Conversion is a prerequisite to ecumenism, Pope Francis says

Pope Francis embraces Bishop Dr Munib A Younan President of the Lutheran World Federation during a joint prayer service at the cathedral in Lund Oct 31 2016 Credit LOsservatore Romano CNA Pope Francis embraces Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan, President of the Lutheran World Federation-during a joint prayer service at the cathedral in Lund Oct. 31, 2016. | L'Osservatore Romano.

For Pope Francis, personal conversion is pretty much the key to the Church's success in all of her activities, from Church governance to pastoral work, from Curial reform to evangelization and dialogue.

He reiterated this point in a Jan. 19 speech to an ecumenical delegation from Finland, telling them that "true ecumenism is based on a shared conversion to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Redeemer."

"If we draw close to him, we draw close also to one another," he said, and pointed to his trip to Sweden last fall for a joint-commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

Francis noted that at one of the ecumenical events held during his visit both Catholics and Lutherans recognized that Martin Luther's original intention "was to renew the Church, not divide her."

"The gathering there gave us the courage and strength, in our Lord Jesus Christ, to look ahead to the ecumenical journey that we are called to walk together," he said, and urged members of the delegation to pray fervently "so that we may experience this conversion which makes reconciliation possible."

Pope Francis spoke to members of the Ecumenical Delegation of the Lutheran Church of Finland who traveled to Rome for their annual pilgrimage marking the feast of St. Henrik, the country's patron.

The delegation traditionally makes the pilgrimage during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which this year runs Jan. 18-25 and holds the theme "Love of Christ pushes us toward reconciliation."

In his speech, Francis said the joint-commemoration of the Reformation in Sweden was important "on both the human and theological-spiritual levels."

After 50 years of official ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans, "we have succeeded in clearly articulating points of view which today we agree on," he said, and voiced his gratitude. However, at the same time "we keep alive in our hearts sincere contrition for our faults," he said, pointing to the current divisions among Christians.

Francis also said, as illustrated during his trip to Sweden, "theological dialogue remains essential for reconciliation" among Christians, Catholics and Lutherans in particular, but noted that this dialogue has already "advanced through steadfast commitment."

"Thus, in that communion of harmony which permits the Holy Spirit to act, we will be able to find further convergence on points of doctrine and the moral teaching of the Church, and will be able to draw ever closer to full and visible unity," he said.

He prayed particularly for the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue Commission in Finland, which is currently "working diligently" to find "a common sacramental understanding" of the Church, the Eucharist and ecclesial ministry.

Given the steps that have already been taken and those that are being made now, the Pope said the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 offers Catholics and Lutherans an opportunity to focus on the Gospel and to seek Christ together "with renewed vigor."

He encouraged the delegation to make a similar commitment to the one made between the Catholic and Lutheran delegations in Sweden, promising to work together to serve the poor, needy and those who suffer persecution and violence.

By doing this, "as Christians we are no longer divided, but rather united on the journey toward full communion," Pope Francis said.

He noted how 2017 also marks Finland's 100th anniversary as an independent State, and prayed that the milestone would "encourage all the Christians of your country to profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – as did Saint Henrik so zealously."

Francis closed his address praying that the delegation's pilgrimage would "contribute to further strengthening the good cooperation between Orthodox, Lutherans and Catholics in Finland and in the world."

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