In his comments to journalists, Cardinal Koch, who will be part of Pope Francis’ delegation, recognized that the issue of mixed marriages are a “very big pastoral concern for Catholics and Lutherans” alike, but said we have yet to see what the Pope will say about it.
However, when asked about the issue directly, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke referred to Pope Francis’ Nov. 15, 2015, visit to Rome's Lutheran community.
During the encounter Francis was asked by Anke de Bernardinis, a Lutheran woman married to a Roman Catholic man, how she and her husband can be united in communion.
In his response, the Pope said that the answer is “not easy,” but that that going to each other’s services is a way to participate in the Lord’s Supper together.
He said he would “never dare to give permission” on anything regarding Communion because “it's not my competence,” but pointed to the common baptism shared between Catholic and Lutherans, explaining that praying together helps keep this common baptism alive.
Burke said that when it comes to Sweden, the Pope likely won’t get much more explicit on the issue than that, but added, “you never know in the moment.”
Other concerns about the joint commemoration surround points of division not only between Lutherans and Catholics, but also within the global Lutheran community on various social and ethical issues such as homosexuality and abortion.
However, despite the unresolved issues at stake, Junge stressed that in the history of Catholic-Lutheran dialogue “we have seen many things that we thought would be impossible.”
“I believe in the '80s nobody thought we would find agreement on the doctrine of justification and we did,” he said, adding that “only a few years ago if you would have said there would be a joint-commemoration of the Reformation and that would be done together, many would have said 'impossible'.”
Junge pointed to the context of the modern world, saying that while he doesn’t mean to sound negative or “apocalyptic,” we live in times “of fragmentation, in times of a world that is wounded by conflict.”
“For Catholics and Lutherans to come together around the world … is a powerful witness to faith and to Christ who we see walking among us together,” he said, voicing his belief that the event is “going to become a great contribution, not only to address the sufferings of the world, but also to draw closer together in mutual understanding and trust.”
He said the presence of Pope Francis at the commemorative event is significant and brings “high value” to what is taking place. However, he also noted that by attending, Francis “is giving continuity to an ecumenical path of his predecessors.”
“In 1999, when we signed the join-declaration on justification, the Pope was John Paul II. In 2003 when we signed the document on the conflict of communion, the Pope was Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis the one who is doing this fruit of this ecumenical path, but undoubtedly giving it a new profile and potential that we hope to work toward in the future.”
Despite the significant steps already taken in Catholic-Lutheran dialogue, Cardinal Koch and Junge expressed that there are still many more to go.
After finally reaching an agreement on the doctrine of justification, the next issues to tackle are about “ministry, the Church and the Eucharist,” Junge said.
Similarly, Cardinal Koch noted how the 1999 common declaration on justification itself said that “the ecclesial consequences of this common declaration are not resolved,” so we have a duty to move forward.
“I agree with Rev. Jungle, there are three items: Church, Eucharist and ministry,” he said, voicing his hope that Catholics and Lutherans can continue paving the way to a new joint declaration on those three issues.
“I think we are really on a good path to resolve all these problems,” the cardinal said, explaining that he is “very hopeful, grateful and happy that some original dialogues” are taking place on these points.
Speaking of the Pope’s Mass Nov. 1, which was not initially part of the Pope’s itinerary but was added later upon the request of Catholics in Sweden, Junge said the LWF is fully aware of the need for the Pope and the Catholic community to be together.
However, “while we have that understanding, of course it is also going to reveal that we are not yet united, it is going to reveal a wound that remains there, and in that way it is going to be a strong encouragement to continue working toward communion,” he said, explaining that a delegation from the LWF will be present at the Mass.
Junge voiced his hope that joint commemoration would provide “a strong encouragement to be faster, to be bolder, to be even more creative in order to address these three items and with a very strong focus on where people feel the lack of unity the heaviest, around the table.”