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Catholics, Lutherans Celebrate Five-Year Milestone

''The Joint Declaration is important ... Its greatness lies in the fact that we can now give joint witness to what is at the heart of our faith, and with this common witness we enter together a new
( [email protected] ) Oct 09, 2004 05:21 PM EDT

The bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPC) held a commemorative ceremony in recognition of the 5th anniversary of the signing of a Lutheran-Catholic joint declaration, on Saturday, October 2, 2004.

Entitled, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, the 1999 document marked he first step toward reconciling Lutherans and Catholics from the schism that occurred in the16th century.

Through the Joint Declaration, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Vatican agreed to a common understanding of the doctrine of justification. The LWF is a global communion of 138 member churches in 77 countries, representing nearly 65 million Lutherans.

The keynote speaker of the commemorative service, Cardinal Walter Kasper, emphasized the importance of the document and expressed that the declaration “should not remain a paper and a dead letter.”

“The letter must become known, lived out and become a reality in the body of the church," said Kasper, president of the PCPC.

Kasper took note that Pope John Paul II described the Joint Declaration as a “milestone.”

"The image fits the situation exactly," he said. "We have reached an important staging post but are not yet at the final goal. The Joint Declaration is important even though it has limits. Its greatness lies in the fact that we can now give joint witness to what is at the heart of our faith, and with this common witness we enter together a new century and a new millennium."

The increasingly secularized world "needs such common witness," Kasper continued.

Speaking as a representative from the Vatican, Kasper expressed the need to address other “problems” and “questions” that remain between Protestants and Catholics.

Such “problems” include questions on the understanding of a Lutheran doctrine that enables a believer to be justified and sinner at the same time, differences in the view of merits, and the central “normativity” of the doctrine of justification.

The Declaration, thus, represents a "differentiated consensus rather than total agreement,” since Lutherans and Catholics are continuing in an international theological dialogue on many questions, said Kasper.

Nonetheless, Kasper said, the Joint Declaration allowed Catholics and Lutherans to reach a “new quality and intensity.”

"We held out hands to each other as churches, and we do not wish to let go ever again," said Kasper.

Meanwhile, Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop and LWF president, thanked Kasper for his presentation.

"I have rarely met a human being who so embodies the gifts of the [Holy] Spirit as you do," said Hanson, in introducing Kasper. "You are a person of profound wisdom and grace."

Following Kasper’s address, the Rev. Duane H. Larson, president of Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, and the Rev. Marcus J. Miller, bishop of the ELCA Northeastern Ohio Synod, Cuyahoga Falls, provided a brief response.

Larson summarized his remarks about the significance of the Joint Declaration in five key points: the "real and realistic progress" had been achieved through the Joint Declaration; that "even more substantive progress or consensus" had been achieved;

that there is "theological and ecclesial work to be done;" that Kasper envisions "a robust ecumenical life of the Spirit" through prayer, Bible study and "justice-doing;" and that the Joint Declaration is going to prove itself "as more effective and productive in real church life together" than perhaps other church documents.

Miller, meanwhile, who was present for the signing of the Declaration in 1999, reminisced on the joy and energy that marked the historical event.

"We can't help ourselves as we look at the daunting tasks that continue to lie ahead and pursue those with all of the energy we have as church," Miller said. "The urgency to heal the brokenness we have at the table (Holy Communion) is for us also a pastoral matter. The faithful are divided at the table in many of our synods and dioceses."

Miller proposed that when the two churches mark the 10th anniversary of the Joint Declaration, both churches prepare some materials that can be used by Lutherans and Catholics for "confession, forgiveness and renewal of the heart."

The commemorative ceremony took place during the ELCA bishops’ annual council, which was held at the ELCA’s headquarters in Chicago, Sept 30-Oct. 4.