I can just imagine the electricity felt in the room when these Christian leaders from a completely different face of Christianity saw the Holy Father and heard his voice, speaking right to them. Having spent over 30 years in Protestant ministry, I know the separation that has existed and continues to exist between that world and the Catholic world. Pope Francis addressed it head on. Christian unity begins with love. Not by laying down the gauntlet and challenging issues that divide but first come together on the basis of what we have in common.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - At a recent meeting of Charismatic and Pentecostal ministers hosted by Kenneth Copeland Ministries, the attendees received an amazing surprise; a video greeting from the Holy Father, Pope Francis. The message was a spontaneous gesture by the Pontiff during a private meeting with Bishop Tony Palmer of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches (CEEC), an old friend of his for many years.
When I was an archbishop with the Charismatic Episcopal Church, which has a lot of similarity to the CEEC, we had longed for such a gesture. With a conviction that the church's three streams - liturgical/sacramental, evangelical and charistmatic - needed to flow as one mighty river, we had identified ourselves as catholic (intentional small "c") and felt a strong kinship with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. How we wanted to find a way to connect.
As with other jurisdictions of Anglicanism, we had knocked on the door of the Vatican to explore building relationships and opening channels of communication. We knew that such a work would move very slowly. All of that made the recent video from Pope Francis an historic event.
Technology made the delivery easy, but it was the heart of a man who so desires Christian unity that made this an immediate occurrence. Here, he reached out and extended his hand of fellowship as a brother in Christ. In the video he said:
Two rules: Love God above all, and love the other (neighbor), because he is your brother and sister. With these two rules we can go ahead. I am here with my brother, my bishop brother, Tony Palmer. We've been friends for years.
He told me about your conference, about your meeting. And it's my pleasure to greet you. A greeting both joyful and nostalgic (yearning). Joyful because it gives me joy that you have come together to worship Jesus Christ the only Lord. And to pray to the Father and to receive the Holy Spirit. This brings me joy because we can see that God is working all over the world.
I can just imagine the electricity felt in the room when these Christian leaders from a completely different face of Christianity saw the Holy Father and heard his voice, speaking right to them. Having spent over 30 years in Protestant ministry, I know the separation that has existed and continues to exist between that world and the Catholic world. Pope Francis addressed it head on:
We are kind of.permit me to say, separated. Separated because, it's sin that has separated us, all our sins. The misunderstandings throughout history. It has been a long road of sins that we all shared in. Who is to blame? We all share the blame. We have all sinned. There is only one blameless, the Lord. I am nostalgic (yearning), that this separation comes to an end and gives us communion.
Later, after the message from the Pope, Tony Palmer closed the presentation with a prayer - the high priestly prayer of Jesus, which was one of the favorite themes of Blessed (soon to be Saint) John Paul II. He called for all those present who were of the same heart to say amen at the end of the prayer.
I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20-23)
Truly this is the heart of God - that we be one. Evangelization is best undertaken when those who hear the good news see that those who bring it have love one for another.
As a cautionary note, we shouldn't try and make this greeting into something more than what it is. The Holy Father was not establishing new doctrines, developing canon law or establishing new guidelines for ecclesial relationships. He was doing what a good shepherd of souls does - reaches out in love.
You will find some people from the Catholic and Protestant spheres of Christianity dissecting this greeting and infer things that the Pope was or was not saying. I've already seen one article claiming that this was official ecclesiastical recognition of Palmer's episcopate.
This was a spontaneous greeting of Christian love and an invitation to deepen the bonds of brotherhood based on what we have in Common. I am speaking to you as a brother, he stated. I speak to you in a simple way. With joy and nostalgia (yearning). Let us allow our nostalgia (yearning) to grow, because this will propel us to find each other, to embrace one another. And together to worship Jesus Christ as the only Lord of History.
Christian unity begins with love. Not by laying down the gauntlet and challenging issues that divide but first come together on the basis of what we have in common. It was out of this same heart that Blessed John Paul II eagerly met with patriarchs of the Orthodox Churches and established the Pastoral Provision for U.S. Anglicans.
It was also out of this same heart that Pope Emeritus Benedict continued to build relationships with the East, established Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans who desired full-communion and, like his predecessors, enthusiastically participated in many ecumenical gatherings.
Pope Francis has continued, and now escalated, this call for Christian unity.: I thank you profoundly for listening to me. I thank you profoundly for allowing me to speak the language of the heart. And I also ask you a favor. Please pray for me, because I need your prayers. And I will pray for you, I will do it, but I need your prayers. And let us pray to the Lord that He unites us all. Come on, we are brothers. Let's give each other a spiritual hug and let God complete the work that he has begun. And this is a miracle; the miracle of unity has begun.
A famous Italian author named Manzoni, once wrote in his novel, of a simple man amongst the people, who once said this, "I've never seen God begin a miracle without Him finishing it well." He will complete this miracle of unity. I ask you to bless me, and I bless you. From brother to brother, I embrace you. Thank you.
May this be the beginning of something powerful for the Kingdom of God.
Fr Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and Chaplain of the ecumenical movement, Common Good. He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church. He laid aside that ministry to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church a lifelong search for the fulness of Christian truth. He participated in Church history when he became one of the first former Anglicans ordained as a Catholic priest for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter established by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution "Anglicanorum Coetibus." He is currently the chaplain of the St. John Fisher Catholic Community, a priest in residence at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church and Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Ordinariate.
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