.- The Holy Father began the Week of prayer for Christian unity as he welcomed an ecumenical delegation from the Lutheran Church of Finland in audience. Their visit was celebrated by the Pope, who expressed his hope that the groups efforts would make headway in restoring "our lost unity."
Pope Benedict welcomed the group's 25th annual visit from Finland to celebrate the feast of St. Henrik with gratitude, calling to mind the significant contribution the continuing pilgrimages have made "to strengthening the relations among the Christians" in the Nordic nation.
The Holy Father cited the positive influence of the Second Vatican Council in making such an encounter possible, because through its edicts the Catholic Church is committed "irrevocably to following the path of the ecumenical venture, thus heeding the Spirit of the Lord who teaches us to interpret carefully the âsigns of the timesâ"
"This is the path that the Catholic Church has wholeheartedly embraced since that time."
The Pope continued by pointing to the "real, yet still imperfect, communion" of the eastern and western Church traditions in Finland as " a motive to regret the troubles of the past, but it is surely also a motive which spurs us to ever greater efforts at understanding and reconciliation, so that our brotherly friendship and dialogue may yet blossom into a perfect, visible unity in Christ Jesus."
The Holy Father also expressed his hope that measures resulting from current Nordic Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, spurred on a decade ago through the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, would "contribute positively to the path which leads to the restoration of our lost unity."
The Pope closed by congratulating the delegation on their perseverance in completing 25 years of visits to Rome, thus demonstrating "respect for the Successor of Peter as well as your good faith and desire for unity through fraternal dialogue."
Before imparting the Apostolic blessing on the group he expressed his "fervent prayer" for continued relations, "that the various Christian Churches and ecclesial communities which (they) represent may build on this sense of brotherhood as we persevere in our pilgrimage together."