By Philippa Hitchen
The new head of the Lutheran World Federation says the visit by Pope Francis to Sweden for the joint commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation marked a “turning point” in relations between the two world communions.
Speaking just after an audience in the Vatican, Nigerian Archbishop Musa Panti Filibus said he and his delegation were encouraged by the pope’s words and “feel emboldened in our journey together”.
The Lutheran leader said there was “absolutely no doubt that Pope Francis’ visit to Malmö last year” was a “very important turning point” which “cemented our journey”. Describing the visit as “a precious gift”, he said the pope’s presence “also opened new possibilities” by modelling the way “we really, in practice, turned towards one another” instead of simply working side by side.
Archbishop Musa also talked about a pastoral approach to ecumenism and the need to provide accountability, as leaders, to inter-confessional families who yearn to “share more in worship, in the Eucharist”.
Christians combatting violence in Nigeria
Speaking of the role of the Churches in combatting extremism and violence in his native Nigeria, the archbishop said Lutherans, Catholics, Pentecostals and other Christians support the victims of violence by Boko Haram and other groups.
At the same time, he said, we try to diffuse tensions, “by messages that counteract hate speeches that seem to be increasing”. As Churches, he said, “we have to come up with alternative messages” that nations cannot be built on hatred and violence.
Building bridges of dialogue
The Churches also work together “extending hands of fellowship to other religious bodies”, he added, exploring “how we can all together take responsibility for ensuring that peace and justice reigns in our country”.
The Lutheran leader emphasized the need to build bridges, saying there is no alternative to dialogue. He added that religion only “becomes a problem insofar as people manipulate and misuse scripture and holy texts for induvial needs and ambitions.
Gender justice in Church and society
Speaking of his focus on gender equality within the Church and within society, Archbishop Musa said that “the issue of gender is rooted in our understating of what it means to be a human being”. While he noted that not all Christian denominations hold the same views on the role of women in the Church, he said progress in the dialogue means “we can talk about these differences in very friendly atmosphere”
Growth of Churches in global south
Finally, commenting on the growth of the Church in global south, the Lutheran leader said it’s “not by human design” but by the work of the Holy Spirit. The driving force, he said, is the participation of lay people, “sharing their stories” and witnessing the love of God to others. He said Churches in the north should not “fall into despair”, adding that “we have to work together and pray for each other”.