Taize as the first real breakthrough in ecumenical relations
between the Catholic Church and those of the Reformation.
It is still going strong. Moreover, its insights have expanded into
the World Youth Day under the last two popes and are being
carried even further by Pope Francis. It is counter-current to
the continuing liberalisation of the Protestant churches.
the continuing liberalisation of the Protestant churches.
How Francis Is Befriending the Pentecostals
In Latin America, they're pulling millions of faithful away from the Catholic Church. But the pope has only words of friendship for them. This is his way of doing ecumenism, unveiled here in two of his video messages
by Sandro Magister
While here is a link to the encounter in October, where the pope had at his side (see photo) Palmer's widow, Emiliana, and the "evangelical" bishop who succeeded him, Robert Wise.
ROME, November 19, 2014 - With the mastery for which it is known all over the world, the Washington-based Pew Research Center has conducted a survey on a massive scale that gives substance to a fact that was already known in general terms, the startling decline of Catholic membership in the Latin American subcontinent:
> Religion in Latin America. Widespread Change in a Historically Catholic Region
In the geographical area that is used today to indicate the new center of mass of the worldwide Catholic Church, midway through the last century almost the entirety of the population, 94 percent, was made up of Catholics. And still in 1970 Catholics were in the overwhelming majority, at 92 percent.
But then came the collapse. Today the proportion of Catholics is 23 points lower, at 69 percent of the population. The negative record belongs to Honduras, where Catholics have dropped to under half, from 94 to 46 percent. To get an idea of how sharp the decline has been, it should be enough to think that it has taken place entirely within the time span of the episcopal ministry of Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa and coordinator of the eight cardinals called by Pope Francis to assist him in the governance of the universal Church.
The collapse in the number of Catholics has been accompanied everywhere by the exuberant growth of "evangelical" and Pentecostal Christians, of Protestant descent. This was known too, but the Pew Research Center has highlighted that those who are passing from one membership to another are not usually the most lukewarm in their faith, but the most fervent.
The converts to the "evangelical" communities turn out, in fact, to be much more dynamic in propagating the Christian faith. And there is also a difference in helping the poor. While the Catholics assist them and that's it, the "evangelicals" are not only more active in works of charity, but also do not miss the opportunity to preach the Christian faith to the poor.
There is also a great discrepancy in religious practice. In Argentina, for example, the "evangelicals" who put great emphasis on religion in their lives, pray every day and go to church every week are 41 percent, while the Catholics are just 9 percent and take last place in the rankings together with Chile and secularized Uruguay.
The survey of the Pew Research Center also demonstrates that converts from Catholicism to the "evangelical" communities are not drawn by greater leniency on the matters of abortion or homosexuality.
The reality is the opposite. Those most resolute in opposing abortion and marriage between persons of the same-sex are found among the neo-Protestants, not among the Catholics.
In Argentina, for example, more than half of Catholics, 53 percent, say they are in favor of homosexual "marriage," which is already legal in that country. While among the neo-Protestants those in favor are 32 percent.
The survey of the Pew Research Center is a must-read, rich as it is in data on this epochal phenomenon.
And it is therefore understandable that a pastor like Jorge Mario Bergoglio - who as an Argentine has experienced in person the collapse of Catholic membership in his country and on the continent - should wish to act accordingly.
Otherwise there is no explanation, in fact, for the incessant efforts that Pope Francis is undertaking with the world leaders of those "evangelical" and Pentecostal movements that in Latin America are the most fearful competitors of the Catholic Church. Not to fight them, but to make them his friends.
It is an effort that he began long before his election as pope, and that most recently had its most conspicuous moment in the visit that he made to Caserta last July 27 to meet the Pentecostal pastor Giovanni Traettino, who has been his friend since he was archbishop of Buenos Aires:
> Francis's Secret Friend in Caserta
In the addressee gave on that occasion, Pope Francis presented his vision of ecumenical relations as"unity in diversity": a sort of universal Church in the form of a prism of which the Catholic Church would be one facet, on a par with the other Churches and denominations.
It is not clear how Francis might harmonize this vision of his with what is stated by the previous magisterium of the Church in matters of ecumenism. The fact is that he takes it greatly to heart, as emerges from the frequent informal talks that he gives to one or another of the “evangelical” pastors he encounters.
Pope Bergoglio usually receives them at Santa Marta. Or he reaches them in various places of the world with live video messages.
And the words that he says on these occasions, which never appear in the official Vatican sources, make the rounds when the recipients post them on the web, with evident satisfaction.
One recent encounter of this kind between the Pope and "evangelical" leaders took place at Santa Marta during the synod last October. Francis received the widow and coworkers of a bishop of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, Tony Palmer, a longtime friend from South Africa who died in a car accident last July.
A few months earlier, Francis had sent a powerful video message to a meeting presided over by Palmer and another leading "evangelical" personality, Texas-based pastor Kenneth Copeland, a proponent of the "theology of prosperity," both of whom the pope had received in Rome on June 24.
While here is a link to the encounter in October, where the pope had at his side (see photo) Palmer's widow, Emiliana, and the "evangelical" bishop who succeeded him, Robert Wise:
> The miracle of unity
While the following is a transcription and translation from the original Spanish of the words spoken by Francis, with his vision of ecumenism.
“LET’S NOT WAIT FOR THE THEOLOGIANS TO COME TO AN AGREEMENT”
Pope Francis to the leaders of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches
First of all, I congratulate you for your courage. Yesterday at the entrance to the synod hall I ran into a Lutheran bishop and I said to him: “You here? What courage!” Because in another era they burned the Lutherans alive… [laughter].
Yesterday there was a meeting organized by Tony [Palmer]. He was enthusiastic about it, as was I, and I am grateful to Archbishop Robert Wise and to Emiliana who have wanted to take up the torch, the “fiaccola” [in Italian], the torch of this dream, this dream that Tony had. The dream of walking in unity.
We are sinning against the will of Christ, because we are looking only at the differences. But we all have the same baptism, and baptism is more important than the differences. We all believe in the Father, in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. We all have within the Holy Spirit who prays, "now" for us, the spirit who prays in us.
And everyone must know that there is also a father of lies, the father of all divisions, the "anti-Father," the devil who gets in and divides, divides… Tony talked about this a lot, about this going forward and walking, walking together in what unites us. And that the Lord Jesus with his power may help us so that what divides us may not divide us too much.
I don't know, it's crazy… Having a treasure and preferring to use imitations of the treasure. The imitations are the differences, what matters is the treasure. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the vocation to holiness, the same baptism and the call to preach the Gospel to the ends of the world. The certainty is that he is with us where we are going… He is not with me only because I am Catholic; he is not with me because I am Lutheran; he is not with me because I am Orthodox… A theological madhouse! [laughter].
Each one has his own identity, and I presuppose that each of us is seeking the truth. So let's walk together. Let's pray for each other and do works of charity together. Matthew 25, together. And the Beatitudes, together. And we all have talented theologians in our churches. May they do the work of theological study. This is also another form of walking. But let's not wait for them to come to an agreement… [laughter]. This is what I believe [applause].
There's something else. This is called spiritual ecumenism, but there is something else. Today we are witnessing the persecution of Christians and… I was just in Albania… They told me that they didn't ask if you were Catholic or Orthodox… Are you Christian? Boom! Currently in the Middle East, in Africa, in many places, how many Christians have died! They don't ask them if they are Pentecostal, Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox… Are they Christians? They kill them because they believe in Christ. This is the ecumenism of blood.
I remember: once I was in Hamburg, around 1986 or ‘87, and I met a priest. And the priest was working on the cause of beatification for a Catholic priest who had been guillotined by the Nazis because he taught the catechism to the young people. But in studying he had seen the list of those condemned to death that day, and right behind him there was a Lutheran pastor who was sentenced for the same thing. So the blood of the priest was mingled with that of the pastor. The priest went to the bishop and said to him: “Either I'm moving the two causes forward together, or I'm not doing anything." Ecumenism of blood.
I don't know, there's nothing more I want to say, I don't know… Just one other thing that Tony talked about, when he was a young man. In South Africa, in the schools, whites and persons of color went together, played together, but at lunchtime they were separated and said: "We want to eat together." He had that desire within: to walk together in order to be able to eat together at the banquet of the Lord [applause]. As the Lord wills, as the Lord wills.
I would like to thank Father Robert Wise for his presence, Tony's spiritual father. And the presence of Emiliana, a strong woman… They both inherit many things from Tony. We must recognize that he is the one who has brought us together. I don't know if this desire for unity, to continue forward creating unity, praying for each other, fulfilling the Beatitudes together, fulfilling Matthew 25 together… Without making an institution, freely, like brothers.
Is Pope Francis an Evangelical, Charismatic Catholic?
Experts in Evangelical Christianity and the Charismatic Movement discuss the roots and focus of the Holy Father's ecumenical dialogue and interaction
Fr. Dwight Longenecker
Pope Francis arrives for an encounter with more than 50,000 Catholic charismatics at the Olympic Stadium in Rome June 1, 2014. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Labels are most often used not only to define a person, but to deny the person. Once we slap a label on them it is easy to limit them to that label. That’s why I used to tease people by describing myself as an “Evangelical, Charismatic, Catholic.”
I used the label to defy labels. I also used the description because I genuinely valued all three streams of Christian tradition. I wanted to affirm the Evangelical’s missionary zeal and love of the Scriptures, the Charismatic’s warmth and personal experience of the Holy Spirit, and the strong rootedness of the Catholic tradition.
Not long ago a priest friend admitted to to me that Pope Francis was “an enigma”. Now, a year and half into his papacy, after watching and listening to the pope carefully I’m convinced that he is, at heart, an Evangelical, Charismatic Catholic. Breaking out of common Catholic categories, Francis has reached out to Evangelicals and Charismatics both within the Catholic Church and beyond.
His friendship with bishop Tony Palmer is a good example. Before his untimely death, Palmer was a leader in a new church movement which weaves together the zealous missionary spirit of the Evangelicals, active use of the charismatic gifts, a love for liturgy, and the apostolic succession. Through Palmer, Pope Francis reached out to charismatic evangelist Kenneth Copeland, preached in a Pentecostal church in Rome and welcomed Evangelical leaders for a breakfast time visit.
To assess my hunch that Pope Francis is an Evangelical, Charismatic Catholic, I spoke to two Catholic leaders in the Church who are experts in Evangelical Christianity and the charismatic movement.
Dr. Ralph Martin is a well-known author, theologian, and teacher. He holds degrees in theology from Notre Dame, Princeton and a the Angelicum. He is associate professor of Evangelization at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and is the director of Catholic Renewal Ministries. Ralph worked with Pope Francis in this year’s world meeting of charismatic Catholics in Rome. I asked Ralph for the inside story on Pope Francis and the charismatic movement.
Fr. Longenecker: Pope Francis seems open to the Renewal Movement in the Catholic Church. What do you think he sees as the movements strengths and weaknesses? By reaching out to charismatics is he simply trying to stem the tide of Catholics converting to the Pentecostal/Charismatic Protestant churches?
Martin: The Pope’s most comprehensive statement was in connection with the international Catholic charismatic conference held in Rome’s Olympic Stadium in June. When the organizers approached him about possibly sending a message to the conference or greeting them in St. Peter’s Square the Pope said he would like to come to the Stadium and participate.
He arrived in his Ford Focus and walked into the Stadium. When he got to the stage he asked the music ministry to play his favorite song from when he was the bishop in charge of the Catholic charismatic renewal in Argentina. I was in the front row and I can attest that he knew the words by heart and sang wholeheartedly with hands raised and eyes frequently closed in deep prayer and worship. It was also very moving when he asked for everyone to pray for him and he knelt down and for a long time was deep in prayer as 52,000 people from 55 countries prayed fervently for him.
The pope said, “I thank you so much for your welcome. When I celebrated holy Mass in Buenos Aires with the Charismatic Renewal, after the consecration and after a few seconds of adoration in tongues, we sang this song with so much joy and force, as you did today. Thank you! I felt at home!”
Pope Francis isn’t supporting the charismatic renewal for any other reason other than he sees in it a gift for the whole Church.
Fr. Longenecker: Considering Pope Francis' friendship with bishop Tony Palmer of the Charismatic Evangelical Episcopal Church, how might the renewal movement influence future ecumenism?
Martin: It is quite extraordinary how Pope Francis is reaching out to this very significant and often neglected segment of Christianity, in terms of its place in ecumenical dialogues. His video to Kenneth Copeland, his invitation to well known leaders from this segment, including well-known figures such as Joel Osteen and James Robison, to visit with him in the Vatican. His visit to the Italian evangelical pastor where he asked forgiveness for ways in which Catholics haven’t understood them and even disdained and discriminated against them has done immense good.
What is particularly encouraging is that this “personal diplomacy” of the Pope will now take an institutional and structured form as these encounters will now begin to happen on a regular basis under the guidance of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.
Fr. Longenecker: The Pope has said, "Proselytism is solemn nonsense". How does this square with his enthusiasm for the Charismatic Movement with its strong emphasis on conversion?
Martin: Proselytism is using inappropriate means to induce someone to become a Christian—whether it be financial inducement, psychological pressure, or whatever. Evangelization is giving witness to the truth and beauty of the Christian faith while respecting the freedom of those we are witnessing to. Proselytism is bad; evangelization, inviting people to conversion is good!
Fr. Longenecker: Does Pope Francis envision any kind of formal re-union with Protestant Charismatic groups? What might that look like?
Martin: I haven’t heard him say anything along those lines. Indeed, he tends to tell people that he simply wants to get to know them, not pressure them to convert. I think he knows the limitations and is just trying to remove deep hurts, misunderstandings, and unnecessary alienations so that we can truly love each other and respect each other and support each other in witnessing to an international pagan culture that is increasingly hostile to Christ and Christians.
Dr. Francis Beckwith is an apologist, philosopher, and academic. Born into a Catholic home, he became an Evangelical and spent most of his adult life working within Evangelical Christian colleges. In 2007 he made public his reversion to Catholicism and resigned his posts in Evangelical theological organizations. He is now Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies at Baylor University.
I asked Francis his opinions about Pope Francis and the Evangelicals.
Fr. Longenecker: Pope Francis seems happy to be surrounded by Evangelical Protestants. He doesn’t view them as “the enemy”. Why do you think this is?
Beckwith: I think it's because of his experience in South America, where Evangelicalism has drawn away many Catholics from the Church. He sees in these Evangelicals a living and active faith that the Church can incorporate without compromising its ecclesial or doctrinal integrity. So, he views Evangelical practice as an integral part of the Catholic heritage that, if allowed to flourish, can reinvigorate the Church.
Fr. Longenecker: In your experience, how do most American Evangelicals regard Pope Francis?
Beckwith: It's mixed. In the crowds in which I travel, Benedict was far more liked that Francis. I think it has to do with the perception of Benedict as a conservative with intellectual and spiritual gravitas. With Francis, some of my Evangelical friends are suspicious of what some of his off-the-cuff comments may mean for Catholicism's reputation as the most important protector and defender of traditional values.
Fr. Longenecker: Do you feel the historic animus to the Catholic Church among Evangelicals is eroding?
Beckwith: Yes. I think it is largely the result of working together on cultural questions, which has led to more careful and charitable reading of each others' beliefs. So, for example, it is rare today to a find a serious Evangelical accusing the Catholic Church of believing in "works righteousness." Sure, the more flamboyant voices say such things, but most sophisticated Evangelicals do not take them seriously.
Fr. Longenecker: Could you envision any kind of visible unity with any group of Evangelicals or Protestants or will ecumenism only consist of being nice to one another?
Beckwith: I do. But I think it's going to take a bold move on the part of Rome. Perhaps creating a special "Evangelical apostolate" that focuses on Evangelical modes of worship, prayer, devotion, and Scripture reading without treating those modes as contrary to traditional Catholic practices.
Another option, in order to try facilitate clergy conversions from "low church traditions," would be create a means by which these former Protestant ministers, who are married, can more easily apply for the diaconate. This would be a kind of Low Church pastoral provision—they process enabling convert clergy to be ordained.
Fr. Longenecker: Do Evangelicals trust the pope?
Beckwith: I think the jury's still out on Francis for some Evangelicals. One reason for this is that Evangelicals—especially the American ones—read Francis through the lens of the American culture wars. I think if they set that aside, and just read him in light the Church's unassailable doctrinal commitments, they would realize that there may be a good strategic reason for his approach. Only time will tell.
Pope Francis: “ECC”
As a former Evangelical who has been influenced positively by the renewal movement, and was once an Anglican priest, I am interested in the contrast between Pope Francis’ reception of Evangelical and Charismatic Christians and his meetings with leaders like the Archbishop of Canterbury. He invites the Evangelicals and Charismatics to jolly meals in the St Martha Hostel, but greets the Archbishop of Canterbury with cordial formality. Is this a sign that Francis’ heart is more with the Evangelicals and Charismatics?
Does he sense that the ecumenical current is moving away from talks with the established mainline Protestant denominations and toward the edgy, spirit-filled, informal Charismatic-Evangelical contingent? Does he sense that the old Protestant denominations are going down fast while the Evangelical-Charismatics are on the up? One doesn’t need the supernatural gift of prophecy to see in what direction the larger Protestant world is headed. Considering the strength of Evangelical Charismatic worship in the developing world, Pope Francis is right to have an eye on the future.
Is Pope Francis an Evangelical, Charismatic Catholic?
Three other signs indicate that this is the best way to understand him. First is his repeated discussion of the reality of Satan and the need for spiritual warfare. This is Evangelical-Charismatic talk. Secondly, his desire for a simple, down-to-earth, people-centered ministry. This too reflects the strengths of the Evangelical-Charismatic movement. Finally, Francis’ willingness to take risks, overturn the more staid aspects of Catholic tradition and sit lightly to the legalities feels like the same “bottom line back to basics” Christianity of the Evangelicals and Charismatics.
Those who find Francis enigmatic may come to understand the man as they learn to see him as the Evangelical Charismatic Catholic Pope.
About the Author
Fr. Dwight Longenecker
Fr Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. He blogs at Standing on My Head on Patheos. His latest book is The Romance of Religion. Browse his books and be in touch at dwightlongenecker.com.