Ecumenical arena: Catholics, Lutherans to serve the poor together

By Cindy Wooden

MALMO, Sweden (CNS) — The sheet of ice and the penalty boxes were gone
from Malmo Arena Oct. 31 as Catholics and Lutherans filled the stands and
promised to work together for peace — particularly in Syria — and for justice
— especially for refugees.

Pope Francis and leaders of the Lutheran World Federation
continued their ecumenical commemoration of Reformation Day in an arena that
usually hosts hockey games. But kicking off a year of events to culminate in
the 2017 commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation,
the arena was transformed into a venue for song and witness.

Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, Syria, called on all
Christians to join their voices in prayer and in pressuring their governments
to stop the bloodshed and destruction in his homeland.

The bishop, who is president of Caritas Syria, announced
that Christian humanitarian work in his country would follow the motto:
“Become Christians Together,” focusing on how serving Christ must
include serving others, especially the poorest and most needy.

A centerpiece of the Malmo event was the signing of a
“declaration of intent” by the heads of Caritas Internationalis, the
Vatican-based confederation of Catholic charities, and the Lutheran World
Federation’s World Service. The two organizations promised to “witness and
act together,” supporting one another, including by serving the victims of
war in Syria and Syrian refugees in neighboring countries.

Religion, Bishop Audo said, “should encourage us to
defend the human values of dignity, solidarity and seeking the common

The stories told in Malmo include those of a young Indian
woman working to educate people about climate change, the Sudanese refugee
runner who carried the flag for the Olympic Refugee Team, the head of Caritas
Colombia working for peace and a woman from Burundi who adopted and sheltered
seven children during her country’s genocidal rampage in the 1990s.

Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran
World Federation and bishop of Jordan and the Holy Land, co-hosting the event
with the pope, also spoke as a refugee, the son of Palestinians from Beersheba.
“All refugees are my brothers and sisters,” he said.

“I ask each of you to pray for my country and for the
just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said. “Pray
that God’s will of justice will be done. Pray that Jerusalem would be a city
shared by three religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — and two peoples
— Palestinians and Israelis.”

Praising the Caritas-World Service agreement, Bishop Younan
said, “I am proud to answer God’s call with you so the world can see how
Lutherans and Catholics love one another and serve their neighbors so the world
may believe.”

Pope Francis told the crowd in the arena that the ecumenical
agreement is a fruit of 50 years of Catholic-Lutheran dialogue and its
affirmations of a common faith and a common baptism in Jesus. He prayed that it
would unleash a “revolution of tenderness.”

Aleppo, he said, has been “brought to its knees by
war” and is a place where “even the most fundamental rights are
treated with contempt and trampled underfoot.”

Every person in Syria “is in our hearts and prayers,”
the pope added. “Let us implore the grace of heartfelt conversion for those
responsible for the fate of that region.”

Marguerite Barankitse, the woman from Burundi who spoke
about adopting and sheltering children, had told the pope that everyone around
her, including her family members, thinks she is crazy.

“Please,” she told the crowd in English, “do
you accept to be crazy like me?”

Bishop Younan told her, “We want to be crazy like you,
crazy in our love.”

In his response, Pope Francis encouraged her as well.
“Of course,” he said, “it is the craziness of love for God and
our neighbor. We need more of this craziness, illuminated by faith and
confidence in God’s providence.”

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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