Lutheran World Federation general secretary, Rev. Martin Junge, has lauded Pope Francis' prayers with Rome's Lutheran community on Nov. 15 as a great encouragement for Roman Catholics and Lutherans to move from conflict to communion.
"It was refreshing to see his emphasis on approaching complex matters with the heart of a pastor, and calling both Lutherans and Catholics to put service to the poor at the center.
"In joint service, the servant Christ will manifest himself as the center of unity. That's the promise," Junge said.
The Pope said Catholics and Lutherans must seek forgiveness from each other for the scandal of past divisions as they walk together today in the service of the poor, the LWF reported Nov. 16.
He also spoke about the importance of shared prayers, joint liturgies and other ways in which Christians can worship together.
Francis is the third Roman Catholic pontiff to visit Rome's Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Pope Benedict XVI made the pilgrimage in March 2010 and Pope John Paul II prayed at the church in December 1983.
In welcoming the Pope to Rome's Lutheran community for the prayers and dialogue with parishioners, Rev. Jens-Martin Kruse said, "We thank you wholeheartedly for this hopeful sign of closeness and solidarity."
Kruse said the visit was a source of strength and encouragement to continue along the path towards church unity.
The encounter included questions from Lutheran church members on how confessionally mixed couples can participate in Holy Communion, and on Christians' support to refugees.
In his remarks, Pope Francis said it is essential that the Catholic Church continue to courageously and honestly re-evaluate the intentions of the Reformation and of the reformer Martin Luther.
Francis said it is his intention to see the Church continually reformed.
He referred to a joint document, "From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017," saying it offered such reflection in a promising way.
The Pope prayed that the two Christian communities would continue to focus not "on what divides us, but on the need to reconcile our differences in service of those most in need."
Vatican Radio reported that Pope Francis' Sunday visit to Rome's Lutheran reflects the "very good" ecumenical relations that have developed as Lutherans and Catholics prepare to commemorate together the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.