By BosNewsLife News Center with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
VATICAN CITY (BosNewsLife)– The head of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) has praised Pope Francis’ for apologizing for “the persecution of Pentecostals by Catholics in the past” during a historic meeting southern Italy.
Geoff Tunnicliffe, whose WEA claims to represent over 600 million evangelical Christians, spoke after the pontiff was welcomed over the weekend by more than 200 members of the Pentecostal Church of Reconciliation in the city of Caserta.
Francis told them that he came to “apologised for those Catholics who persecuted Pentecostals in the past”, but stressed that it was crucial to recognize “the role of the Holy Spirit in bringing unity to the Body of Christ”.
Tunnicliffe told Vatican Radio that the comments were “Biblical and it reflects the message of Jesus”.
He said he hopes “this act of Pope Francis will send a strong message around the world, particularly to those countries where there are significant tensions between Catholics and Evangelicals.”
Yet, Tunnicliffe also urged evangelicals to be more open to Catholic believers. “I recognise that in history there have been situations where Protestants, including Evangelicals, have discriminated against Catholic Christians,” he said.
“I am really sorry for these kinds of actions, because while we can disagree theologically, this should never lead to discrimination or persecution of the other. We all need to acknowledge all our failings and ask each other for forgiveness and I think Pope Francis set a great example.”
Tunnicliffe said he supports attempts by the pope on building up relationships “within the Christian family” adding that “Jesus, in [Bible chapter] John 17 clearly calls us” to do so. “I think for those outside the Church, it’s important for them to understand that while there are differences within the Christian denominations, at the core we have so many areas of communality….”
The Pentecostal pastor who met with Pope Francis again on Monday, July 28, said he and his community were very struck by what he called the pontiff’s simplicity and humanity.
‘POPE MET JESUS’
“It’s obvious that Pope Francis is a man who has met Jesus himself. So when he meets others who share the same relationship with Our Lord and who want to live out the Gospel, he empathises with them,” Pastor Giovanni Traettino said. In June, the pope met evangelical Christians in the Vatican to discuss the legacy of Evangelical leader Tony Palmer, who died ten days ago.
Traettino stressed there was “no theological or doctrinal dimension” of their meeting “but rather the dimensions of fraternal dialogue and unity in the Spirit which [Apostle] Paul speaks of in his Letter to the Ephesians [in the Bible].”
That theme also dominated the pontiff’s weekly Angelus address Sunday, July 27, to thousands at Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican City. He said abouut apostles Peter and Paul that “Faith in Christ made them brothers, and martyrdom made them one.” Although Peter had denied Christ, and Paul had persecuted the Church, “the grace of Christ accomplished great things in them, it transformed them!” the Pope said.
“Both welcomed the love of God and allowed themselves to be transformed by His mercy; they became friends and apostles of Christ.” The pontiff said that “if we should happen to fall into the gravest sins, and into the darkest night….God is always able to transform us, as He transformed Peter and Paul.” Christ, he said, is able “to transform our hearts and forgive us everything, thus transforming the darkness of sin into a dawn of light” if “we open our hearts and ask for forgiveness.”
Pastor Traettino said following his conversations with the pope, that Pentecostals should “rediscover the abundant life they have received through Baptism in the Spirit.” He told Vatican Radio that “the dimension of unity, which is a bit latent in the Pentecostal world, is also inherent in the grace we receive through Baptism in the Holy Spirit.”