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October 11, 2009

Catholic, Lutheran leaders celebrate historic declaration

By Joyce Duriga


National leaders of the Catholic Church and Lutheran World Federation gathered in Chicago on Oct. 1 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

It was an evening to honor a historic moment and took place in a historic church, Old St. Patrick Church, the oldest church building and oldest public building in the city.

Cardinal George, as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, co-presided at the vespers service with Rev. Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America co-sponsored the event. Cardinal William Keeler, archbishop emeritus of Baltimore, also attended.

The declaration said the Catholic and Lutheran churches’ consensus on basic truths means that the doctrine of justification — how people are made just in the eyes of God and saved by Jesus Christ — is not a church-dividing issue for Catholics and Lutherans even though differences between them remain in language, theological elaboration and emphasis surrounding those basic truths. The World Methodist Council affirmed the declaration in 2006.

Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory, a former Chicago auxiliary bishop and chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, delivered the evening’s homily, saying that it was a night to celebrate the Catholic-Lutheran fellowship that “is real and grounded in a common profession of faith in Christ.”

“Jesus Christ is the gift that unites us. He is the power that sustains us on the ecumenical journey,” Archbishop Gregory told the congregation.

He went on to describe the baptismal garment worn by all the baptized Christians and asked that the leaders of the ecumenical movement who have gone before be remembered for their witness to Christ.

While much progress has been made in the name of ecumenism, we must look forward, the archbishop said.

“Honesty requires that we acknowledge how much more work needs to be done by both our communities,” for the declaration to take root in the Catholic and Lutheran communities, the archbishop said. He cited the churches’ different views on human sexuality and ecclesial decision making as two areas where dialogue must continue.

Archbishop Gregory also offered those gathered two recommendations for going forward: “Foster a resourcement among scholars and church leaders” and continue to pray.

Rev. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, echoed Archbishop Gregory’s sentiments that dialogue must continue and move forward. He thanked the theologians who “labored with diligence” to form the joint declaration and those who continue to work in ecumenism today.

Rev. Noko said he was grateful that despite being rooted in the past, the declaration did not look behind, but looked forward.

“The joint declaration is a complete testimony to what and how much can be achieved when we faithful bear witness to the Gospel together,” Rev. Noko said.