Home Diocesan News Catholics, Lutherans mark 500th anniversary of Reformation at cathedral
Catholics, Lutherans mark 500th anniversary of Reformation at cathedral Print E-mail
Written by Karen Kastner, Special to the Exponent   
Friday, 17 November 2017 15:36

When a fire damaged the sanctuary of St. Mary Catholic Church in Massillon in 2015, the neighboring congregation of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church welcomed Catholic parishioners for worship until repairs on St. Mary’s were completed more than a year later.

Marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Bishop Abraham Allende of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America highlighted that arrangement as one of many signs of the gradual progress Catholics and Lutherans have made toward unity on international, national and regional levels.

Bishop Allende gave the homily at the evening prayer for the commemoration of the Reformation Oct. 29 in St. Columba Cathedral, Youngstown, while Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., of the Diocese of Youngstown, presided over the event.

More than 260 area Catholics, Lutherans and others virtually filled the cathedral. Afterward, long lines of attendees waited to shake the hands of the two bishops and then many proceeded into the cold rain to the cathedral parish hall for a festive gathering.

The choir included Lutherans and Catholics from congregations throughout Northeast Ohio.

There was also the presentation of Five Ecumenical Commitments  developed last year for the national Catholic-Lutheran commemoration.

The commitments calls for Catholics and Lutherans to always begin their encounters from the perspective of unity, not division, to be open to continual transformation through the encounters, to strive continually for unity in concrete steps, to jointly rediscover the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service.

“As our ecumenical journey continues,” Bishop Murry said after the presentations, “we commit ourselves to grow in communion.”

In addition, Bishop Murry and Bishop Allende dedicated and blessed an ambo banner, commissioned by the Lutheran Catholic Covenant Commission. The banner will hang at the ambo or pulpit for future Catholic-Lutheran gatherings as a sign of unity.

“Friends in Christ,” Bishop Murry proclaimed, “today we give thanks to God and we seek God’s blessing as we gather to dedicate this ambo banner to the praise and glory of God.”

Bishop Allende in his homily frequently harkened to John 17:20-23, the evening’s Gospel reading. Jesus, who knows He is about to be crucified, “prays for his disciples and asks His heavenly Father ‘that they may all be one.’”

“This is what mattered more to Jesus,” he explained. “ More than His own life, He was concerned about what would become of His disciples and those future believers – that would include us gathered here this evening as Roman Catholic and Lutheran Christians.”

The Lutheran bishop repeatedly linked this Bible passage to increasingly tangible Lutheran-Catholic unity.

“In a world where all too often it seems like everyone lives and dies for themselves alone, surely the Christian community must be the one place where all are brothers, all are sisters, and all are friends. It must be a place where we live for each other, where we care as much about the lives of others as we do our own.”

At the Last Supper “in Jesus’ grand closing prayer of John 17, He prays for this: This is to be the mission of future generations of Christians. It is what sets us apart from the rest of the world. Without that, we would just be some strange club with no real purpose other than to get together every Sunday morning,” Bishop Allende said, with many audience members laughing.

In recent decades, Bishop Allende pointed out, Christians have more seriously acted on those words of Jesus.

In 1962, Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council, saying: “Let’s open up the windows and let the fresh air of the Holy Spirit blow through,” Bishop Allende noted.

Two years later the council’s Decree on Ecumenism “initiated pastoral collaboration and theological dialogues” between Catholics and Lutherans, launching 50 years of “continuous conversation with each other about how we can move from conflict to communion.”

“We have learned that recriminations do not advance our discussion,” he said. The discussions point to one constant – “Jesus Christ as the living center of our Christian faith.”

In 1999, the Churches adopted the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Faith. Soon after Lutheran Bishop Marcus Miller, then-bishop of the Northeast Ohio Synod, and Bishop Thomas Tobin, then-bishop of Youngstown, entered into a covenant committed to overcoming denominational barriers “so that our words and witness reflect the faith that we share,” Bishop Allende said.

The bishop also recalled preaching at an ecumenical service in downtown Canton in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. “In that sermon I reflected how, in the face of terrible tragedy, we came together as a nation and [for] that one moment in time, there was no division among us. We were unified by our powerlessness.”

Commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation began last year, Bishop Allende explained, beginning with a joint Lutheran-Catholic service Oct. 31, 2016, in Lund, Sweden, with Pope Francis and Bishop Munib Younan, then-president of the Lutheran World Federation.

At that time, he noted, Pope Francis stated; “With gratitude we acknowledge that the Reformation helped give great centrality to sacred Scripture in the Church’s life.”

Much to the delight of those in the audience in St. Columba, the bishop exclaimed, “Wow! I bet Martin Luther and Pope Leo X [Pope during Luther’s break from the Catholic Church] never saw that one coming!”

“For centuries, Lutherans and Catholics have refused to say anything nice about each other.” Bishop Allende went on to say that “it was not Luther’s intention to separate from the Catholic Church but to reform it. Yet since 1517 our relationship has been marred by disunion, suspicion and even hostility.”

Bishop Allende cited concrete examples of the change from when he attended the 2016 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Church in America, which overwhelmingly accepted the “Declaration on the Way,” to foster greater unity between Lutherans and Catholics. It highlights 32 points of agreement, the bishop said, acknowledging that about 15 “significant differences” remain.

“On the night before He was crucified, Jesus prayed ‘that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that You have sent me and have loved them even as You loved Me,’” Bishop Allende reminded those assembled. “This is God’s continuing and hopeful call to the Church. If we can indeed walk further together ‘on the way’ to greater unity, at that point, we will indeed rejoice.”


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