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BETHLEHEM – Following up the Joint Catholic and Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation in Lund, Sweden, presided by Pope Francis, Bishop Munib Younan and Rev. Martin Junge, a Joint Prayer Service took place on Saturday, February 18, 2017, in St. Catherine Church.

Last week, the two churches celebrated years of cooperation and dialogue already nurtured in the Holy Land, gathering at The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Amman, Jordan on Sunday February 12, sharing a common prayer and worship service.

On Saturday, the service was again co-presided by Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate, and Bishop Munib Younan, President of the Lutheran World Federation. The celebration was attended by Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the clergy of both churches, some representatives of local churches, religious women and men, members of the Palestinian security services, and about 300 parishioners.

The grassroots from both churches believe in this unity and want to see more of it.

“When we pray together, it puts a smile on Jesus’ face,” Sister Azezet of the Comboni Order of Catholic Nuns in Jerusalem said.

The Common Prayer in Amman and in Bethlehem was fashioned after the historic event in Lund, Sweden on 31 October 2016, which commemorated the coming 500th Year of Reformation. The Reformation formed the Lutheran church movement and set it apart from the Catholic Church.

On a local level, leaders and members of the two denominations gathered to continue the healing and reconciliation started in Lund, Sweden extending into Amman and Bethlehem.

“We come together in order to thank God for starting what He began in Lund,” Sister Agnese of the Comboni Order of Catholic Nuns in Jerusalem said. “We thank God for what He achieved and we hope for more unity and gatherings in prayer.”

“We are Christians first; that’s the first thing,” said Noel Hazboun a St. Catherine’s parishioner and resident of Bethlehem. Mrs. Hazboun attended Evangelical Lutheran School at Beit Sahour more than 30 years ago, and therefore understands the importance of ecumenical work. “This is the best location [for the common prayer] because Jesus was born here and so everybody looks to this place.”

Bishop William Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar in Jordan, began the service by reminding everyone of the journey from “conflict to communion” that the Catholic and Lutheran Churches began 50 years ago. “During this journey, mutual trust and understanding were nurtured between us. What unites us is far greater than what divides us” Bishop Shomali added.

The liturgy then followed with prayer and thanksgiving for each church’s contribution to the world, confession and repentance of church sins against one another, and a commitment to focus on the five imperatives agreed upon in the document “From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran – Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation 2017”.

As the imperatives were read, a child lighted a candle in commitment to the imperative. The St. Catherine choir lead the congregation in prayerful hymns familiar, and petitions were made before God for the specific needs of the Middle East context such as prayers for the Palestinian government, justice, peace, safety, non-violence, and reconciliation.

Latin Patriarchate with ELCJHL

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