CHICAGO (ELCA) — On behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Rev. Mark S. Hanson extends prayers for Pope Benedict XVI and for the members of the Catholic Church following the announcement of the Holy Father’s intention to resign on Feb. 28.
While the resignation comes as a surprise, it is “one that calls Christians to lift up support and prayers in this momentous time of transition,” said Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop.
“Pope Benedict XVI has served the Catholic Church during a time of significant challenge. He is a highly respected, traditional and conservative theologian,” said Hanson. “As the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, his assistance with guiding the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was a major contribution for Lutherans and Catholics.”
In his visits with Pope Benedict, Hanson said he was “always pleased with his knowledge of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and his words of encouragement for our ecumenical relationship with Catholics through The Lutheran World Federation and with the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops.”
“Pope Benedict’s positive contributions in emphasizing God’s redemptive love in Christ Jesus, on the centrality of prayer and his focus on charity are gifts that will continue to support God’s people and our common work for the unity of Christians,” said Hanson, adding that in this time of transition and prayer for the Catholic church “it is also important that we continue dialogue as a significant part of our relationship.”
In the United States, the ELCA and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have been in ongoing discussions for more than 30 years. Each round covers a specific topic important for the life and vitality of both communions.
ELCA leaders met with Pope Benedict and other Catholic Church leaders at the Vatican in 2012 to present “The Hope of Eternal Life” — a common statement from the eleventh round of dialogue – to Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
The common statement offers insights into some issues that proved contentious in the debates of the 16th century, such as the communion of saints, prayers for or about the dead, the meaning of death, purgation, the promise of the resurrection and more.
Hanson said the new round dialogues, “Ministries of Teaching:
Sources, Shapes and Essential Contents,” will address areas of morality, ethics and theology, “looking at the Bible as an authoritative source for teaching ministries, as well as the international dialogue through The Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican.”
Hanson said that it is “also important that our local expressions of unity in Christ through prayer, scripture study, service among our neighbors and work for justice continue as witnesses to our shared faith.”
In anticipation of Pope Benedict’s successor, the Rev. Donald J.
McCoid, assistant to the ELCA presiding bishop, executive for ecumenical and inter-religious relations, said, it is “our hope that Pope Benedict’s successor will focus on an emphasis on the redemptive love in Christ Jesus and the continued support for the unity of Christians through dialogue and prayer. As the world faces so many challenges, it is important for the new pope to be a leader for all Christians in addressing tensions with other religions and tensions in places where there is no peace.”
In 2009, Lutherans and Catholics celebrated the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Joint Declaration on Doctrine of Justification — recognized as a significant achievement in the history of Christian ecumenical relations. Signed by representatives of The Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church in Augsburg, Germany, the agreement declares that The Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church have reached a common understanding on justification, agreeing that believers are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and not by works.
The Lutheran World Federation is a global communion of 143 member churches in 79 countries worldwide. The ELCA is the communion’s only member church from the United States.