Pope's Address to Salvation Army Leaders

«The first ecumenical homily I had was in front of you»

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On Friday, Pope Francis received in audience a delegation of leaders from the Salvation Army.

Here is a translation of his address.

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Dear Friends,

I give my cordial welcome to you, leaders of the Salvation Army, which I know well for its mission of evangelization and volunteer work. Your visit is one of the good fruits of the more frequent and profitable contacts that have developed in recent years between the Salvation Army and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; contacts among which are remembered a series of theological conversations geared to promoting better reciprocal knowledge, mutual respect and regular collaboration. And I am grateful once again for this book of the conversations. It is my heartfelt hope that Catholics and Salvationists will continue to render a common witness of Christ and of the Gospel in a world in such great need of experiencing the mercy of God. It needs it!

Catholics and Salvationists, together with other Christians, recognize that the needy have a special place in God’s heart, so much so that the Lord Jesus Christ made himself poor for us (Cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9). Consequently, they meet often at the same human fringes, and my heartfelt hope is that our common faith in our Savior Jesus Christ, the one mediator between God and men (Cf. 1 Timothy 2:5) will become increasingly a solid foundation of friendship and collaboration between us.

“The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 24).

I pray that in today’s world all Christ’s disciples will offer their contribution with the same conviction and the same dynamism as the Salvation Army demonstrates in its devoted and appreciated service. The differences between Catholics and Salvationists on theological and ecclesiological questions must not impede the witness of our shared love for God and for our neighbor, a love that is able to inspire energetic efforts in the commitment to restore the dignity of those who live on the margins of society.

I am in need of a translator … And now I want to recall an anecdote; to thank you and to recall an anecdote. When I was four years old – it was the year 1940, none of you were born! – I was going on the street with my grandmother. At that time, the idea was that all Protestants were going to hell. On the other side of the pavement two women of the Salvation Army were coming, with that hat that you have … Have you used it? And I remember, as if it were today, that I said to my grandmother: “What are they? Nuns, Sisters?” And my grandmother said: “No, they are Protestants, but they are good.” And so my grandmother, because of your good witness, opened the door for me to ecumenism. The first ecumenical homily I had was in front of you. Thank you very much.

Dear friends, I pray to God for the work that the Salvation Army is carrying forward: may many persons in difficulty be able to continue to count on your action, which enables the light of Christ to shine in the darkest corners of their life. May you and your Salvationist brothers and sisters be filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit – with wisdom, discernment, strength, peace … to witness the kingdom of the Lord in our suffering world. And I trust that you will also pray for me: I need it. Thank you.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
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