The head of the World Evangelical Alliance applauded Pope Francis’ meeting Monday with Pentecostals in Caserta, Italy, and responded to the Holy Father’s apology for a lack of understanding by Catholics with his own request for forgiveness for Evangelicals who have discriminated against Catholics.
Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance, Rev. Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, said that Pope Francis’ apology for Catholics who persecuted Christians in the past was commendable, biblical and reflects the message of Jesus. Then, like Francis, the Evangelical leader asked forgiveness for Evangelicals who did the same to Catholics.
In an interview with Vatican Radio on Wednesday, Rev Tunnicliffe gave a series of reflections responding to the Pope’s gesture to meet with more than 200 members of the Pentecostal Church of Reconciliation in the Southern Italian city of Caserta. On Saturday, the Pontiff met with the city’s Catholic community.
When asked about the impact of the Pope’s meeting with the Pentecostals, he said, “I think Pope Francis reaching out to Evangelicals bodes well for future conversations, because that will allow us to go deeper in our interactions together.”
“Over recent years, the World Evangelical Alliance, which represents some 650 million Christians around the world, has had growing interaction with the Vatican and the Catholic Church,” he also noted. “We’re just concluding our 2nd official theological dialogue which identifies areas of common concerns and areas where we still differ.”
Commenting on Pope Francis’ apology on the behalf of Catholics who have discriminated against Protestants, Rev. Tunnicliffe said he wants to commend the Pope for taking such a public step of asking for forgiveness, saying it was “biblical” and “reflects the message of Jesus.”
After saying 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,” the Evangelical leader made an apology.
“I also need to say this: I recognize that in history there have been situations where Protestants, including Evangelicals, have discriminated against Catholic Christians and 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, following the Pontiff’s great example, he said, “ask each other for forgiveness.”
While acknowledging that official conversations between Catholics and Evangelicals are still an essential part of the ecumenical journey, the leader of the World Evangelical Alliance said that the historic meeting helped build up trust and friendship, which, he hopes, can lead to deepening ecumenical dialogue.
Noting when he and other Christian leaders met with the Pope in June at the Vatican and the legacy of the late Evangelical leader Tony Palmer, Rev. Tunnicliffe called for continuing building up these relationships within the “Christian family.”
“Jesus,” he said citing John 17, “clearly calls us to be one.” Therefore, he exclaimed, it is very important to make those outside the Church understand that “while there are differences within the Christian denominations,” at the core “we have so many areas of communality.”