Fr. Thomas Rosica gave a most interesting talk to the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs recently.
Fr. Rosica was in the hall during the recent extraordinary synod as an English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office. The whole talk is worth reading. Here are a couple of excerpts of the whole talk which is up at Salt and Light TV’s blog. Fr. Rosica is also the CEO of the Salt and Light Media Foundation. Please read it all as it will give you some insights into Pope Francis’ approach.
On the synod:
Vatican II articulated a new theology of Church. While the fullness of the Church, according to Catholic doctrine, may exist only in Catholicism, there are nevertheless precious elements of it to be found outside that deserve our honor and respect. Interestingly enough, this theme emerged once again at the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome and evoked once again those great lively discussions and impassioned debates that surrounded and continue to flow the use of “subsistit in” from Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church – Lumen Gentium.
Just as Vatican II taught that elements of truth and holiness can be found outside the Catholic Church, in other Christian denominations and even in other religions, some members of the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops suggested once again that elements of truth, goodness and even holiness may be detected and even found in some imperfect yet very real situations of daily life: situations that fall far short of the ideals of the sacred institution of Catholic marriage. I am sure you know of the intense debates that followed the first, mid-term report of what happened in the Synod Aula! Numerous Synod fathers questioned the validity of the analogy of “subsistit in” in relation to sacramental marriage and those living in “irregular” situations. Nevertheless, no one can deny the dynamic conversations that took place among us at the Synod as we sought to find a vocabulary and expression to name the new situations of our time and find the presence of God in them.
On ecumenical outreach to charismatics:
There are roughly 285 million Evangelicals worldwide, which means that, together, Evangelicals and Pentecostals total nearly 400 million. Meanwhile, the number of “historic Protestants” (Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, etc.) and Anglicans continues to shrink overall. Through his focusing on Evangelicals and Pentecostals rather than “historical” Protestant denominations, Pope Francis has taken a new approach to ecumenical efforts that has upset some of the major denominations and even those who claim to be seasoned, ecumenical experts! Several of my theologian colleagues and friends, and those immersed in formal ecumenical studies and work have commented to me over the past few months: “What on earth is the Pope doing with those “sects” or “fundamentalist new groups?” They might be missing some very important lessons that the Bishop of Rome is teaching us.
Francis and the World Evangelical Alliance
Pope Francis has approached ecumenism characterized through personal relationships specifically addressed to the world of Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity and somewhat disconnected from the “official” efforts and initiatives of those who work through formal structures and agencies in the area of ecumenism. Recently Pope Francis addressed a delegation of the World Evangelical Alliance at the Vatican. Francis said: “Whenever we put ourselves entirely and lovingly at the service of the Gospel, we become ever more fruitful branches of that vine which is Christ, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). This truth is grounded in our Baptism, by which we share in the fruits of Christ’s death and resurrection. Baptism is God’s priceless gift which we have in common (cf. Gal 3:27). Thanks to this gift, we no longer live a purely earthly existence; we now live in the power of the Spirit.
Francis has said that our divisions mar the beauty of the seamless robe of Christ, yet they do not completely destroy the profound unity brought about by grace in all the baptized (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 13). The effectiveness of the Christian message would no doubt be greater were Christians to overcome their divisions, and together celebrate the sacraments, spread the word of God, and bear witness to charity.”
This outreach to Evangelicals and Pentecostals is most certainly influenced by then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s pastoral ministry in Latin America, and his now famous Aparecida document from the 2007 Latin American Bishops’ Meeting in Brazil.
There was a strong wake-up call given to us this past July when the Bishop of Rome went on a “private” visit to a Pentecostal church in Caserta, Italy. The event concluded with a historic first: an apology from the Pope for anything involvement Catholics may have had in the persecution of Pentecostals in Italy in the 1930s.
Francis spoke of that one sin present among Christians since apostolic times, and definitely not a divine trait: name-calling. On the path of Christian life, “when we stop and spend too much time looking at each other, we start a different journey, an ugly one,” the pope said. In the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul criticizes early Christians who, bragging and promoting rivalry, started saying, “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Apollos,” rather than “I belong to Jesus.”