Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist leaders to mark 10th anniversary of Joint Declaration on Justification

Cardinal Francis George / Bishop Mark Hanson
Cardinal Francis George / Bishop Mark Hanson

.- Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist church leaders will mark the tenth anniversary of a joint agreement on the Doctrine of Justification in a meeting in downtown Chicago on Thursday. A service including Evening Prayer and tributes to the joint declaration will be held at Old St. Patrick’s Church, a press release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) reports.

The Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation signed the Joint Declaration on October 31, 1999. It was the product of nearly 35 years of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in the United States and abroad.

Fr. James Massa, Executive Director for the USCCB’s Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said the anniversary is “an historic moment on the journey toward Christian unity.”

“The Joint Declaration expressed a common understanding of how human beings are made right with God through the life-giving death of Jesus Christ,” he added.

In 2006, the World Methodist Council also affirmed the joint declaration as an expression of how Methodists understand the nature of salvation as a gift that equips believers for good works of justice and compassion in the world.

USCCB president and Archbishop of Chicago Cardinal Francis George and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson will lead the prayer service. The service, which will begin at 6:30 pm, will include choral music and a solemn reading of the Word of God.

Bishop Hanson is also President of the Lutheran World Foundation, the global Lutheran partner to the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Chairman of the bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and Dr. Ishmael Noko, General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, also will speak.

The president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, Bishop Gregory Palmer, will represent the United Methodist Church.

Attendees will include numerous Lutheran, Methodist and Catholic bishops and clergy and laity from various Christian traditions.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, was with Dr. Noko one of the four official signers of the Declaration ten years ago. He recently expressed hope that the Declaration would become a “joint commitment to deepen our common prayer.”

“May it encourage us to continue our theological dialogue, and building on our common foundations, may it lead to an increase in joint witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said.

Justification by faith was a point of theological controversy between Martin Luther and the Catholic Church in the period Protestants call the Reformation. Lutherans accused Catholics of believing in salvation by works, while Catholics held that Lutherans and other Protestants had divorced faith from the other two supernatural virtues of hope and love.

The Joint Declaration identified a consensus behind the controversy, saying “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.”

More information on Catholic-Protestant relations is available at the website of the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs: http://www.usccb.org/seia.

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