In an ecumenical meeting with a Lutheran delegation on Monday, Pope Francis pointed to the upcoming 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea as a source of unity between Christians.
“Dear friends, we have set out on a journey led by God’s kindly light that dissipates the darkness of division and directs our journey towards unity,” Pope Francis said on Jan. 17.
“We have set out, as brothers and sisters, on the journey towards ever fuller communion.”
Pope Francis received an ecumenical delegation from Finland at the Vatican. The group traveled to Rome on pilgrimage for the feast of Saint Henrik, a 12th century bishop of Finland who is revered by Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans.
In the meeting, the pope pointed to the upcoming anniversaries of two major events in Church history as moments that can help Christians to see the goal of unity more clearly.
“In 2025, we will celebrate the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea. The Trinitarian and Christological confession of that Council, which acknowledges Jesus to be ‘true God from true God’ and ‘consubstantial with the Father,’ unites us with all those who are baptized,” Pope Francis said.
The First Council of Nicaea held in 325 A.D. was called by emperor Constantine to confront the Arian heresy, which denied Christ’s divinity. The council promulgated the Nicene Creed, which is still accepted by Orthodox, Anglican, and other Protestant denominations.
“In view of this great anniversary, let us renew our enthusiasm for journeying together in the way of Christ, in the way that is Christ. For we need him and the newness and incomparable joy that he brings. Only by clinging to him will we reach the end of the path leading to full unity,” the pope said.
Pope Francis also highlighted that 2030 will mark the 500th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession.
The Augsburg Confession included 28 articles presented by Lutheran princes in 1530 for approval by the Catholic Church. The Church responded with a Confutation that accepted 9 articles, approved 6 with qualifications, and condemned 13 articles.
“At a time when Christians were about to set out on different paths, that Confession attempted to preserve unity,” Pope Francis said.
“We know that it did not succeed in preventing division, but the forthcoming anniversary can serve as a fruitful occasion to encourage and confirm us on our journey of communion, so that we can become more docile to God’s will, and less to human strategies, more disposed to prefer to earthly aims the route pointed out by Heaven.”
The delegation from Finland included Jukka Keskitalo, the bishop of Oulu in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, and Bishop Teemu Sippo, the retired Catholic bishop of Helsinki.
Sippo was the first Finnish-born Catholic bishop to be appointed since the 16th century. More than 68% of Finland’s population is Lutheran, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Representatives from the Sámi, Finland’s indigenous people – the only indigenous people of the European Union – were also present for the papal meeting.
Pope Francis has asked Catholics to offer up their “difficulties and sufferings” during this week for the unity of Christians.
“When will unity be achieved? One wonders, isn't that right? A great Orthodox theologian who is a specialist in eschatology said, ‘Unity will be in the eschaton.’ But the path to unity is important. It is very good that theologians study, discuss,” the pope told the Finnish delegation.
“But it is also good that we, God's faithful people, go together on the journey. Together. And we make unity through prayer, through works of charity, through working together. I know you are going down that path, and I thank you so much,” he said.
“Let us keep our gaze ever fixed on Jesus (cf. Heb 12:2) and remain close to one another in prayer,” Pope Francis said.
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Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.