Pope calls for resolute work for Christian unity, sees Charismatic Renewal as key force in ecumenism. We must advance together, work together, love each other

June 5, 2017

By Céline Hoyeau, Rome, for La Croix, 5 June 2017

Christian unity is now more urgent than ever and needs to “be accomplished in prayer and action for the weakest.  We must advance together, work together, love each other

Pope Francis on Saturday called for a “renewal” of the Renewal at a Pentecost Eve ceremony. And he challenged the 60,000 people present for the Jubilee of the Charismatic Renewal movement in the Circus Maximus to work resolutely for Christian unity.

Pope Francis celebrated Pentecost Mass on Sunday June 4, 2017 in front of 60,000 “charismatics” gathered at St Peter’s in the Vatican. / Andreas Solaro/AFP

Praising, singing in tongues, dancing and proclaiming that “Jesus is Lord”, over 60,000 people from 120 countries celebrated the Jubilee of the Charismatic Renewal movement in Rome’s vast Circus Maximus on the evening of Saturday, June 3.  Founded 50 years ago, the movement now claims 120 million followers and appears to have lost none of the ardor of its early days.

With his arms raised, Pope Francis invoked “a new effusion of the Spirit” over the “charismatics” at the Pentecost Eve ceremony on Saturday evening. Highlighting the ecumenical origins of the movement,

The urgency of Christian unity

“Christian unity is now more urgent than ever” and needs to “be accomplished in prayer and action for the weakest”, the pope said. Circled by representatives of Protestant churches and adopting the vigorous style of evangelical preachers, he urged them “to advance together, work together, love each other“.

The pope, who, as archbishop of Buenos Aires used to pray regularly with several Argentine Pentecostal pastors who became friends, personally monitored the organization of the Jubilee, placing the accent on Christian unity.  It was the pope who insisted that representatives of other Christian confessions be invited, particularly Pentecostals.  This was particularly unexpected since the latter have until recently been regarded as the least ecumenical Protestants, indeed very hostile to Rome.

It was also Pope Francis who decided that the Pentecost vigil would not take place in St Peter’s Square but at a more ecumenical location. This was the Circus Maximus, theater of the first Christian martyrs, “our common ancestors”, as the pope described them speaking to Pastor Giovanni Traettino, president of the Church of Reconciliation.

The vocation of the effusion of the Spirit is not just to awaken but also to reconcile Christians, to overcome their divisions and to build unity among them,” the Pentecostal pastor added, echoing the pope.

Genuine unity is more like “reconciled diversity” – Consider two temptations to avoid

In his homily before 60,000 people in St Peter’s Square on Sunday morning, the pope also emphasized that Christian unity needs to avoid two temptations, namely seeking diversity without unity and seeking unity without diversity.

The former occurs “when we create coalitions and parties when we harden positions that exclude”, or when we choose “to belong to this or that group over belonging to the Church”, and place “being left or right wing Christians before belonging to Jesus”.

The second transforms unity into “uniformity, an obligation to do everything together and the same way and to always think the same”.

Genuine unity, the pope said, is more like a “reconciled diversity”.

Don’t get bogged down

We must not get bogged down over understandings and theological dialogue that would pervert ecumenism,” warned Laurent Landete, moderator general of the Emmanuel Community.  Even though the group had not been particularly involved in ecumenism until recently, it invited several evangelical pastors to Rome.

Ecumenism invites us instead to move forward in unity through fraternal life,” Landete noted.

“Fifty years ago in a very cerebral context, the priority was the renewal of prayer, sensitivity, love of Church teaching, a direct proclamation of the faith,” he continued.

Now we have a solid enough backbone to move to a new stage. Not withdrawing into a closed in identity but going deeper in relationships, in encounters, in friendship with those who seem so different to us.”