Before Pope Francis addressed Monday the Pentecostal community known as the Evangelical Church of Reconciliation in Caserta, Italy, his friend from his days in Buenos Aires, Evangelical Pastor Giovanni Traettino, addressed the Pope.
Below is a translation of the pastor’s words.
It’s lovely to be before the Lord, no? (People answer: yes!). There is no better place in the world than to be in the presence of God., there is still a better place, to live in the presence of God! It is there that we experience the most profound joys, the truest joys; it is there that our life is transformed and that we become ever more similar to Him.
I wish to share some considerations and, in particular, dearest Pope Francis, my beloved brother, our joy is great because of your visit, my personal joy, that of my family, that of the whole of our community and of our spiritual family, of our guests and of our friends. A great and unexpected gift, unthinkable a short time ago. You will be able to read it in the eyes of the children and the elderly, of young people and of families. We love you very much! And there is something you must know: there is for your person, also among us Evangelicals, so much affection, and so many of us pray for you every day: also every day they pray for you. After all, it is so easy to love you very much. Several of us even believe that your election as Bishop of Rome was wrought by the Holy Spirit. A blessing above all for the whole of Christianity in dealing with the world: this is what I personally think. With this gesture of yours, wholly unexpected and surprising, you have given visibility and concreteness to what appears ever more to be the leading reason for your existence and, hence, of your ministry, because life always precedes ministry. Overcoming with one blow the complications of protocol, you know how to go directly to the heart of life and of human relations and, in particular, in the relation with whom you recognize as brother: to encounter one’s brother, to encounter him where he is, to encounter him as he is. In our case then, to visit us, you actually had to endure two days of exertion. We are particularly grateful to you!
It wasn’t enough for you to entrust your heart to a document or a message … Evidently, you have reflected much on the Incarnation of Jesus Christ: you wanted to touch us, you wanted to come in person, to embrace us in person. You have shown great courage – liberty and courage! And you have given yourself, in simplicity and weakness, to our diversity, but also to our embrace. With men like you, dear Pope Francis, there is hope for us Christians. For all! With just one gesture, you have widened the door, you have accelerated the realization of God’s dream. You have become part of Jesus’ prayer: that they may all be one.” And you did so with that glory of which John speaks in chapter 17: with that glory without which it is impossible to build unity. I speak of the glory of humility. As someone said, humility is at the heart of glory. And he adds: a bit of power is enough to exhibit oneself, much is needed to withdraw. God is unlimited power of withdrawal of self, of hiding. Also from this, perhaps above all from this, Christ’s disciples are recognized.
“Truth is an encounter”: it is the title of one of the last collections of your lovely morning meditations at Saint Martha’s. Truth is an encounter, but it is also a central truth for every Christian, for everyone who has converted to Christ and had a personal encounter with Him. How many times in your teachings you return to the invitation to conversion and to the personal encounter with Christ. It is obvious that this truth is at the center of your life, living matter of your spiritual experience, inspirational motive of your existence. For me, who observe you, it cannot be otherwise. It fills me with joy, because Christ is also the precious pearl, excuse me, He is the precious pearl of all Christians, also of us Evangelicals. I saw that day before yesterday you spoke of Him at Caserta. He is the center and the heart of our life, the very reason of our existence. We would be lost without Jesus! Our sole reason to live and exist is Jesus! However, it is in fact the passion that we bear for the centrality of Christ that makes us Evangelicals, with solid and serene conviction. Therefore, we also live and experience in a new way our being Evangelicals, which is no longer nourished by anti-Catholicism – as it was for some time – but which, recognizes our own origins and roots in the historical tree of Christianity, Catholicism and the Reformation included. You have learned to relate in a constructive and redemptive way with those whom you recognize as your fathers and brothers and to take out from your treasure – as the Gospel writes – things new and things old. You have learned – we are always learning more – that the whole field must be bought, as Jesus says in another part of the Gospel, to take possession of the whole treasure. One must have the whole field to discover the treasure, without giving up the work of discernment made with the Word of God, but examining everything and keeping the good. In this way we are less exposed to the risk of disdaining the contribution of brothers, of extinguishing the Spirit or even of attributing to other sources what instead is of the Lord, as Paul exhorts us in the Letter to the Thessalonians: “Do not extinguish the Spirit, do not scorn the prophecies, but examine everything and keep the good. And again, each one must abstain from every sort of evil.”
Hence truth is an encounter and the encounter with Christ is the encounter of life: it is what gives truth and foundation to every other encounter. This is my experience. My encounters and my relations with my neighbor are profoundly marked by my encounter with Jesus. This is the central message, the nucleus, the DNA of the Gospel. This is the heart of evangelical preaching; this is the terrain on which to build every possible dialogue between us and the path of unity between the Churches. As it is written: “No one can lay another foundation other than that already laid, namely Christ Jesus.” And again:
Speaking of Evangelicals, some time ago, Father Raniero Cantalamessa described them as “Christians with the charism of the essential.” It is a description that I like very much. I share it. And some years ago, Cardinal Piovanelli of Florence, proclaimed to anyone who asked him a forecast for the third millennium: “It will be an age in which there will be a return to the fundamental principles of Christianity.” I also believe this. It is necessary, it is indispensable that we return to the fundamental principles. Cardinal Kasper, instead, who I know is your friend, has spoken of “a fundamental ecumenism and a spiritual ecumenism”: here too we are in line. He says:Christians are not united among themselves, they are, first of all, one in Christ. And only that union and communion with Christ makes true communion possible between men and Him. The Lord is the center of the unity. And the force that works and orders this unity is the Holy Spirit.” Perhaps it is in fact from this understanding that Christianity must start again. This is the fundamental perimeter of our communion and it is here that I believe I can say the greatest contribution lies – also historical and theological – of the prophecy of the first Reformation and then of the evangelical world after. I believe this is the fundamental prophecy for the benefit of the whole Body of Christ and of the Church, if the history of Christianity has some meaning …
The Apostle Paul says: “Because no one can lay another foundation other than that already laid – namely Christ Jesus.” Therefore Christ — to put Christ at the foundation; to build on Christ; to be pressed tightly around Christ; to grow towards Christ. He is the foundation of the life of the believer: conversion to Christ, a personal relation with Christ, the imitation of Christ, which is not possible without the presence of the life of Christ. From Christ’s life we receive the strength for the imitation of Christ, to become saints. The formation of Christ is rendered possible by Christ’s life in us. He is the foundation on which we grow: we are born again, but then we grow. And this is the foundation on which the existence of the Church is built, again Christ: the Incarnation of Christ, as proper method, as style of life; identification with the poor, with the needy, with those in difficulty — the life of Christ, the style with which He lived. And so often the Christianity of our time is in need of reformation and revision of life, because models are proposed which are very far from the Gospel. The life of Christ, the death of Christ: to be able to live of Christ, we too must die to ourselves, so that the life of the Spirit can exist in us and, therefore, the Resurrection, the Ascension, with the crowning of the descent of the Holy Spirit, which is indispensable for us to be able to live the Christian life.
I also believe that, in the development of spaces of communion between the different communities, we speak again of Christ, of the return to the essential of the Gospel and there we discover that this space is again Christ, the proclamation of Christ – the “kerigma,” the teaching of Christ – the “didake” – the formation of Christ in us. Like you, I quote a most beautiful and ancient prayer, which I imagine you recite every day: “In Christ, with Christ, by Christ, to you God Almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honor and glory for ever and ever.” I think this makes a good synthesis of what the thought is, which I wish to stress.
One last word. We are, we live between the “now” and the “not yet” – as someone has said – and our experience is an experience of suffering, of pain, of toil in advancing in the dialogue between Christians, in experiencing communion. It is the plane of faith: “you are only one body,” of which dear Jorge Himitian spoke yesterday, “may they be one,” we are on the plane of faith, “the Tabernacle of God among men,” of which Revelation 21 speaks. This is the plane of faith, but then there is the plane of history. The plane of history is that of our experience, where we experience the shame of division, of wars between Christians, of hostilities, of persecutions, also in Italy: unfortunately for many years we experienced persecutions, the Pentecostals particularly, in the years from ’35 to ’55 the notorious… In the middle was the time of reconciliation, the time of ethics, if you wish, the time of love, the time of responsibility, which must be filled by men and women of reconciliation. You, with your visit here, which has demonstrated that you take reconciliation seriously, show that you are a man of reconciliation, I would say a prophet of reconciliation.
Through Christ God has reconciled us with Himself – says the Apostle Paul (Second Letter to the Corinthians) , and He has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation. Our spiritual family has chosen this theme for its existence: Church of reconciliation. However, He has entrusted to all Christians the ministry of reconciliation, from the experience they have within this ministry. He has sown, implanted within us – says the Apostle Paul – the word of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19). It is from this word of reconciliation, which is Jesus himself; He is the word of reconciliation within us, nourishing us to Him, to his spirit, to his sensibility, to his death, to himself, that we can be habilitated to be men and women of reconciliation. What does it mean, at times, to go on the road of Calvary. It means, at times, to pass through the Cross; it means misunderstanding, misinterpretation; it means incomprehension, because there are so many Christians that are so self-defining that they don’t succeed in making space for love, they don’t succeed in living love. And we want to come out of this prison; we want to be men and women of reconciliation.
I am happy to conclude these reflections with a thought of Francis of Assisi, whom I’m sure you love very much, evidently, because you chose the name Francis. But I want to tell you that Evangelicals also love Francis very much, even from the historical point of view. If I think of the Waldensians, for instance: who have a sensibility which is – let’s say – profoundly Franciscan. They have the same type of cut, of sensibility, of spirituality and we are connected to that history; we are connected to that sensibility … Some modern sensibilities don’t please us in the living of a Christian. Francis says: “Begin to do the necessary, then do what is possible and suddenly you will discover you are able to do the impossible.” This seemed an impossible thing! God bless you!
Now we introduce Pope Francis, who would like to share some thoughts with us, what he has in his heart …. There is nothing organized. It is a “Pentecostal” meeting, so we appeal to the Holy Spirit to guide Pope Francis. Please.[Original Text: Italian] [Translation by Zenit]