|Unity in Diversity. Report From the Evangelical Side|
on the Meeting with Pope Francis
(Rome) On 26 and 28 July, Pope Francis has been in Caserta twice already. On Saturday as a public visit for the Catholics of the southern Italian diocese. Then to meet on Monday for a "private visit" with his "friend" Giovanni Traettino, an evangelical pastor (see separate report Pope Francis in Caserta twice - Once for the Evangelicals, Even for Catholics in German). On the question of Catholic-evangelical dialogue, the lawyer, sociologist of religion and former OSCE representative against the discrimination and persecution of Christians, Massimo Introvigne, wrote an essay, which contains some interesting information on the historical development and current issues. The intertitles are from the editorial staff of Katholisches.
The "Secret" Meeting of Pope Francis in Caserta
by Massimo Introvigne
In 1996 I published for the publishing house of the Friars Minor, Messaggero Padova, a book entitled "Aspettando la Pentecost. Il quarto ecumenismo "(waiting for Pentecost. The Fourth Ecumenical Movement), including an interview with Giovanni Traettino. The interview-book found a considerable response in the Catholic charismatic circles and among the Protestants of Italy. In it, I did a public dialogue, of course, in consultation with the interviewee, in which I had participated in the previous years and had taken place away from the media spotlight and the "official" ecumenism between a significant part of the Catholic Charismatic world and some Protestant Pentecostals. In the same year, Pastor Traettino made known the dialogue in the magazine Charisma, the most widely read publication of the Pentecostal and Charismatic world of the United States.
Thus began a long road that led from the Buenos Aires of the then Cardinal Bergoglio and will culminate on July 28th in the first private visit of a pope to a pastor of the Pentecostals. On this day, Pope Francis will go to a "Tutorial" with Traettino in Caserta. There he will pay a visit two days in advance to the public on July 26, which had been agreed, according Vatikanistas, so as not to convey the impression that he would be rude to the Catholics of Caserta.This could give the impression that the Pope is thinking mostly about the Protestants of their city.
Why the Pope visits a pastor of the Pentecostals and risks the chance of displeasing some Catholics, but also some Pentecostals and ultra-conservative Protestants, whose negative attitude towards ecumenism and on the internet are already speaking of a "scandal" and a "disgrace" and an implicit recognition of the role of the Pope by Traettino? In order to answer this question a story must be told in which - as indicated - I also played a small role. But above all, it is important to remember who the Protestant Pentecostals are.
Pentecostalism is a new form of Protestantism that arose in the early 20th century, after it had been prepared for in the decades before. It is characterized by a distrust of the existing Protestant denominations and organizations, "sleepy" as applicable and not well suited to inspire and evangelize. And by special attention to the method of charismatic phenomena in particular, the Pentecostals discovered [invented?] - more accurately it would have to speak of a rediscovery, since there was no lack of Protestant and Catholic examples preceding both - the "gift of tongues" or glossolalia for example, which is not to to speak foreign languages, but to make sounds and words by themselves, do not match any known language and become part of the prayer. For the Pentecostals the gift of speaking in tongues is evidence that the believer has received the "spirit baptism" that is not a sacrament, but a compelling and engaging experience of the encounter with Christ in the Spirit.
It is no exaggeration when one finds that the Protestant Pentecostalism have experienced a phenomenal growth. From a few thousand followers in a few places in the United States and Britain in the early 20th century, their followers are now estimated to be at more than 600 million, almost a third of more than two billion Christians worldwide, or nearly three-quarters of the 800 million Protestants. Arising in protest against the organized communities, the Pentecostals, as always develops in such cases in the history of Christianity, have denominations. Some of them are very large, such as the Assemblies of God , which include 35 million believers worldwide and are represented in Italy with more than a thousand local communities and 150,000 believers. They represent about half of the Protestant Pentecostal movement in Italy, which has a total of 313,000 worshipers.
The Evangelical Church of Reconcilation of Giovanni Traettino
Both in the world as well as in Italy the first Pentecostal wave originated in the large denominations, and also asecond wave prefers to organize themselves into small communities that may join together in federations, but each group has reserved a large degree of autonomy. In Italy, a little more than half of the Protestant Pentecostals belong to this second area. This includes the Evangelical Church of Reconciliation, resulting from the merger of Internazionale Movimento Evangelico Rivers di Potenza (Evangelical international movement Rivers di Potenza) and the Centro Italiano di Communion Restaurazione (Italian Centre Community and Restoration) emerged and had its beginning in the 80s was founded by Giovanni Traettino, a Baptist pastor. Following a political experience in the former Italian Communist Party (PCI), he came into contact with Protestantism and finally in England with the Pentecostal movement in 1977 where he received the "Spirit baptism".
At the beginning of the encounter of the two aforementioned Pentecostal charismatic phenomena are the Dales Bible Weeks in England, where, among others, in 1977, some participants (especially children) claimed to have seen angels flying over the great hall where the meetings took place. In 1978 he took part because Geoffrey Allen, an English missionary Anglican origin, has worked in Italy since 1971. He is to play a central role in the emergence of Evangelical Church of Reconciliation, with which he still works today. The Community of Pastor Traettino in Italy is now 25 small communities and about a thousand worshipers.
1960s: Expansion of the Charismatic Phenomenon Among Episcopals and Catholics
In the 60s there was a new phenomenon in the U.S., which then spread to the whole world: Under the influence of Protestant preachers, missionaries and theologians, the "spirit baptism" and the experience of glossolalia began in 1960 under the Episcopalians, expanding then to the U.S. branch of the Anglican Church and in1967 among Catholics (and later following to the Orthodox). These Episcopalians and Catholics did not want to change their religious identity and become Protestant Pentecostals, but rather to integrate some forms of prayer and spirituality in their original identity. For Catholics, the encounter with the Protestant Pentecostal Movement is an opportunity to rediscover some existing elements in their tradition of theology and worship of the Holy Spirit. [sic] For this reason, they prefer to be called "Charismatic" and not to be called "Pentecostals." They are based within the Catholic Church, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal , which in Italy is called nello Spirito Renewal (RnS, Renewal in the Spirit). The Charismatic Catholics, both the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, as well as other communities who are experimenting with various forms of common life, are now more than 100 million worldwide
Pentecostals a Problem for Ecumenism?
The presence of the Protestant Pentecostals offers an obvious problem for ecumenism. The experts distinguish two phases of the older ecumenism among Protestants (a theological and a second mission cooperation), but excluded the Catholics, and a third phase that seeks to integrate Catholic Church, especially with 1948 which saw the foundation of the World Council of Churches (WCC), to which the Catholics do not belong, but with whom they have maintained close and cordial contacts since the 1950s. For a Catholic ecumenicist, dialogue is with the Protestants means to be a dialogue with the historic communities of the Reformation, the members of the WCC: the Lutherans, the Calvinists, etc., and the Anglicans, while Pentecostals are not Protestants technically.
Since the 70s, the historic Protestant communities are a minority within the Protestant world. Their share is dwindling rapidly since then. Especially in the U.S. and the developing world conservative groups are growing in the region, where the vast majority of Pentecostals are located, are not WCC members and do not wish to belong, which they are not viable progressive and "liberal" positions on theological and moral questions, who reproach them on their positions with respect to right to life and the family. Many WCC member communities now accept abortion, some of them "gay marriage". The WCC represents today not even a quarter of the Protestants. It's falling. The other three quarters are "Evangelicals" and thus conservatives, including many Pentecostals who do not belong to the WCC, but have created their own, alternative groupings.
Catholic Ecumenicists with Ideological Affinity for Progressive WCC
Many Catholic ecumenism professionals who have been trained in a school for which the WCC the Protestant world "was", have long forgotten that "historical" Protestantism has long been playing a minority role and its importance is decreasing. For this reason, they refused to talk with the Pentecostals at all and thus not with the vast majority of Protestants who were not known and found them "strange", not infrequently due to progressive ideological prejudices that is not rare among Catholic ecumenists. For them, in areas of theology and morality, the dialogue with the "progressive" and "liberal" WCC was preferable to a possible dialogue with Evangelical and Pentecostal "sects" that were viewed as reactionary and backward-looking by definition, or even as a kind of extended arm of the Republican Party of the United States. Conversely, many Pentecostals harbored a strong anti-Catholic prejudice, which are the relics of conservative Protestantism from which they emerged. Or they regarded the Catholic Church as part of a progressive galaxy of opponents of dubious moral and theological orthodoxy, as they stood in dialogue with the "liberal" Protestants.
John Paul II Makes First Contact with Pentecostals
Although there was no lack of prophetic gestures, such as the invitation to attend the Pentecostals in the personal name as observers at the Second Vatican Council, there has been a stalemate for decades. The crust of this alleged global ecumenical dialogue, in which but three-quarters of Protestantism do not participate, began to break up in the 80s thanks to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, who had with the Pentecostals some forms of prayer in common and who knows how to talk to them. The first structured and significant experiences that were personally initiated and encouraged by Saint Pope John Paul II (1920-2005), was carried out in Italy between Catholic Charismatic Communities and pastors of the Pentecostal movement.
The meeting between Matteo Calisi, a representative of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal from Bari and Pastor Giovanni Traettino plays a central role because it abuts a dialogue that slowly, though not ripening without resistance both in the Catholic world and among the Pentecostals. In the 90's first permanent facilities had to be provided, including, the founding in 1993 of the Consultazione Carismática Italiana (Italian Charismatic Council).
1994 First Action Alliance Between Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States
In the same year the an organization, which is called the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a group of Christian religious leaders and jurists, both of evangelicals (many Pentecostals) as well as Catholics, was related more specifically to the defense of religious freedom, the right to life and the family.
Signed in 1994 in the U.S., a group of leading evangelicals and Catholics, including on one side turn many Pentecostals and on the other side, for example, the then Archbishop of New York, Cardinal John Joseph O'Connor (1920-2000), the biographer of John Paul II, George Weigel and the tradition associated, today Archbishop Curia Father Augustine Di Noia the document " Evangelicals and Catholics Together ". It's a document which not everyone likes. Even Pastor Traettino has criticized it as being too "political" and "functionally" aligned which gives more the impression of an alliance of the American style with views of political elections. 1 The existence of this document showed, however, that much had changed in the mutual perception .
Displacement of the Contacts to Latin America under Cardinal Bergoglio?
Some observers today believe, under Benedict XVI., the German Pope, the land of the Reformation, the Catholic ecumenism had again focused only on the historic communities of Protestantism, especially the Lutherans, and that for this reason the most important meetings between Catholic Charismatic Communities and Pentecostal pastors who are open to dialogue, emigrated under the aegis of Cardinal Bergoglio to Latin America, which is where he met Traettino and became his friend.
In reality, even under Benedict XVI., continued contacts between charismatic Catholics and Pentecostals. I myself was a speaker at such an ecumenical meeting in Assisi in 2012. It was Benedict XVI., who, when he met the Lutherans in 2011 during his visit to Germany, said that this ecumenism could no longer ignore "new forms of Christianity...one which propagates itself with a tremendous missionary dynamic". Although positive aspects are not only to be seen ("a Christianity with little institutional density, with little rational and even less dogmatic baggage, even with low stability"), it represents as a "global phenomenon" a healthy reaction against the "dilution of faith" under the "secularization pressure" that the a certain progressive theology represents.
Fixation of the Ecumenical Dialogue at WCC to End
The dialogue between Catholics and Protestant Pentecostals still reveals many problems. In the Pentecostal area, it is partly easier with the smaller movements than with the big denominations, and may be easier with an independent pastor who comes from a left-wing political experience as Traettino does than with a U.S. religious leader, who carry a lot of the baggage of unilateral political ties, which binds him to the so-called "right" groups and foundations that are sometimes coupled in reality with powerful economic circles that are primarily hostile to the Catholic Church and with dubious inclinations on moral issues. However, the gesture of Pope Francis is not to be underestimated. He recalls to many Catholic professional ecumenists that the time is definitely at an end, in which the World Council of Churches and progressive Protestantism like the historic communities of the Reformation, will form a single point of contact for dialogue, while the vast majority of Protestant and Pentecostals are regarded as too conservative and reactionary, given the cold shoulder by the left.
First published: Nuova Bussola Quotidiana
Introduction / Translation: Giuseppe Nardi
Image: United in Christ / Life Today
Introduction / Translation: Giuseppe Nardi
Image: United in Christ / Life Today
Trans: Tancred firstname.lastname@example.org