On Monday October 21, the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue document From Conflict to Communion was formally presented to Pope Francis during a private audience. The Commission on Unity had produced the document as the theological foundation for a common Lutheran-Catholic commemoration of the anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. Theodor Dieter devoted four years to the preparation of this document as the official consultant to the dialogue. Therefore, it was a particular joy for him to encounter the new pope personally at this event.
Bp. Huovinen, the Lutheran co-chair of the commission and retired bishop of Helsinki, presented the document to the pope, along with the Catholic co-chair, Bp. Kenney, and auxiliary Bp. Diez. The first copy of the document was in Spanish, then English, German, and finally Finnish—the last of which elicited a hearty laugh from the pope. Along with Prof. Dieter and Bp. Huovinen, other members of the Lutheran delegation were Bp. Dr. Munib Younan (Jordan and the Holy Land), the President of the Lutheran World Federation; Martin Junge (Chile), the General Secretary of the LWF; Vice-President Bp. Susan C. Johnson (Canada); Prof. Dr. Gloria Roja Vargas (Chile); Ms. Eun-Hae Kwon (South Korea); and Bp. Dr. Milos Klatik (Slovakia). From the Catholic side of the dialogue, Cardinal Kurt Koch and Monsignor Matthias Türk of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and Prof. Wolfgang Thönissen of the Johann-Adam-Möhler Institute for Ecumenism took part in the audience.
Pope Francis said during his speech, “This year, as a result of theological dialogue that is now in its fiftieth year, and in view of the commemoration of the fifth centenary of the Reformation, the text was published of the Commission for Lutheran-Catholic Unity, with the significant title: From Conflict to Communion: The Lutheran-Catholic Interpretation of the Reformation in 2017. The effort seems very important to me that we all confront one another in dialogue on the historical necessity of the Reformation, on its consequences and on the answers that have been given to it. Catholics and Lutherans can ask for forgiveness for the evil caused to one another and for the offenses committed before God, and together to rejoice for the nostalgia of unity that the Lord has reawakened in our hearts, and which makes us look ahead with a look of hope.”
Afterwards, General Secretary Junge presented Pope Francis with a teapot made by a woman who had fled from Somalia to a refugee camp in Kenya that is run by the LWF. Junge briefly introduced the refugee work of the LWF and spoke of the challenge to all Christians to help all those in need. The pope was visibly moved by the gift of the teapot; he took it as a sign of another form of ecumenism, that of mutual help, much like the ecumenism of the martyrs whose blood is not divided, as he emphasized. Whatever their religion, refuguees are human beings who, sheerly to save their lives, must take flight. Despite all differences, they are to be seen as children of God. Thus in the papal audience the two foundational dimensions of ecumenism were brought to the fore: the theological and the diaconal. Both are essential parts of the ecumenical task in the eyes of the LWF and Pope Francis.