Lutherans, Catholics celebrate 50 years of dialogue

5/26/2015 12:00:00 AM

            CHICAGO (ELCA) – Lutherans and Catholics in the United States have been in dialogue for the past 50 years. A Service of Thanksgiving and Prayer to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the dialogue will take place May 27 in the chapel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Center in Washington, D.C. Lutheran and Catholic leaders will then gather for this sixth meeting of Round XII of the U.S. Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue on the topic of "Faithful Teaching."

            The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), will deliver the homily. The Rev. Richard H. Graham, bishop of the ELCA Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Synod, and Bishop Denis J. Madden of the Archdiocese of Baltimore will preside. The Rev. Lowell G. Almen, a former ELCA secretary and co-chair of the current round of U.S. Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue, and the Most Rev. Lee A. Piche, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and co-chair, will lead prayer.
            Following the service, Monsignor John A. Radano will deliver an address: "The Significance of the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue in the United States after Fifty Years." Kathryn M. Lohre, assistant to the presiding bishop and executive, ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations, will offer a response.
            "Fifty years ago, I don't think anyone could have imagined the significant and substantive agreements reached by our two churches," said Eaton.
            "Fifty years ago, many of us were still stuck in in old polemics lobbed at each other. But thanks to the efforts of the late James R. Crumley, presiding bishop of the former Lutheran Church in America, and Pope St. John Paul II, who reached out to each other in the early 1980s, and thanks to the work of the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogues, we have moved ever closer to each other. And these are not facile, lowest common denominator agreements, but consensus formed through the clear presentation of each of our understandings of who we are and out of deep respect for each other. Thanks be to God," said Eaton.
            "The past 50 years of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in the United States and internationally have produced significant fruits, most notably the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification," said Lohre, "It is fitting that we give pause to celebrate the strides we have taken and to recommit ourselves to journey together on the way to visible Christian unity. Our divided world longs for a unified Christian witness. As was the case 50 years ago, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, the moment for this ecumenical endeavor is uniquely ripe."
            Signed in 1999 in Augsburg, Germany, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification is a significant document for Lutherans and Catholics. With the Joint Declaration, The Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican agreed to a common understanding of the doctrine of justification and declared that certain 16th century condemnations of each other no longer apply. The Lutheran World Federation is a global communion of 144 churches representing more than 72 million Christians in 79 countries worldwide. The ELCA is the communion's only member church from the United States.
            The purpose of the U.S. Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue Round XII is to examine the ministries of teaching within the Catholic and Lutheran churches through:
+ study of official statements and documents, as well as the findings of previous dialogues regarding the respective practices of the churches for such ministries,
+ exploration of the sources, structures and patterns for discerning the truth coming to us in God's word and communicating this truth in normative teaching for today, and
+ assessment of the dialogue's conclusions regarding the ministries of teaching for long-term ecumenical relationships.
            In the past 50 years, topics for dialogue have included the status of the Nicene Creed, baptism, the Eucharist, papal primacy and the universal church, the saints and Mary, salvation and hope.
            "The U.S. Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue began March 16, 1965, just four months after the issuance of the Decree on Ecumenism by the Second Vatican Council. Throughout the past half century, 11 formal reports have been completed and a 12th round is underway," said Almen.
            "At about the time the Decree on Ecumenism was published in the fall of 1964, a group of students at (the former) Luther Theological Seminary (now Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.,) began meeting periodically with a group from St. Paul Seminary of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. I was one of the seminarians from Luther," said Almen.
            "Little did I imagine in a meeting with those Catholic seminarians in St. Paul in 1964, and then hearing of the start in 1965 of the U.S. Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue that, one day, I would be sitting at the table of the official dialogue with folks whom I find amazing," he said.
            In 1998, Almen became a member of the Round X dialogue, and in 2006, he became co-chair for Round XI and continued as co-chair for Round XII (the current round), which began in 2011 on "Faithful Teaching."
            "To be at that table is to be constantly mindful of the prayer of Jesus, 'that they may all be as one' (John 17:21)," said Almen.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 3.8 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.

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