"For if we have been united with Christ in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his."
After keeping vigil with so many around the globe, the news of the death of Pope John Paul II brings me profound sadness. Throughout his pastoral ministry, Pope John Paul II served our Lord and the Church with great courage and wisdom. A man of the people, he championed the cause of justice and peace not only for his native Poland but on behalf of all creation. He welcomed into his embrace people of every creed and race, but his love for young people was a special example of his care for all.
Pope John Paul II will go down in history for numerous reasons, not least of which was the length of his service in the papal ministry. But his commitment to the ecumenical movement will be remembered by many as the hallmark of his ministry. His many encyclicals contain numerous references to his desire to advance the unity of Christ's Church and he expressed longing for the day when all Christians could share the Body and Blood of Christ together. He even called for ecumenical conversations about his own papal ministry that he might better serve as a vehicle for Christian unity.
In particular, Lutherans will always remember John Paul II as the pope who fostered an unprecedented growth in Lutheran/Roman Catholic relations. Healing the wounds laid bare during the 16th century Reformation took on new meaning as the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was signed in 1999. We live in new hope that the Spirit of the Living Christ will continue that work and bring about an even stronger relationship between the two church bodies.
The cause of unity was very much at the forefront as Pope John Paul II warmly greeted me at The Vatican in 2003. From his deeply spiritual presence and his profound faith he welcomed me as a brother in Christ and together we shared our prayers that the Body of Christ might soon be one.
We give God thanks for the life and ministry of John Paul II, and we pray that God will strengthen the people of the Roman Catholic Church with the promise of Christ's resurrection during this time of grief and remembrance. We also pray that God's Holy Spirit will guide the deliberations of the College of Cardinals as they begin the process of selecting a new pope.
Mark S. Hanson
President, Lutheran World Federation
Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America