Lutheran Likes What He Sees in New Pontificate

Interview With Mark Hanson, Federation President

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GENEVA, APRIL 25, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The president of the World Lutheran Federation is pleased by the signs given by Benedict XVI in favor of ecumenism.



In this interview with ZENIT, the Reverend Mark Hanson comments on the Pope's great knowledge of Martin Luther and looks forward to reinforcing mutual understanding between Catholics and Lutherans.

A Lutheran bishop, he is married and has six children. He is also the bishop-president in Chicago of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Q: Benedict XVI comes from Germany, Luther's home. Do you think this could help understanding with the Lutheran World Federation?

Reverend Hanson: From his service as a priest, professor and bishop in his home country of Germany, we know that Pope Benedict XVI is well acquainted with Lutherans.

We have good reason to hope for fruitful ecumenical developments and greater understanding among Lutherans and Roman Catholics during the service of this Pope.

In his leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger rendered significant ecumenical leadership, including support for the official reception of a very historic document, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. That document was signed in Augsburg, Germany, the Pope's home country, on October 31, 1999. That is the day Lutherans traditionally celebrate the Reformation.

Q: The new Pope sees ecumenism as a priority that needs gestures and not only words. What do you expect from him?

Reverend Hanson: It is telling that in his first Mass following his election, Pope Benedict XVI pointed to the pursuit of Christian unity, steps to continue the reforms of Vatican II, and efforts in interreligious dialogue as important themes of his papacy.

I have reason for hope because of the name that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger chose: Benedict XVI. The choice recalls the work of Pope Benedict XV, who served during the era of World War I and was known as a bridge-builder and reconciler.

The name hearkens back to St. Benedict, founder of Christian monasticism, who is remembered for preserving and seeking to renew Christianity in Western Europe.

All of these are real signs that Pope Benedict XVI sees ecumenism as a high priority, and his comments after his election reinforce that.

Q: The Catholic Church has a new Pope who is a leading theologian. Do you envisage a better theological ecumenical dialogue?

Reverend Hanson: We already have an interesting and engaging dialogue with the Vatican.

It is true that Pope Benedict XVI is extremely well prepared, theologically. For many years, he was Pope John Paul II's closest adviser, and in his leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he has rendered significant ecumenical leadership.

It seems clear in his first few days as Pope that he wants to continue these important theological dialogues.

Q: How do you receive his appeal to promote contacts and understanding with several churches and denominations?

Reverend Hanson: I receive it with great hope. In his first Mass following his election, Pope Benedict XVI said the task of "working to reconstitute the full and visible unity of all the followers of Christ" is crucial.

Speaking of himself he said, "The new Pope knows that his task is to make the light of Christ shine before men and women of the world; not his own light, but that of Christ."

This is a very important reminder for all of us called to leadership in the Church.