By Mark Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Today’s disciples of Jesus, like the first disciples, should be recognized by how they love each other and, guided by Jesus, they should walk together in a spirit of unity, mutual respect and brotherhood, Archbishop Pietro Sambi told a Washington audience.
“Each act of unity is a profession of faith in the Lord Jesus,” said the archbishop, who is apostolic nuncio to the United States.
He addressed an Oct. 31 gathering of Catholics and Lutherans at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center marking the 10th anniversary of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed by the two churches.
Joining Archbishop Sambi were Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl and Bishop Richard Graham of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Synod.
Nearly 100 people participated in the celebration, including theological faculty members and students and people involved in the ecumenical movement.
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.
During the anniversary celebration, John Seidel of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America read an excerpt from the document: “Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works. All people are called by God to salvation in Christ. Through Christ alone are we justified.”
In his reflection, Bishop Graham recalled how he had earlier served as pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in College Park, Md., where his congregation held joint activities and discussions with the nearby Catholic Student Center of the University of Maryland.
“We can learn from each other,” the Lutheran bishop said.
Reflecting on the declaration, Bishop Graham said, “The joy of faith in Christ is meant to overflow in works that serve our neighbors. … To share common teaching of doctrine and common concern for the poor is truly to be one in Christ.”
In his reflection, Archbishop Wuerl said the declaration offers the common understanding that “it is the Lord Jesus who is the source of our salvation and our redemption.”
While the Catholic and Lutheran faiths have differences in theology, he said, “the doctrine (on justification) is saying that in substance, there is unity, that is what we proclaim, and that is what we profess.”
Archbishop Wuerl said the joint declaration offers believers of both faiths the chance to “move from the theological level to the practical level.”
In an increasingly secular culture, Catholics and Lutherans can bring Christ to today’s world, he said. “Together, we can be witnesses. … To me, the joint declaration opens up the door to what we’re able to do, going into the future.”
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