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.
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.
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 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!"