Lutherans in Rome
Benedict XVI comes from the land of Martin Luther , the man who helped to trigger
the Protestant Reformation.
Today, almost 500 years later, those whose ecclesial roots go back to the Germanic
lands are working to seal the gaps and heal the wounds that have opened within
Christendom over the centuries.
Last week saw an example of this when delegates from the Evangelical Lutheran
Church of America (ECLA) passed through the Eternal City on an "ecumenical" tour
of Europe . While here, they presented to Benedict XVI an icon of St. Augustine
The Reverend Lowell Almen, ECLA secretary, said the group found the Rome visit
inspiring, especially the stop at St. Peter's Basilica. There they realized
the great amount of prayer that has been offered on that site, almost unceasingly,
since before the fourth century.
"It's a lesson in the continuity of the Church and the faithfulness of people," the
minister told me, "as well as to the Gospel throughout the generations."
He said the members of his group were here because "ecumenism is obviously
a matter of churchly enterprise and endeavor."
"It involves theological study and commitment," he said. "But
another dimension of ecumenism is personal -- in developing mutual understanding
and mutual trust."
To build that understanding, the delegation met with Cardinal Walter Kasper,
president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.
"This kind relationship and contact has been going on for a number of years," said
Lutheran Bishop Roy Riley of New Jersey . "More recently, we were privileged
to have Cardinal Kasper come to Chicago in part as a celebration of the fifth
anniversary of the joint declaration between Roman Catholics and Lutherans on
the doctrine of justification."
While Cardinal Kasper spoke with the group about ecumenical developments, the
ECLA took the chance to bring him up to speed on the relationship between the
two denominations in the United States .
The Reverend Almen reported: "The U.S. Roman Catholic and Lutheran dialogue
has been going on now for 40 years and has yielded some very significant results."
This year the two sides already have completed the 10th round of talks on the
theme of the Church of salvation, its structures and ministries. The talks
focus on some of those issues identified in the annex to the J oint
Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.
Catholic-Lutheran relations have also developed at the grass-roots level.
"In Camden, New Jersey," Bishop Riley explained, "the second poorest
city in the state, the Roman Catholic diocese and the Lutheran diocese there
have worked hard together to provide a witness and advocacy for people who are
living in poverty. The relationship between Lutheran social services and Catholic
Charities can be crucial."
Nevertheless, the ecumenical road isn't easy. Certain questions continue to
divide the two sides, from theological matters to ministry issues.
Still, ECLA feels it has an obligation to "do what they can to address
those questions and to pursue deeper mutual understanding for the sake of the
Gospel and in faithfulness to Christ," said the Reverend Almen.
"We recognize that as Lutherans, only half a millennium has passed," he
said. "But, here in Rome, in Istanbul, London and Geneva, we can feel the
thousands of years of being involved in the history of one, holy, catholic/universal
and apostolic Church. It represents an opportunity to deepen our awareness and
pass it on to generations to come."