VATICAN CITY — Meeting with top Lutheran officials, Pope Benedict said he looked forward to completion of a Catholic-Lutheran document that will assess ecumenical progress nearly 500 years after the Protestant Reformation.

The pope welcomed Bishop Munib Younan, the recently elected president of the Lutheran World Federation, along with other federation officials in a private audience at the Vatican Dec. 16.

In a brief speech, the pope noted a milestone in Catholic-Lutheran relations, the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. That agreement expressed the consensus that the doctrine of justification -- how people are made just in the eyes of God and saved by Jesus Christ -- is not a church-dividing issue for Catholics and Lutherans.

The pope said that with the approach of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther, Catholics and Lutherans should reflect on how far they have come on their "journey toward unity."

He said he was pleased that the International Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity is preparing a joint text that will "document what Lutherans and Catholics are able to say together at this point regarding our closer relations after almost five centuries of separation."

The commission is studying the specific theme of "Baptism and Growing Church Communion," and the pope said the document should help clarify the understanding of the church, which he said was the main focus of ecumenical dialogue today.