Pope John Paul II and Bishop Christian Krause, president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), praised on Thursday a recent theological agreement between the Vatican and the LWF.

Speaking at their first meeting since the signing in Augsburg of the joint declaration on the doctrine of justification, Bishop Krause described the agreement as a "sign of hope." He called for further steps towards unity, including reciprocal Eucharistic hospitality between the two traditions.

Pope John Paul said that the joint declaration was an important step towards the recovery of full Christian unity.

The declaration signed in Augsburg announced that there was between Lutherans and Roman Catholics a "consensus in basic truths" on the doctrine of justification, one of the main points at issue between the two traditions since the time of the Reformation.

"We hope that even where we have not yet reached a consensus we will be able to make progress and develop a common basis of understanding," Bishop Krause, from Brunswick, Germany, said, in a statement released after the meeting by the Lutheran World Information press service.

"We mustn't let go of the hands that reached out to each other in Augsburg," Bishop Krause added. "What unites us is stronger than what divides us."

He also expressed a wish to see the two communions recognize each other as "sister churches," as part of a "unity in reconciled diversity." He said he wanted Lutherans and Roman Catholics to have the possibility of sharing in "the mutual hospitality in the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper."

The question of the sharing of the Eucharist is, from the Vatican side at least, extremely complex, and is complicated by the fact that many Lutheran churches ordain women, and several have women bishops. Pope John Paul has declared that the Roman Catholic Church can never ordain women.

Pope John Paul told Bishop Krause, who led a six-member delegation to the Vatican from the LWF, that the joint declaration was a "milestone on a not always easy road to restoring full unity among Christians." He said the agreement provided an impetus to continue theological and ecumenical research "to remove the barriers that still stand in the way of the heartfelt desire for unity at the Table of the Lord," an indirect reference to eucharistic sharing.

The Pope added that he was convinced the "good relations between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation form a basis on which to build all further discussions to resolve outstanding questions."

Since the Second Vatican Council, in the 1960s, relations between Catholics and Lutherans had improved "considerably," and ecumenical co-operation both at national and international level had steadily increased, Pope John Paul added. Bishop Krause stressed that both the Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches had a "joint responsibility" to gather together the forces of Christendom and to prevent any further division.

According to the international Catholic press agency, APIC, based in Fribourg, Switzerland, Pope John Paul also thanked the LWF for its willingness to participate in several events linked to the Vatican's celebrations for the Jubilee Year, including the opening of the Holy Door at St Paul's Outside the Walls (Jan. 18), the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and at an ecumenical ceremony to honor Christian martyrs of the twentieth century, on May 7, 2000, at the Roman Coliseum.

The meeting at the Vatican, which lasted 40 minutes, was preceded by a private meeting between Bishop Krause and Pope John Paul.

The LWF is a global communion of 128 member churches in 70 countries representing 58 million of the world's 61.5 million Lutherans.

Copyright © 1999 Ecumenical News International. Used with permission.

Related Elsewhere

Earlier coverage of the Joint Declaration at ChristianityToday.com:

"Lutheran-Catholic declaration 'better way' of dialogue, says Vatican | But senior ecumenism official plays down hope for extension of document itself."

The full text of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification

"Reformation Day Celebrations Ain't What They Used to Be | The Lutheran-Catholic Justification Declaration is a good step, but it's only a beginning." By Douglas A. Sweeney

"Justified By Works | Yes, we are justified by works. But it's whose works that's important."

"Are We Speaking the Same Language? | What Catholics really believe about justification—and why defining our terms makes all the difference."