Pope hopes 2017 Reformation anniversary will encourage Christian unity

(Photo: LWF/ Heidi Martinussen)Bishops Ernisa and Bishop Filo from Slovenia presented with gift from Bishop Younan (center) at a reception in the Lutheran Church Ljubljana on November 20.

Pope Francis says he hopes the 2017 anniversary of the Reformation, as well as a joint document by the Lutheran-Catholic commission for unity, will further encourage steps for Christian accord.

The Pope was referring to the Lutheran-Catholic unity document, "From Conflict to Communion" during a May 4 private meeting with Church of Sweden Archbishop Antje Jackelen.

During the meeting he also said churches should face up to tough issues when discussing unity.

Francis said he hopes this initiative will encourage further steps toward unity, with God's help, "and our collaboration with Him and one another," Catholic News Agency reported.

On December 18, the general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, Rev. Martin Junge, said relations between the Lutheran and Catholic churches have reached an epoch-making turning-point.

He spoke during preparations in Rome for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017 when Lutherans and Catholics are expected to cooperate in an act of Christian unity.

Pope Francis said at his meeting with Archbishop Jackelen that Christians seeking unity should not be afraid to broach potential areas of disagreement such as marriage, family, and sexuality.

"All Catholic faithful" are invited "to take up, recognize the signs of the times, the way of unity for overcoming divisions among Christians," the pontiff said during his audience with Jackelen.

He said division is not only in opposition "to the will of Christ, but is also a scandal to the world and causes damage to the holiest of causes: the preaching of the Gospel to every creature."

During the May 4 private audience at the Vatican, the Pope stressed that unity should be compelled by charity toward those suffering from poverty and violence, and those in need of mercy.

"Especially the witness of our persecuted brothers and sisters pushes us toward fraternal communion," he said.

Pope Francis also warned against the avoidance of relevant issues today in the name of ecumenism.

He referred to topics, such as the respect for the dignity of the human person, or those pertaining "to the family, marriage, and sexuality."

These, "cannot be silenced or ignored out of fear of putting the already established ecumenical consensus into jeopardy," said Francis. "It would be a shame if, in these important matters, new denominational differences were strengthened."

In the area of promoting unity of Catholics and Lutherans, such as in "visible unity in faith" and sacramental life, there is still much to be done, the Pope said.

Born in Germany, Jackelen is the first female head of the Lutheran church in Sweden, and the nation's first foreign archbishop since the 12th century.

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