The bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) shared on Thursday that Pope Francis, the new Roman Catholic Church head, has ties to the Lutheran Church.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of ELCA, said in a statement that he is "encouraged that Pope Francis has worked with Lutherans in Argentina."
"His choice of the name Francis is a strong sign of his commitment to a life of prayer, simplicity, humility and solidarity with those who live on the margins of society. May the gifts of the Holy Spirit sustain him as we enter this holy calling," Hanson said.
Hanson's assistant, the Rev. Donald J. McCoid, executive for ecumenical and inter-religious relations, said the election of Pope Francis "certainly brings a Holy Father to the world's Catholics but also is very important for Christians throughout the world. Taking the name of Francis is very interesting to me, and I am sure many others. Francis of Assisi prayed before a crucifix and heard the words of Christ speaking to him, 'Francis go and repair my Church.'"
The ELCA and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have been discussing for more than 30 years topics important for the life and vitality of both the Catholic and the Lutheran Church.
ELCA leaders met with Roman Catholic Church leaders and Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 at the Vatican to present "The Hope of Eternal Life" to Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The document is a common statement from the eleventh round of dialogues between the two churches. It is said to offer insights into "contentious" issues of the Catholic Church, such as "communion of saints, prayers for or about the dead, the meaning of death, purgation, the promise of the resurrection and more," according to ELCA.
The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther. Hanson said, "as we approach the commemoration of the 500th (observance) of the Lutheran Reformation, we share a deep commitment to our ongoing dialogues with the Catholic Church internationally and in the United States."
Hanson said the new round of dialogues, "Ministries of Teaching: Sources, Shapes and Essential Contents," will address areas of morality, ethics and theology, "looking at the Bible as an authoritative source for teaching ministries, as well as the international dialogue through The Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican."
The Lutheran World Federation has 143 member churches in 79 countries. The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the U.S., with more than 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region.