Benedict XVI, an example of faith also for the Lutherans
On the day after his election to the Papacy, which took place on 19 April 2005, Benedict XVI stated in a message to the Cardinals that ecumenism was one of the fundamental themes of his pontificate, takes on as his primary task “the duty to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers”. He was aware that, in order to do this, good intentions do not suffice. Thus “Concrete gestures that enter hearts and stir consciences are essential, inspiring in everyone that inner conversion that is the prerequisite for all ecumenical progress”.
I wish to recall three actions by Pope Benedict XVI because, as a Lutheran pastor in Rome I perceive and consider these gestures to have a lasting ecumenical importance, capable of showing the way. The first was his visit on 14 March 2010 to the Evangelical Lutheran Community of Rome, with whom he celebrated Laetare Sunday in our church, the Christuskirche. For us this was a very special sign of an ecumenical bond. This small step expresses the place that ecumenism occupies for Benedict XVI. For, the Pope, as head of the Roman Catholic Church, was available to celebrate – with our small community in Rome – a sacred encounter in the Lutheran tradition.
A second example can be considered which allows one to perceive closeness and communion: Benedict XVI's visit to the former convent of the Augustinians in Erfurt on 23 September 2011. It was the first time a Pope went to the place where Martin Luther (1483-1546) had been ordained a priest and celebrated his first Mass. Here the Pope and the bishops of the Evangelical Church in Germany meet together and celebrated an ecumenical service.
Such an orientation to the centre of our faith also distinguishes the third ecumenical sign by Pope Benedict XVI, a gesture which greatly moved me. During the prayer for the opening of the European Youth Meeting, in St. Peter's Square, on 29 December 2012, at the place where the Pope's seat is normally located, there was a cross. Just like the brethren of Taizé, the Pope too knelt before this cross, remaining there for several minutes in prayer and meditation. An important gesture of the conception that the Pope has of himself and a clear indication of the fundamental message of the faith: there is only one Christ, whom we behold together.