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Lutherans, Catholics unite to discuss Pope’s words

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Lutherans and Catholics will come together at 3 p.m. Sunday to share environmental awareness, have community, and be in prayer.

The gathering will take place at Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral, 2535 Collingwood Blvd., where Gregory Hitzhusen, 45, an Ohio State University professor whose specialty is religion, ecology, and sustainability, will lead a presentation and discussion on “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis’ encyclical on caring for “our common home.”

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Afterward, Bishop Marcus Lohrmann, the leader of the Northwestern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, will give the homily and Bishop Daniel Thomas, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Toledo, will lead the prayer during an evening worship service that will also feature a 70-voice choir, directed by Omaldo Perez of Zoar Lutheran Church in Perrysburg.

“Everyone’s welcome” to attend the presentation and service, said the Rev. Kent Kaufman, coordinator of ecumenical interfaith relations for the diocese and the pastor of All Saints Parish in Rossford. “Even though it’s Catholics and Lutherans coming together and organizing things, we certainly want to invite people of all faiths and all Christian denominations,” he said.

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The afternoon, occurring during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, is also the first of several events in 2016 the two denominations will share observing the 15th anniversary of the Catholic-Lutheran Covenant in northwest Ohio.

“I have found lots of interest in that encyclical letter,” Father Kaufman said. He said that papal encyclicals are usually not well known by many Catholics, much less by people outside the faith.

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“Laudato Si” was addressed beyond Catholicism, Mr. Hitzhusen said. “Pope Francis was serious about writing to everyone and sparking a dialogue among everyone,” he said. He added that there is “a willingness on Pope Francis’ part to express views from a Catholic perspective that are very aware of the views of others.

“I think there’s been that kind of level of effort in northwest Ohio between the Catholics and Lutherans, the progress that they've made of their own coming together,” he continued.

Catholics and Lutherans are putting positive energy on differences that began with the Protestant Reformation in 1517, and they have worked to come closer together. Some efforts focused on the year 2000, and alliances continue for the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's statements that began a separation from the Catholic Church.

At the Vatican on Thursday, some Lutherans from Finland were offered communion by priests after the Lutherans had a papal audience. Lutherans traditionally are barred from the Catholic Eucharist. 

The Catholic-Lutheran Covenant in northwest Ohio dates from 2001, Father Kaufman said. “I think it was really flowing upon the heels of the [Joint] Declaration on Justification that the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation had worked upon for so many years leading up to the year 2000,” he said. “It was really a local way to begin living out the fruits of that hard work, that step toward unity.”

Mr. Hitzhusen’s said, “Since there’s a theme of Christian unity,” on Sunday he “may speak to some things from my own background and maybe on the level of stories that have to do with how we understand ourselves as commonalities of people having a life of prayer — in study and in work and action, in our lives. Those are three elements, prayer, study, and action, that came out of the covenant between the Lutheran communities and the Catholic communities in northwest Ohio. …

“The other theme from the covenant was around dialogue, a call to dialogue and conversation between communities, and so that's one of the strongest themes I'll pick up on from ‘Laudato Si.’ ”

Mr. Hitzhusen is Roman Catholic and came to that faith as an adult. His parents, a Lutheran mother and Methodist father, “found a Presbyterian church that was a good match for them,” he said, and he was raised in that denomination, in Columbus.

When he studied for a master’s degree at Yale Divinity School, he said, he was “calling myself denominationally challenged, and somewhere along the line realizing that I was tending toward Catholicism and then joining the Catholic Church a number of years after I finished seminary.”

His doctorate is in natural resource policy. Part of Mr. Hitzhusen’s work is to do “environment and sustainability outreach to faith communities in Ohio,” he said, providing resources for “their own creation care work.”

Mr. Hitzhusen is also the board chairman for Ohio Interfaith Power and Light, a project of the Ohio Council of Churches that encourages energy conservation in the face of climate change. During the discussion part of the afternoon, Mr. Hitzhusen said, “There are going to be some folks from local congregations raising up the examples of the work that they've been able to do around creation care and climate change, and that's something that Ohio Interfaith Power and Light really strives to do. ...

“[We’ll examine] just the whole range of other actions that we might regard as creation care or earth keeping or earth stewardship.”

Contact TK Barger at tkbarger@theblade.com419-724-6278 or on Twitter @TK_Barger.

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