* * *
Regional Bishop Friedrich!
Dear Friends of Germany!
I give a cordial welcome to all of you, representatives of top leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany, here in the Apostolic Palace, and I am happy because of the fact that you, as a delegation, have come to Rome at the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In this way you also show that all our longing for unity can bear fruits only if they are rooted in common prayer. In particular, I would like to thank you, dear regional bishop, for your words that, with great sincerity, expressed the common efforts for more profound unity among all Christians.
In the meantime, the official dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics -- so it is written here -- can look back to more than 50 years of intense activity. You spoke of 30 years. I think that 30 years ago, after the Pope's visit, we began officially, but in fact we had been dialoguing for a long time. I myself was a member of the "Jaeger-Stahlin-Kreis" born directly after the War. One can speak then of 50 or 30 years. Despite the theological differences that continue to exist on questions that in part are fundamental, a "togetherness" has grown between us, which becomes increasingly the basis of a communion lived in faith and in spirituality between Lutherans and Catholics. What has already been achieved reinforces our trust in continuing the dialogue, because only in this way can we stay together on that way that, finally, is Jesus Christ himself.
Hence, the commitment of the Catholic Church to ecumenism, as my venerable predecessor Pope John Paul II affirmed in his encyclical "Ut Unum Sint," is not a mere strategy of communication in a changing world, but a fundamental commitment of the Church from her own mission (cf. Nos. 28-32).
For some contemporaries the common goal of full and visible unity of Christians seems to be again today very far. The ecumenical interlocutors in the dialogue have ideas on the unity of the Church that are completely different. I share the concern of many Christians over the fact that the fruits of the ecumenical endeavor, above all in relation to the idea of Church and ministry, are still not sufficiently received by the ecumenical interlocutors. However, even if new difficulties always arise, we look with hope to the future. Even if the divisions of Christians are an obstacle in molding catholicity fully in the reality of the life of the Church, as was promised in Christ and through Christ (cf. "Unitatis Redintegratio," No. 4), we are confident in the fact that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the ecumenical dialogue, as important instrument in the life of the Church, will serve to overcome this conflict. This will happen, in the first place, also through the theological dialogue, which must contribute to understanding on the open questions, which are an obstacle along the path to visible unity and the common celebration of the Eucharist as sacrament of unity among Christians.
I am pleased to state that beside the international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue on the topic "Baptism and Growing Ecclesial Communion," there is also in Germany, since 2009, a bilateral commission of dialogue between the episcopal conference and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany, which has taken up again its activity on the topic: "God and the Dignity of Man." This thematic realm includes in particular also the problems that arose recently in relation to the protection and dignity of human life, as well as the urgent questions on the family, marriage and sexuality, which cannot be silenced or neglected so as not to endanger the ecumenical consensus attained up to now. We hope that in these important questions related to life, new confessional differences will not emerge, but that together we will be able to give witness to the world and to men of what the Lord has shown us and shows us.
Today the ecumenical dialogue cannot be split from the reality and from the life in the faith of our Churches without harming them. Hence, let us look together to the year 2017, which will recall theses of Martin Luther from 500 years ago. On that occasion, Lutherans and Catholics will have the opportunity to celebrate throughout the world a common ecumenical commemoration, to fight at the world level for fundamental questions, not -- as you yourself have just said -- under the form of a triumphant celebration, but as a common profession of our faith in the One and Triune God, in the common obedience to Our Lord and to his Word. We must attribute an important place to common prayer and to interior prayer addressed to our Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness of mutual wrongs and for the fault related to the divisions. Part of this purification of the conscience is the reciprocal exchange on the appraisal of the 1,500 years that preceded the Reformation, and which are common to us. For this we wish to implore together, in a constant way, the help of God and the assistance of the Holy Spirit, to be able to take further steps toward the unity that we long for, and to not be satisfied with where we are now.
We are encouraged along this path also by this year's Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It recalls for us the chapter of the Acts of the Apostles: "And they devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42). In these four acts and conduct the early Christians were constant, and therefore the community grew with Christ and from it flowed this "togetherness" of the men of Christ. This extraordinary and visible witness to the world, of the unity of the early Church could also be for us an incentive and norm for our common ecumenical path in the future.
In the hope that your visit will reinforce further the valid collaboration between Lutherans and Catholics in Germany, I implore for you all the grace of God and His abundant blessings.
[Translation by ZENIT]