On the commemoration of St Henrik’s Feast, 19 January 2004

Your Holiness,

1. On behalf of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland and the Diocese of Helsinki, I greet You most warmly on the Feast of our Patron saint, Bishop Henrik. And, in addition, at the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I bring you the fraternal greetings of the Christians of our northern country, who still fondly recall Your pastoral visit to our dear soil. As the Vice President of the Lutheran World Federation (LFW) I also greet you on behalf of the world-wide Lutheran communion. The witness of the Bishop of Rome is carefully attended to in all Christian churches.

2. This year will be five years from the time our churches recognized a joint understanding of the basic truths of the doctrine of justification. We have walked a distance together. His Eminence, Cardinal Walter Kasper, also a deep friend of the Finnish Lutherans, assured the LWF Assembly in Winnipeg last summer that the Roman Catholic Church has, for Her part, committed Herself fully and completely to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. His encouraging greeting to the Assembly has remained in my mind, when he said that to all the bleeding wounds and divisions of the world “the Christians’ answer is nothing other than the message of justification”.

3. It is the fervent hope of many Christians that the rapprochement of our churches would continue on the basis of the Joint Declaration. What is needed is the deepening of this consensus as well as its broadening, that is, to encompass questions which remain open. In Winnipeg the LWF expressed its commitment to further work on the Joint Declaration. The goal of this cooperation is, as was stated in the Declaration, visible unity. These efforts are also being continued in the excellent spirit of the dialogue group of the Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches of Sweden and Finland.

4. Our sincere desire for visible unity and for a shared Eucharist calls for a patient, deeper advance into the roots of our Christian faith. Lutherans long to be at the common table of the Lord with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters because the Eucharist is the meal of Christ’s presence. We Lutherans have always wanted to trust that at Holy Communion Christ Himself is present in the consecrated bread and wine “truly and substantially” (vere et substantialiter). There He donates to baptized believers the entire reality of salvation. As a community, the Church lives in the true meaning of the word de eucharistia, that is to say, on the mystery and gift of the Eucharist.

5. The trust in Christ’s true presence in the Sacrament of Holy Communion is such a treasure of faith that it could bring us closer to each other. Most Holy Father, You wrote in your encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia of this mystery of faith: Christ, truly man and truly God, is present in the wine and bread of the Eucharist “really, wholly, and entirely”. We Lutherans have also wanted to believe that Christ’s presence is realized, as it is put in the encyclical (§ 15), “in objective reality” (in ipsa rerum natura) and “independently of our minds” (a nostro scilicet spiritu disiuncta).

6. The Sacrament of Holy Communion brings Christ’s person and also his work – His sacrifice and victory – into the present and gives them to us personally. “The Eucharist thus applies to men and women today the reconciliation won once for all by Christ for mankind in every age” (§ 12). That is why we can speak together of the “unifying power” of the Eucharist (§ 24).

7. With these words, Most Holy Father, I greet You in this year of the anniversary of Your years of ministry. In the same breath, I pray for You strength, wisdom, and joy in the service of Christ, our common Lord. May the Lord be with You.