we successfully face
questions at the ecumenical level, such as the concept of Church,
ecclesial ministry and sacramental life.
The theme that emphasizes the great differences between the various
traditions, forms of Christian life and theological discussion and which
is heavily filled with consequences for the members of the two
communities, is actually pertinent to the "Nature and Responsibility of
the Church", with special reference to the ecclesial ministry. In this
situation, it is very important to remember the original impetus of the
ecumenical movement and to draw from it a new spirit, of openness and
willingness to true dialogue.
From the beginning, the ecumenical movement was inspired and nourished
by spiritual ecumenism, which for many decades has been expressed in the
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This ecumenism of life —
spiritual ecumenism — must absolutely permeate all levels from theology to
If ecumenical contacts could create more and wider "spaces for the
meeting of unity in diversity", then it would open up a more vivid
possibility of understanding and mutual exchange for all Christians. This
is the experience of unity reconciled, a unity that enriches and allows
Christians to anchor themselves firmly to the heart or foundation of their
common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
After the official signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of
Justification that took place at Augsburg in 1999 and following the great
celebrations and ecumenical encounters that occurred during Jubilee Year
2000, relationships between Catholics and Lutherans have continued to
develop. Even if it is not possible to annually place such great
milestones on the road to full and visible unity, the anniversary of the
signing of the Joint Declaration celebrated this year has thankfully
allowed us to remember worldwide the consensus that was reached five years
The following panorama of the more significant conferences and meetings
that have taken place between Lutherans and Catholics demonstrates how
important it is that the faithful gather together in prayer and liturgical
celebration, in personal meetings and theological conferences, while
always keeping in mind the common goal of the full and visible unity of
An examination of international Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue
The principal themes studied by the International Lutheran-Catholic
Commission for Unity are those of apostolicity and the ordained ministry
of the Church. Last year, the Commission continued the study of Biblical,
historical, and theological contributions in order to deepen such
The plenary assembly of the Lutheran World Federation of 2003 held at
Winnipeg (a meeting at which even Cardinal Kasper took part as the
President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity) was
focused on the theme: "For the Healing of the World". In the ecumenical
conferences great attention was given to the "Follow-up Program" of the
Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.
Leaders of the World Lutheran Alliance and the Pontifical Council for
Promoting Christian Unity meet at least twice a year in conferences that
alternately take place in Geneva and Rome. Discussions deal with
present-day issues, the planning of the International Lutheran-Catholic
Dialogue and ecumenical relations in general.
An expression of the good international relations between Lutherans and
Catholics is, as always, the exchange of visits between the two Churches'
The significance of the Regional Dialogues
In 2002 a Lutheran-Catholic Nordic Dialogue took place for the first
time between Sweden and Finland. A commission of experts that on the
Catholic side was led by Stockholm's Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney, and
on the Lutheran side by Bishop Eero Huovinen of Helsinki, examined the
following themes: justification in the life of the Church in the
historical, pastoral and hermeneutic perspective; contacts between
Lutherans and Catholics in Switzerland and in International
Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue; the role of the Church in the justification of
men and women by God; continuity in the liturgy, spirituality, the
sacramental life, ecclesiastical doctrine, the Magisterium, the communion
of saints, religious communities, the diaconate and ecumenical relations.
In the future, the new dialogue will take place twice a year.
Other regional dialogues, such as the one in the United States (on the
theme of the Church as a salvific community: her structure and ministers)
and the one in Germany (on the themes: ecclesial community from a
Protestant and Catholic perspective; ecumenical efforts to arrive at a
common understanding of apostolic succession; episkope in the
service of the Church's apostolicity; exegetical investigation on the
apostolate and apostolicity) also contribute to advancing dialogue between
Lutherans and Catholics.
One of the documents published in 2000 by the bilateral working group
of the Bishops' Conference of Germany and the Evangelical-Lutheran Church
of Germany, entitled "Communio Sanctorum", was recognized by the Catholic
side as a fundamental contribution to the promotion of ecumenism in regard
to the following questions: "The Doctrine of Sacred Scripture", "Concept
and Number of the Sacraments", "Relationship between the Priesthood of All
Believers and the Ecclesial Ministry", "The Petrine Ministry",
"Mariology", and other ecclesial themes such as "the joint action of the
various 'moments of witness' (Scripture, Tradition, Magisterium and
Sensus Fidelium) in the investigation and proclamation of the Gospel"
and "the community of saints after death".
The document also has great importance outside Germany (it was
translated into Italian and English), because for the first time from an
ecumenical viewpoint it successfully deals with fundamental questions
pertaining to the concepts of Church and faith.
It has always seemed clear that the central theme in almost all
contemporary dialogues, after a distinct consensus was reached on the
question of justification, turns on the concept of Church and ecclesial
Important examples of ecumenical spirituality
For the Lutheran Christians of Scandinavia, the commemorations of
saints like Bridget (Sweden), Henrik (Finland) and Olav (Norway) hold
great importance; they are precious opportunities for an ecumenical
encounter because they recall the common example of witnesses to the
faith. The saints can be a model of unity for Lutherans and Catholics and
a great example of healthy ecumenism, as demonstrated by the numerous
celebrations and ecumenical meetings with the Scandinavian Lutheran
Churches that took place last year.
Among the more significant events was the touching ecumenical
celebration organized by the Community of Sant'Egidio on 1 February 2003
in Rome's Basilica of St Bartholomew in order commemorate the Lutheran
Pastor Paul Schneider, who was killed in the Buchenwald concentration
camp. Those attending on this occasion included Cardinal Walter Kasper, Dr
Ismael Noko, Secretary General of the Lutheran World ; Federation;
Nikolaus Schneider, head at the time of the Church of Rhineland, and other
ecumenical representatives of Roman parishes.
This testimony, as the Holy Father has said, "speaks louder than the
things which divide us" (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, n. 37).
In the Encyclical on ecumenism Ut Unum Sint, John Paul II speaks
of a community united in the witness to faith, a community that goes
beyond the institutional boundaries of the various churches and emphasizes
that the saints are our common patrimony (cf. n. 84). They make the Church
believable, convincing and attractive.
If the blood of the martyrs is the seed of new Christians (Tertullian),
then we can be sure that the blood shed by many witnesses of the divided
Church will become the seed of unity for these churches.
From the theological point of view, the dialogue between Catholics and
Lutherans has known significant developments, having realized a first
fundamental advance, then a normalization of relations and, in more recent
times, an important consensus on fundamental issues concerning the
doctrine of justification with regards to relative themes for the
understanding of the concept of Church and ecclesial ministry.
On the one hand, Lutherans continue to request "Eucharistic
hospitality" of the Catholic Church. On the other, there is the necessity
to further clarify the question of ecclesial ministry. Within the Lutheran
World Federation there are diverging positions that are expressed, for
example, at the levels of ecclesiology and ministerial theology, in
ecumenical agreements such as those of Leuenberg and Porvoo.
Ecumenism continues to develop on the spiritual level, a dimension that
will need to be profoundly deepened. To do this, it is necessary to let go
of many still-existing prejudices.
In spiritual ecumenism, every community attempts above all to
understand the language and ecclesial life of the other and to share the
richness of their own tradition with the other. Such an ecumenism of life
must play its role to thus bring it about so that there are no
"uncontrolled ecumenical developments"; that is, haphazard pastoral and
theological actions and developments not adhering to reality. At the same
time it must respond to false interpretations and indifference towards
This finds its true and profound reason for existence in the effort to
live in a growing unity of common faith in Christ our Lord, together with
our ecumenical partners.