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Pope: Catholics, Methodists can strengthen each other through shared witness of faith

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Catholics and Methodists can strengthen each other through a shared witness of faith, especially through acts of love toward the poor and the marginalized, Pope Francis said.

The mutual call to holiness shared by both communities “is necessarily a call to communion with others, too,” the pope said Oct. 19. Read more »

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Pope joins Lutheran leaders in prayer marking 500th anniversary of Protestant Reformation

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Catholic News Service

LUND, Sweden — Urging Catholics and Lutherans to take decisive steps toward unity, Pope Francis nevertheless offered no new openings to the idea of sharing Communion before full unity is achieved.

Pope Francis and the Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, attend an ecumenical prayer service at the Lutheran cathedral in Lund, Sweden, Oct. 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis and the Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, attend an ecumenical prayer service at the Lutheran cathedral in Lund, Sweden, Oct. 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“We Christians will be credible witnesses of mercy to the extent that forgiveness, renewal and reconciliation are daily experienced in our midst,” the pope said Oct. 31 during an ecumenical prayer service in the Lutherans’ Lund cathedral, which was built as a Catholic cathedral in the 11th century.

With the prayer service, Pope Francis and leaders of the Lutheran World Federation launched a year of activities to mark the 500th anniversary in 2017 of Martin Luther’s efforts to reform the church.

For Pope Francis and the Vatican, Catholics are called to commemorate the event by focusing on concrete ways to express and strengthen the doctrinal agreements reached by Catholic and Lutheran theologians over the past 50 years. The most appropriate way to mark the anniversary, they said, was with common prayer and renewed commitments to working together to help the poor and promote justice.

The Lutherans agree, but many also saw the joint commemoration as a moment to recognize that the joint agreements on issues of faith over the past 50 years mean it is appropriate now to expand occasions when eucharistic sharing is possible.

The Catholic Church has insisted that regular sharing of the Eucharist will be possible only when divided Christians have attained full unity.

In his homily at the Lund cathedral, the Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, expressed his hope for shared Communion sooner.

While in the past Catholics and Lutherans sometimes carried stones to throw at each other, he said, that is no longer possible
“now that we know who we are in Christ.” The stones cannot be used “to raise walls of separation and exclusion” either, he said.

“Jesus Christ calls us to be ambassadors of reconciliation,” he said, using stones for “building bridges so that we can draw closer to each other, houses where we can meet together and tables, yes, tables, where we can share the bread and the wine, the presence of Jesus Christ who has never left us and who calls us to abide in him so the world may believe.”

A joint statement signed in Lund by Pope Francis and Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, said, “Many members of our communities yearn to receive the Eucharist at one table as the concrete expression of full unity.”

Particularly referring to Catholic-Lutheran married couples, the two leaders’ statement said, “We experience the pain of those who share their whole lives, but cannot share God’s redeeming presence at the eucharistic table. We acknowledge our joint pastoral responsibility to respond to the spiritual thirst and hunger of our people to be one in Christ.”

However, they did not authorize further opportunities for shared Communion, but expressed longing “for this wound in the body of Christ to be healed. This is the goal of our ecumenical endeavors, which we wish to advance, also by renewing our commitment to theological dialogue.”

Pope Francis began the service praying that the Holy Spirit would “help us to rejoice in the gifts that have come to the church through the Reformation.” In an interview released Oct 28, he said those gifts were greater appreciation of the Bible as God’s word and an acknowledgement that members of the church are called to a process of ongoing reform.

The service was punctuated with music from around the world, including a Kyrie or “Lord Have Mercy” in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. Catholic and Lutheran leaders took turns asking God’s forgiveness for maintaining divisions, “bearing false witness” against each other and allowing political and economic interests to exacerbate the wounds in the body of Christ.

Lutheran Archbishop Antje Jackelen of Uppsala, the first woman to serve as primate of Sweden, read the Gospel at the service.

In his homily, Pope Francis insisted that Catholics and Lutherans must “look with love and honesty at our past, recognizing error and seeking forgiveness.”

The division among Christians, he said, goes against Christ’s will for his disciples, weakens their ability to serve the world and often makes it difficult for others to believe Christianity is a religion of peace and fraternity.

The Gospel reading at the service, from John 15, was about Jesus being the vine and his disciples being the branches. In his homily, Rev. Junge said that too often over the past 499 years, Catholics and Lutherans saw each other “as branches separated from the true vine, Christ.”

Yet, he said, “Jesus never forgot us, even when we seemed to have forgotten him, losing ourselves in violent and hateful actions.”

After 50 years of Catholic-Lutheran dialogue, Rev. Junge said, “we acknowledge that there is much more that unites us than that which separates us. We are branches of the same vine. We are one in baptism.”

 

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

 

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Vatican leads effort to get AIDS drugs to more children soon

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Catholic News Service

DURBAN, South Africa — The face of the AIDS epidemic has changed dramatically in recent years as scientists have created antiretroviral drugs that lower levels of the virus in the bloodstream, allowing those infected with HIV to live relatively normal lives.

Demonstrators in Durban, South Africa, perform street theater July 18 demanding better funding for HIV and AIDS treatment around the world. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Demonstrators in Durban, South Africa, perform street theater July 18 demanding better funding for HIV and AIDS treatment around the world. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Yet getting those drugs into the hands of everyone who needs them remains difficult. Worldwide, only 17 million of the 36.7 million people who carry the virus are receiving treatment, U.N. officials told delegates to the International AIDS Conference here. As long as those numbers do not improve, untreated carriers will continue to pass on the virus to others.

So a major point of discussion at the conference, which ended July 22, was how to get more drugs to more people. Despite what many dub “AIDS fatigue,” Catholics and other religious leaders recommitted themselves to work to expand treatment, especially among children.

Vatican officials have already begun pushing a unique project to rapidly expand the availability of antiretroviral drugs for children.

The first step was getting drug manufacturers on board. Since not many children in developed countries contract HIV these days, there’s no sizable market to recoup research and development and manufacturing costs. With only poor children needing the drugs, there’s less of an incentive to manufacture pediatric medicines or the specific diagnostic tools that are also needed.

“We have a commitment to make those medicines for children at the right dosage levels, but it’s not a very profitable business. But then none of this HIV work is,” Anil Soni, vice president for infectious diseases at Mylan, the largest producer of generic antiretroviral medicines, told a gathering of religious activists held in conjunction with the AIDS conference.

Soni was one of a handful of pharmaceutical executives invited to Rome for meetings in April and May with high-level Vatican officials and AIDS experts from the United Nations and the United States. The meetings came after years of lobbying by church officials to get governments and drug makers to take action on their own. Frustrated by the lack of progress that produced, the Vatican decided to more directly intervene. It did so by appealing to their sense of morality.

“We recognized up front that this wasn’t something companies could make a lot of money on, but we also think there’s a moral imperative for them to act,” said Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, who became the general secretary of the International Catholic Migration Commission in May. Until a successor is named, he also continues as the Vatican’s special adviser on HIV and AIDS.

Msgr. Vitillo told Catholic News Service that the Vatican did not invite Martin Shkreli, the U.S pharmaceutical boss who increased the price of an HIV-related drug by 5,000 percent. Shkreli has been indicted for fraud in a U.S. federal court. An off-Broadway musical about his greed opened in July.

Pope Francis was scheduled to meet with the group April 16, but a last-minute trip to the Greek island of Lesbos took him out of Rome.

“He did send a personal message to the group, however. It was strong motivation to these corporate executives to hear the pope state that what they’re doing is vitally important, and that they must do it together,” Msgr. Vitillo said.

Msgr. Vitillo said he found participants open to new ideas and wanting to be involved.

“I didn’t hear anyone say we can’t do this. They did share the challenges they face and a belief that if we could share some kind of united approach” that guaranteed enough of a market, their companies could participate, even if it wouldn’t be a highly profitable.

The meetings gave enough encouragement to AIDS officials that a new target for reaching children with life-saving drugs was inserted into a document signed at the High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS held at the United Nations in June. Not all of the details have been worked out yet, and Msgr. Vitillo took advantage of the presence of all the players in Durban to continue refining their plans.

He said the next steps include forming a working group with a smaller number of representative stakeholders, then bringing an action plan back to the larger group. Msgr. Vitillo said they would probably start pilot projects in Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Congo.

The target numbers the group will pursue are ambitious: getting 1.6 million children under 15 on antiretroviral medications in the next two years. Msgr. Vitillo called that a major step toward eliminating AIDS as a major public health crisis by 2030.

Soni said new approaches will be necessary to meet that goal, because what has been tried with children until now simply is not working. He said he was recently in China, where some people crush adult tablets to treat children.

“It’s the wrong dosage and it’s a taste that the children can’t take,” he said.

Soni said researchers are developing new pediatric formulations that can, for example, be sprinkled on food. But these must be brought to market quickly. He said half of children born with HIV will die within 24 months of birth if not treated.

Faith-based groups, which in several countries are among the largest providers of health care, must continue to push their corporate partners, Soni said.

“From our perspective in industry, we appreciate and really look to faith-based organizations for their leadership in reaching out to communities, identifying patients and supporting them and offering both care and prevention services,” he said. “The church has shown tremendous leadership this year in encouraging all partners to reach the children who are living with or affected by HIV to receive treatment and care.”

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Synod of Bishops on the family begins Sunday in Rome — Lesson for synod seen in joy evident at World Meeting of Families

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Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA — It’s difficult to forget Pope Francis’ passionate Sept. 26 speech, his gestures and the tone of his voice when he addressed the value of the family in Philadelphia.

A “society grows strong, grows in goodness, grows in beauty and truly grows if it is built on the foundation of the family,” said the pope, addressing the Festival of Families on the city’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway that Saturday evening. Read more »

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