COMMENTARY: Joint ecumenical service in San Juan on Sunday a step toward religious unity

BY REV. SYLVIA DE LA GARZA

This past year, Catholics and Lutherans all over the world have been coming together before God, asking for forgiveness over sins committed between them. They have been conducting joint worship services in many of the major cities worldwide.

It has been 500 years since the Reformation began on Oct. 31, 1517, when Martin Luther, a monk and professor in Germany, posted his “95 theses” for the community to debate. Luther never intended that his theses would cause a division of the church universal of that day and would result in the Protestant Reformation, yet it did.

One of the main obstacles to relations between Lutherans and Catholics was bridged in 1999 when the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation signed a joint declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. They agreed that we are saved by grace in Jesus Christ, our Lord, and not by works alone. This agreement is a major step toward unity as opposed to the division that began in 1517.

Work continues as we collaborate and follow Jesus’ gospel of love and grace for all. The path has been long. In 2016, Catholic Bishop Anders Arborelius said: “We are leaving the past behind us and focusing on what we have in common, that we can together go out and help people.”

On Nov. 1, 2016, in Lund, Sweden, Pope Francis and the Rev. Dr. Martin Junge, of the Lutheran World Federation, joined in a shared Catholic-Lutheran commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Pope Frances said of it: “We acknowledge that the Reformation helped give greater centrality to sacred Scriptures in the church’s life.”

Since that time, there have been numerous services of reconciliation throughout the world, and even in the Rio Grande Valley. And we believe we are part of God’s people, where we worship in our respective churches; yet, we are one body in Christ.

As theologian and author Virgil Elizondo wrote: “As different as we are from one another … we have a common soul. ¡Somos un pueblo!”

Therefore, we are proud and honored here in the Rio Grande Valley to hold our very own ecumenical prayer service in recognition of reconciliation between Catholic and Protestant faiths. Many priests, pastors and lay persons from all faiths will be participating in this service to be held Sunday at 3 p.m. at St. John the Baptist Catholic Parish at 216 W. 1st Street in San Juan.

The prayer service will bring together people of God from all faith traditions acknowledging what St. Paul expressed in First Corinthians: “For we were all baptized by one spirit so as to form one body — whether Jews or gentiles, slave or free — and we were all given the One Spirit to drink.”

We, at St. John Lutheran Church ELCA, are grateful to Catholic Bishop Daniel Flores for his collaboration and support in hosting this ecumenical prayer service between Catholic and Protestant faiths. We look forward to celebrating this achievement and collaboration. Please join us to make this a memorable occasion.