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Monday, February 6, 2017

Greetings for the Evangelical Church of Germany

At 10:00am this morning, the Holy Father, Pope Francis received in audience a delegation from the Evangelical Church in Germany.

Speech of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
addressed to the delegation
from the Evangelical Church in Germany

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am pleased to welcome you and to cordially greet you.  I thank the regional Bishop of Bedford-Strohm for his warm words - ein Mann mit Feuer im Herzen - A man with fire in his heart - and I am happy to note the presence of Cardinal Marx: who is the President of the German Episcopal Conference and is accompanying the delegation from the Evangelical Church in Germany, the result of a long-established collaboration and an expression of an ecumenical relationship that has been developed over a number of years.  I hope that you will continue along this path blessed with fraternal communion, with courage and determination toward unity that is ever fuller.  We share the same Baptism: we should journey together, without growing tired!

It is significant that, on the 500th anniversary of the Reform, Evangelical Christians and Catholics are taking advantage of the occasion to commemorate in common the historical events of the past in order to once again place Christ at the centre of our relationships.  In fact, questions about God, concerning how we can have a merciful God was Luther's profound passion, his life framework and the focus of his entire journey (cf Benedict XVI, Meeting with Representatives of the Evangelical Church in Germany, 23 September 2011).  The thing that moved and caused the Reformers to question was, in the end, pointing out the path toward Christ.  This is what should be the focus of our hearts even today, after having once again undertaken a common path, thanks to God.  This year of commemoration offers us an opportunity to take another step forward, while looking to our past without any bitterness, but according to Christ and in communion with Him, in order to propose the radical newness of Jesus to men and women of our time, God's mercy without limits: precisely what the Reformers, in their time, sought to stimulate.  The fact that their call to renewal sparked developments which led in turn to divisions between Christians was certainly tragic.  Believers no longer saw themselves as brothers and sisters in faith, but as adversaries and competitors: for much too long a period of time, they have fuelled hostility and found themselves in the midst of fights, fuelled by political interests and power, sometimes without any regard for scruples in the use of violence against one another, brothers against brothers.  Today though, we give thanks to God that finally, we can lay aside every weight, and as brothers, run with perseverance in the race that lies ahead, all the while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus (Heb 12:1-2).

I am grateful to you, for with your eyes fixed, you seek to draw closer together, to look with humility and freshness at the past which has been painful, and working toward soon sharing an important gesture of penance and reconciliation: an ecumenical service entitled Rehabilitating memory - bearing witness to Jesus Christ.  In this way, Catholics and Evangelicals in Germany can respond in prayer to the loud call which you have heard in the country where the reform originated: to purify our memory in God in order to be inwardly renewed and sent by the Spirit to take Jesus to mankind today.  With this sign and with other ecumenical initiatives which are planned this year - such as the common pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the joint biblical congress which will allow us to present together the new translations of the bible and the ecumenical day dedicated to the social responsibility of Christians  - you are seeking to give concrete configuration to the Feast of Christ which, on the occasion of the commemoration of the Reform, seeks to allow us to celebrate together.  The rediscovery of common sources of faith, the healing of memories in prayer and in charity and concrete collaboration in defence of the Gospel and in service to our brothers are all efforts worth pursuing even more swiftly on our path.

It is thanks to the spiritual communion rediscovered over the past decades of ecumenical journey, that we can together deplore our common failures to seek unity in the context of the Reform and subsequent developments.  At the same time, in the reality of the one Baptism that makes us brothers and sisters engaged in the common act of listening to the Spirit, we find ourselves in a diversity that is now reconciled, allowing us to appreciate the spiritual and theological gifts that we have received from our experience of the Reform.  In Lund, on 31 October of last year, I thanked the Lord for all this and I asked forgiveness for the past; for the future, I wish to confirm our call not to return to the past, but to bear common witness to the Gospel and to continue the journey toward full unity.  As we do this together, there is also a renewed desire to advance along new paths.  We learn more and more how to ask ourselves: this initiative, can we share it with our brothers ad sisters in Christ?  Together, can we walk another stretch of the road?

The differences in questions of faith and morals, which still remain, challenge us to remain on the path toward the full communion for which our faithful people yearn.  The pain is felt especially by husbands and wives who belong to different confessions.  While remaining circumspect, we must commit ourselves in constant prayer and with all our strengths, to overcoming the obstacles that still exist, intensifying our theological dialogue and strengthening collaboration between us, especially in service to those who suffer most and protecting creation that is currently being threatened.  Jesus' urgent call to unity (cf Jn 17:21) challenges us, as does the entire human family, in a time period that is experiencing dramatic suffering and new forms of exclusion and marginalization.  In this regard too, we have a great responsibility!

In hopes that this meeting will further increase the communion between us, I ask the Holy Spirit, artisan and creator of unity, to fortify you in your common journey with the consolation that comes from God (cf 2 Cor 1:4) and to point out to you paths that are both bold and prophetic.  With all my heart, I invoke God's blessings upon all of you, your communities and I ask you, please, to remember me in your prayers.  Thank you very much.  I invite you now to pray with me the Lord's prayer.
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