In late June, leaders of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) participated in a two-day visit to Rome that included an audience with Pope Francis on June 25. The LWF delegation consisted of representatives from the seven regions of the global communion of churches, including Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the ELCA.
In their meeting, both Archbishop Panti Filibus Musa, LWF president, and Pope Francis expressed hope that the 500th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession—the primary confession of faith for Lutheran churches around the globe—in 2030 can become common ground on which to strengthen Lutherans’ and Catholics’ commitment to unity and reconciliation.
“It was a remarkable experience to be in an audience with the pope on the anniversary of the Augsburg Confession,” Eaton said. “The hope of the reformers was that the Augsburg Confession could bring reconciliation. We are still seeking that today.”
During the papal audience, Musa presented Pope Francis with the gift of a chalice and paten, crafted for the occasion by the brothers of the ecumenical Taizé Community. The glaze for the eucharistic vessels was made with sand taken from a refugee camp in Zaatari, Jordan, where the LWF works to support Syrian refugees, internally displaced people and host communities. The gift “represents our calling to be one,” Musa told the pope.
In his address, Pope Francis thanked the Lutheran leaders for the gift, which, he said, “evoke[s] our sharing in the Lord’s passion. Let us continue, then, with passion on our journey from conflict to communion.”
“It was a remarkable experience to be in an audience with the pope on the anniversary of the Augsburg Confession,” Eaton said.
The meeting in Rome continued a process that had been initiated in the Swedish cities of Lund and Malmö in 2016, when Catholics and Lutherans gathered to commemorate the Reformation. At that time, the LWF and Caritas Internationalis (CI), the global confederation of Catholic aid and development agencies, signed a declaration of intent to step up their shared commitment to joint witness and service.
During the June visit, the LWF and CI pledged to increase their cooperation and service to the world’s most marginalized communities. Their “Common Vision” statement, jointly presented by Maria Immonen, LWF World Service director, and Aloysius John, CI secretary general, affirmed the organizations’ work for justice, peace and dignity for all people as a “catalyst that can shape our doctrinal dialogues.”
The two organizations “stand together for the sake of the neighbor—a call which is rooted in faith,” the statement read.
The delegation also met with Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to discuss the next steps of the Lutheran-Catholic theological dialogue. In that meeting, Dirk Lange, LWF assistant general secretary, noted the progress represented by the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) process, which brings together five global Christian communions in joint proclamation and service. “The JDDJ continues to unfold its ecumenical potential,” he said, “thus becoming an encouraging sign of what God has done and continues to do in our midst.”