Throughout its 25-year history, the ELCA has been committed to joining in dialogue with people of other faiths and denominations.
So when a group of ELCA leaders met with Pope Benedict XVI and other Roman Catholic Church leaders at the Vatican in February 2012, they did so in the hopes of continuing to build bridges between the traditions.
In his greeting to Pope Benedict, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson said, “As Catholics and Lutherans, we have a renewed commitment to unity in Christ.”
“With you, we pray for peace,” he continued. “As we see the suffering in Syria, in Africa, and in the Middle East, we join your call for peace throughout the world. As Lutherans, we share this call and commitment with you and the leaders of the Abrahamic faiths. This time calls for Jews, Christians and Muslims to deepen our understanding of one another and our resolve to work together to build a world of peace with justice.”
The visit followed a round of dialogue between the ELCA and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, where leaders of both churches worked on a common statement that offers fresh insights into issues that have been contentious for centuries, such as the communion of saints, prayers for or about the dead, the meaning of death, purgation and the promise of the resurrection.
It also affirmed a deep, mutual respect between the leaders. Bishop Hanson asked that Pope Benedict and Roman Catholic Church leaders remember the ELCA in their prayers and pledged to do the same, saying, “We promise to remember you in our petitions to our gracious God.”
Jessica Crist, bishop of the ELCA Montana Synod and chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops, was proud that ELCA members and Catholics have “come to a point where we can celebrate our unity and talk about our differences and concerns in the spirit of Christian unity.”