Pope Francis Initiates an Unprecedented Step Toward Reconciliation between Catholics, Evangelicals, and Charismatics.

What a privilege to meet this humble man. His greatness is in his kindness, accessibility and obvious love for God and people. 

July 28th, 2014 - Mike Herron  

For some time Pope Francis had wanted to visit his friend, Pastor Giovanni Traettino, in Caserta, Italy, a small town north of Naples.  Saturday, July 25th was the arranged date but the Bishops of the area encouraged the Pope first to visit his own flock in the region. So Francis added an additional day to his schedule in order to hold an audience and Mass at the Palace Square with over 200,000 people in attendance.

 

Saturday's Mass in the Palace Square in Caserta.  

Saturday's Mass in the Palace Square in Caserta.  

Three days later, on Monday, July 28, Francis returned to Caserta to visit with Giovanni. This was the first time a Pope has visited the same small city twice in such a short period. And it was the first time in history a Pope has visited a Pentecostal/Charismatic church. All of the members of Giovanni's congregation were invited to the meeting along with over thirty pastors from the fellowship Giovanni leads in Italy and worldwide. Marsha and I were invited along with Joe and Mary Tosini. Joe and I have been close friends with Giovanni and his wife, Franca, for more than thirty years.

The church building was under construction, so it was very humble in contrast to Palace Square just three days before. The Pope and Giovanni arrived late for the 10 A.M. meeting at the church. The reason? Francis insisted on first going to Giovanni's home to have coffee with the family and pray for Rafaela, Giovanni's daughter-in-law. She has been quite sick during her second pregnancy and Francis wanted to pray especially for Rafaela.

Giovanni's church in Caserta, under construction! A very humble place for a Pope to visit but he wanted to fellowship with his friend.

Giovanni's church in Caserta, under construction! A very humble place for a Pope to visit but he wanted to fellowship with his friend.

When Francis and Giovanni finally arrived for the meeting the Pope entered the church walking side-by-side with Giovanni and shared the platform with him. This is very different than normal protocol but everything about this day was different! The service started with the Lord’s Prayer followed by four worship songs. The first song was 'Bendito Gesu,' written by my friend, Juan Salinas. The Pope joined in our songs, lifting and clapping his hands with our Charismatic worship! Four people gave testimonies of their conversions to Christ, each of them hugging the Pope after they finished.

Giovanni and Francis shared the platform as brothers. This does not normally happen!

Giovanni and Francis shared the platform as brothers. This does not normally happen!

Giovanni read his comments first, officially welcoming Pope Francis and thanking him for coming to visit them just as they are and with what they have. He read the Scripture from Corinthians: "no one can lay any other foundation for the church other than Jesus Christ.” [1 Corinthians 3:11] His comments addressed the importance of walking in the presence of Jesus and the necessity to make efforts towards reconciliation with believers in both Catholic and Protestant churches.

Then Francis spoke from his heart without notes. He thought deeply about his comments and began where Giovanni had ended with his own reflections about walking with Jesus. He expressed how important Jesus and His presence is to all of us. We must walk in His presence by faith just like Abraham. We can't stop or we will become a stagnant pool; life is in the flowing stream of His presence. The presence of Jesus is life; He is everything. To which we all say, Protestants and Catholics alike, "Amen and Amen!"

Francis joined our worship time singing along with the song 'Bendito Jesus', composed by my friend here in Houston, Juan Salinas!   He spoke about how he was raised in the Catholic Church to believe that Protestants could never be saved. His grandmother told him that the Salvation Army women he encountered as a boy were good people who loved God. He said this helped him to come to his own experience of being born again.  He went back to the thought of walking in the presence of God and began to share how Joseph's brothers were filled with guilt as they walked to Egypt to get bread. In addition to getting bread they discovered their brother. He related that story to his own visit to Caserta, that he had found a brother in Giovanni and in all of us. He then recounted how the brothers asked forgiveness from Joseph to restore their relationship. Then Francis related the history of the Italian government's persecution of Pentecostals/Charismatics from 1935-1951 and the Catholic Churches complicity and endorsement. He then expressed sorrow for those actions and asked the Protestants to forgive him and the church for that sin. He said that he wanted to restore relationships with his 'brothers' like the story of Joseph. This was a touching moment and the congregation applauded their approval and acceptance. He mentioned the same Holy Spirit that created the diversity of gifts is also the same Holy Spirit who creates unity in the church. He expressed the need to reach out and minister to the broken body of Christ, to touch the needy and poor is to touch Jesus himself. After the service with 400 people there was a lunch downstairs with about 60 guests. I knew many of these men and their wives from ministering in their churches and conferences for 30 years. Jorge Himitian from Argentina, a long time friend of Francis and Giovanni sat at the Pope's left hand. Ernest Komanipali from India also joined with them at the head table. They had special silver ware and plates for the Pope but he declined and chose to use the plastic plates and utensils along with the rest of us!   After the lunch, the Pope rested in another room 15 minutes then came out and took three prepared questions answering them very openly and candidly. All reporters and Papal guards were asked to leave and we were alone with him, one Catholic and 60 Protestants!  One of the questions was 'what sorrows and what joys have you encountered on this path of reconciliation?'  He expressed his greatest sorrow comes from Fundamentalist Christians as well as Fundamentalist Moslems and Jews. They are not willing to dialogue in any meaningful way but instead retreat into their own camps and hurtle accusations and hateful comments. He said that he liked to talk openly as we were there that afternoon. He mentioned we must negotiate and dialogue from the basis of our identity, that which we believe and what gives us our uniqueness. Dialogue is talking about the differences between identities without hostility. His greatest joy was in discovering the Pentecostal/Charismatics while presiding as Cardinal of Argentina. He first thought we were all 'Samba Christians' singing lively music back then. He then expressed that our greatest gifts to the Body of Christ worldwide was the gift of celebration and adoration in worship and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in theology. He said that the Catholic Church and others need these gifts residing in us. He said that if we try to build unity around doctrinal issues we will only achieve it after the Apocalypse! It must first start with friendship, humility and receiving one another like we were presently experiencing and let The Lord accomplish this work. The Pope asked us a question: what do you want from us (The Catholic Church)? Giovanni answered with two things. First was to be recognized as a valid part of CHRIST'S body the Church. To this the Pope responded; we have already removed the word 'sect' when referring to Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches which had been used for years for various groups. He said they would use that only when referring to groups who deny the basic tenants of the Christian faith. Secondly Giovanni stressed the need for Reformation in the Catholic Church to the basic foundations of our faith. Francis stated that we are 'saved by grace'. The last question concerned the place of the Jews  in redemption and were they replaced by the church? Francis answered that 'we (Catholics) are the inheritors of the Gentile church' and the Jews must go along at their own pace. He expressed his faith that they will come to knowledge of Christ. There will come a unity someday. He also spoke about his hope for a dialogue of peace between Jews and Palestinians.  All of this was done from my notes that I made from memory right after the meeting. It also was filtered through our interpreters who were doing simultaneous translation. Please do not take these as absolute, I just wanted to share as accurately as possible this amazing day! - Mike Herron - mikeherron.org

Francis joined our worship time singing along with the song 'Bendito Jesus', composed by my friend here in Houston, Juan Salinas!

 

He spoke about how he was raised in the Catholic Church to believe that Protestants could never be saved. His grandmother told him that the Salvation Army women he encountered as a boy were good people who loved God. He said this helped him to come to his own experience of being born again. 

He went back to the thought of walking in the presence of God and began to share how Joseph's brothers were filled with guilt as they walked to Egypt to get bread. In addition to getting bread they discovered their brother. He related that story to his own visit to Caserta, that he had found a brother in Giovanni and in all of us. He then recounted how the brothers asked forgiveness from Joseph to restore their relationship.

Then Francis related the history of the Italian government's persecution of Pentecostals/Charismatics from 1935-1951 and the Catholic Churches complicity and endorsement. He then expressed sorrow for those actions and asked the Protestants to forgive him and the church for that sin. He said that he wanted to restore relationships with his 'brothers' like the story of Joseph. This was a touching moment and the congregation applauded their approval and acceptance.

He mentioned the same Holy Spirit that created the diversity of gifts is also the same Holy Spirit who creates unity in the church. He expressed the need to reach out and minister to the broken body of Christ, to touch the needy and poor is to touch Jesus himself.

After the service with 400 people there was a lunch downstairs with about 60 guests. I knew many of these men and their wives from ministering in their churches and conferences for 30 years. Jorge Himitian from Argentina, a long time friend of Francis and Giovanni sat at the Pope's left hand. Ernest Komanipali from India also joined with them at the head table. They had special silver ware and plates for the Pope but he declined and chose to use the plastic plates and utensils along with the rest of us!

 

After the lunch, the Pope rested in another room 15 minutes then came out and took three prepared questions answering them very openly and candidly. All reporters and Papal guards were asked to leave and we were alone with him, one Catholic and 60 Protestants! 

One of the questions was 'what sorrows and what joys have you encountered on this path of reconciliation?' 

He expressed his greatest sorrow comes from Fundamentalist Christians as well as Fundamentalist Moslems and Jews. They are not willing to dialogue in any meaningful way but instead retreat into their own camps and hurtle accusations and hateful comments. He said that he liked to talk openly as we were there that afternoon. He mentioned we must negotiate and dialogue from the basis of our identity, that which we believe and what gives us our uniqueness. Dialogue is talking about the differences between identities without hostility.

His greatest joy was in discovering the Pentecostal/Charismatics while presiding as Cardinal of Argentina. He first thought we were all 'Samba Christians' singing lively music back then. He then expressed that our greatest gifts to the Body of Christ worldwide was the gift of celebration and adoration in worship and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in theology. He said that the Catholic Church and others need these gifts residing in us.

He said that if we try to build unity around doctrinal issues we will only achieve it after the Apocalypse! It must first start with friendship, humility and receiving one another like we were presently experiencing and let The Lord accomplish this work.

The Pope asked us a question: what do you want from us (The Catholic Church)?

Giovanni answered with two things. First was to be recognized as a valid part of CHRIST'S body the Church. To this the Pope responded; we have already removed the word 'sect' when referring to Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches which had been used for years for various groups. He said they would use that only when referring to groups who deny the basic tenants of the Christian faith.

Secondly Giovanni stressed the need for Reformation in the Catholic Church to the basic foundations of our faith. Francis stated that we are 'saved by grace'.

The last question concerned the place of the Jews  in redemption and were they replaced by the church?

Francis answered that 'we (Catholics) are the inheritors of the Gentile church' and the Jews must go along at their own pace. He expressed his faith that they will come to knowledge of Christ. There will come a unity someday. He also spoke about his hope for a dialogue of peace between Jews and Palestinians. 

All of this was done from my notes that I made from memory right after the meeting. It also was filtered through our interpreters who were doing simultaneous translation. Please do not take these as absolute, I just wanted to share as accurately as possible this amazing day! - Mike Herron - mikeherron.org