Vatican City, Oct 31, 2016 / 11:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Hours after landing in Sweden Pope Francis said that without God we can do nothing, but with him Catholics and Lutherans can work toward greater unity – not in order to forget the past, but to heal it so all Christians can be better witnesses of God’s mercy.
“Jesus reminds us: ‘Apart from me, you can do nothing.’ He is the one who sustains us and spurs us on to find ways to make our unity ever more visible,” the Pope said Oct. 31. “Certainly, our separation has been an immense source of suffering and misunderstanding, yet it has also led us to recognize honestly that without him we can do nothing; in this way it has enabled us to understand better some aspects of our faith.”
The Pope’s homily was made jointly with a sermon by Rev. Martin Junge, General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, during a common prayer service between Lutherans and Catholics at the Lund Cathedral in Sweden. Pope Francis is in Sweden Oct. 31-Nov. 1 as part of a joint commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The event also marks 50 years of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation.
It is the first time a Pope has traveled to Scandinavia since St. John Paul II’s 1989 visit. Though only two days, following the ecumenical prayer at Lund’s Lutheran cathedral, the trip will also include a larger, primary ecumenical event at the Malmö Arena in Malmö. The two ecumenical events will be followed by an outdoor papal Mass the next day at the Swedbank Stadium in Malmö marking All Saints Day.
The common prayer service included religious songs, scripture readings and prayers by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Pope Francis, alongside Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation and Rev. Junge.
During the service Catholics and Lutherans also read out five joint ecumenical commitments, including the commitment to always begin from a perspective of unity. Pope Francis and Bishop Younan then signed a joint statement together.
The Pope’s sermon reflected on the 15th chapter of the Gospel of John, where it likens God the Father to the vine grower, “who tends and prunes the vine in order to make it bear more fruit.” Both sermons spoke about the image of the vine as indicating Christ’s desire for unity among his people.
Just as Jesus, the “true vine,” is one with the Father, in order to bear fruit we must also be one with him, Francis said.
“The Father is constantly concerned for our relationship with Jesus, to see if we are truly one with him,” Pope Francis said. “He watches over us, and his gaze of love inspires us to purify our past and to work in the present to bring about the future of unity that he so greatly desires.”
The words spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper, “abide in me as I abide in you,” allow us to “peer into the heart of Christ just before his ultimate sacrifice on the cross,” he said. “We can feel his heart beating with love for us and his desire for the unity of all who believe in him. He watches over us, and his gaze of love inspires us to purify our past and to work in the present to bring about the future of unity that he so greatly desires.”
We must recognize, the Pope reminded, that the division existing between Catholics and Lutherans since the Reformation has been perpetuated throughout history by the powerful, while the intuition of the faithful is to yearn for unity. “Certainly, there was a sincere will on the part of both sides to profess and uphold the true faith, but at the same time we realize that we closed in on ourselves out of fear or bias with regard to the faith which others profess with a different accent and language.”
Quoting St. John Paul II, Pope Francis said “we must not allow ourselves to be guided by the intention of setting ourselves up as judges of history but solely by the motive of understanding better what happened and of becoming messengers of truth.” We shouldn’t be resigned to “division and distance,” but instead take this opportunity to mend a “critical moment” in Lutheran and Catholic history by moving beyond “controversies and disagreements,” he said.
“Jesus intercedes for us as our mediator before the Father; he asks him that his disciples may be one, ‘so that the world may believe.’” “This is the testimony the world expects from us,” the Pope said. As Christians we can only be credible witnesses of mercy to the extent that “forgiveness, renewal and reconciliation are daily experienced in our midst.”
“This is what comforts us and inspires us to be one with Jesus, and thus to pray: ‘Grant us the gift of unity, so that the world may believe in the power of your mercy,’” he said. “Together we can proclaim and manifest God’s mercy, concretely and joyfully, by upholding and promoting the dignity of every person. Without this service to the world and in the world, Christian faith is incomplete.”