Protestant Leaders Pray for Ecumenism, Holy Spirit to Guide Pope

Christian leaders representing millions of Protestants worldwide congratulated Pope Benedict XVI on his election and expressed hopes for a renewed dedication to ecumenism and dialogue.

Christian leaders representing millions of Protestants worldwide congratulated Pope Benedict XVI on his election and expressed hopes for a renewed dedication to ecumenism and dialogue.

“As the Charta Oecumenica states, ‘There is no alternative to dialogue,’” the Rev. Dr. Keith Clement, General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches, wrote in a statement Tuesday. We therefore look for a further stage of the ecumenical journey and in the coming days will welcome every sign and assurance from the Roman Catholic Church that we can walk together on that road.”

The Rev. Samuel Kobia, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, expressed similar sentiments.

“We pray to our common Lord Jesus Christ, asking that your Pontificate become a blessed time of dialogue between churches, of dialogue in truth and love, of dialogue as an exchange of gifts among Christian churches, a dialogue of conversion,” Kobia said.

The heads of the Lutheran World Federation meanwhile said they hope such ecumenical dialogue can be powered by theological agreements.

“As Lutherans we expect especially that ecumenical progress can be made on the basis of the substantial theological agreements that have been achieved through 40 years of international Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue, particularly with regard to justification, ministry and sacraments," a statement by LWF General Secretary Ishmael Noko and President Mark S. Hanson read. "Let us pray together that God may show us ways forward by the guidance of the Holy Spirit."

The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church USA, also hoped for a unity within Christendom through the Holy Spirit.

“I offer my prayers for Pope Benedict XVI as he takes up the august responsibility of his office. I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide him in his words and his actions and that he may become a focus of unity and a minister of reconciliation in a church and a world in which faithfulness and truth wear many faces,” Griswold wrote.

The president of the liberal United Church of Christ, however, was not as positive in his outlook on the election of a Cardinal widely known for his conservative views.

"Today as the conclave announces its decision, the offering of prayers for this new pontificate is the most appropriate response from other Christian leaders," the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president, said in a written statement to United Church News. "Nevertheless, I acknowledge that I personally greet Cardinal Ratzinger's selection with profound disappointment. Cardinal Ratzinger's long tenure in the Vatican has been marked by a theological tone that is rigid, conservative and confrontational."

Ultimately, however, Rev. Thomas said he hopes the Holy Spirit could bring new surprises.

“In other times the Holy Spirit has surprised us with gifts and graces we could not have anticipated from new popes at the time of their election," Thomas said. "I pray that there may be similar surprises in the coming weeks and months."

Conservative protestant leaders were also hesitant in celebrating immediate unity.

“Evangelicals may be prone to celebrate Ratzinger’s orthodoxy on the Trinity, Christology, and no salvation outside Christ but will need to remember Ratzinger’s role in ‘Dominus Iesus’ in 2000, which said that Protestant and evangelical churches ‘are not Churches in the proper sense,’ a statement reckoned by some as a reversal of Vatican II, which implies [Protestants and evangelicals are] ‘sects,’” wrote James Leo Garrett, distinguished professor of theology emeritus at Southwestern Seminary.

Nevertheless, Garrett said, “papal history has had its surprises.”

“Hence we must wait patiently and prayerfully to see what kind of pope the German cardinal proves to be.”

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