Vatican City, 29 July 2014 (VIS) – Unity in diversity and the plea for forgiveness for the lack of understanding shown by some Catholics towards their Pentecostal brothers were the key themes of the Pope's address at the Pentecostal Church of the Reconciliation in Caserta yesterday, during his meeting with his friend, the pastor Giovanni Traettino, whom he known for many years, both in Buenos Aires and as bishop of Rome, engaged in ecumenism. The meeting took place in a cheerful and intimate atmosphere, and was attended by 200 people, mostly Pentecostals from Italy, the United States and Argentina, as well as other countries. “With men like you”, said Pastor Traettino to his friend, Pope Francis, “there is hope for us, as Christians”.
The Pope's address responded to the discourse pronounced by Pastor Traettino, who had remarked that the presence of Jesus and walking in the presence of Jesus should be at the centre of our life. Francis remarked that “walk” was God's first commandment to his people, represented by Abraham – “walk before me faithfully and be blameless” – and added, “I don't understand a Christian who stands still! I don't understand a Christian who doesn't walk. A Christian must walk … because that which is still, that does not move ahead, becomes corrupt. Like still water, which is the first to become stagnant. … There are Christians who confuse walking and moving ahead with moving around. These, instead, are errants who saunter here and there; these are people who lack parrhesia, the boldness to go ahead; they lack hope”.
He went on to cite the story of Jacob who, during a time of famine, sent his eleven sons – ten of whom were guilty of betrayal, having sold their brother Joseph – to Egypt to buy grain. There, they once again found Joseph, who in the meantime had become the vizier. “When we walk in God's presence, we find brotherhood”, asserted the Pope. “When instead we stop, we scrutinise each other too much, and we set out on another path, that of gossip. … And in this way it begins, from the first moment the division of the Church began. And it is not the Holy Spirit who causes division! … From the very beginning there has been this temptation in the Christian community. 'I am from this group, you are from that one', 'No! I am the Church, you are a sect', and so on. … The Holy Spirit creates diversity in the Church … diversity, rich and beautiful. But, at the same time, the Holy Spirit creates unity, and so the Church is one in her diversity. To borrow a phrase used by an evangelical, a phrase I love, it is the 'reconciled diversity' of the Holy Spirit, Who creates both of these things: diversity in charisms, and harmony in charisms”.
To offer an image of how unity in the Church could be, Pope Francis first described a sphere, all of whose points are equidistant from the centre. This, he said, was an example of uniformity, and “the Holy Spirit does not create uniformity”. “Let us imagine, instead, a polyhedron: it is an example of unity, but with many different parts, each with its own peculiarity and charism. This is unity in diversity. This is the path that we Christians take, giving it the theological name of ecumenism: we seek to ensure that this diversity is harmonised by the Holy Spirit and becomes a unity; we seek to walk in the presence of God to be blameless”.
Pastor Traettino had also referred to the incarnation of Jesus, and the Holy Father responded that “the incarnation of the Word is the foundation – it is Jesus Christ! God and man, Son of God and Son of man, true God and true man. This is how the first Christians understood Him to be and they fought hard to maintain this truth: the Lord is God and man. It is the mystery of Christ's flesh. … I love the poor, the widow, the slave, the imprisoned. … I love them all, as these people who suffer are Christ's flesh. … It is not possible to preach a purely intellectual Gospel: the Gospel is the truth but it is also love and beauty! And this is the joy of the Gospel!”.
“On this path, many times we have done the same thing as the brothers of Joseph, when jealous and envy have divided us”, he remarked. “That sad story in which the Gospel for some was lived as truth and they did not realise that behind this attitude there were bad things, things that were not the Lord's, an ugly attempt at division. That sad history, in which there are repeated the same things that Joseph's brother did: denouncements, the laws of these people who 'are against the purity of the race'. … And these laws were ratified by baptised persons! Some of those who enacted these laws, and some of those who persecuted, denounced their pentecostal brothers because they were 'enthusiastic', almost 'crazy', who spoiled the race. … I am a pastor of Catholics, and I beg forgiveness for this. I ask your forgiveness on behalf of those Catholic brothers and sisters who did not understand and who were tempted by the devil, and who did the same thing that Joseph's brothers did. I ask the Lord for the grace to recognise and to forgive”.
Pope Francis went on to comment on Pastor Traettino's words, “The truth is an encounter”. “An encounter between people”, he emphasised. “The truth is not made in a laboratory, it is made in life, seeking Jesus in order to find Him. But the greatest and most beautiful mystery is that when we find Jesus, we realise that He sought us first, that He had found us first, because He arrives before us. I like to use the Spanish verb 'primerea' to describe this, meaning that He precedes us, and always awaits us. … That encounter that transforms us: everything comes from that encounter. This is the path of Christian sanctity: seeking Jesus every day in order to meet him, and letting oneself be sought and found by Jesus every day”.
“We are on that path of unity, among brothers”, he concluded. “Some people will be surprised: they will say, the Pope has gone to the evangelicals! He has gone to meet his brothers! Yes! Because – and this is the truth – they came to me first, in Buenos Aires. … And so this friendship began, this closeness between the pastors in Buenos Aires, and here today. I thank you, and I ask you to pray for me, as I need your prayers”.
Following the meeting, in the mid afternoon, the Pope returned to the Vatican by helicopter.