During his visit Monday to an evangelical Christian community in Caserta, Pope Francis said the Holy Spirit creates diversity and unity in the Church, so that the Church lives a “reconciling diversity.”
He suggested July 28 that the path to unity may be pursued by “going to peripheries and touching the flesh of Christ.”
Pope Francis' second trip in three days to Caserta – punctuated by his return to Rome for Sunday's Angelus address – was meant to be a private meeting with his long term friend, evangelical pastor Giovanni Traettino and his Pentecostal Community of Reconciliation.
In his off the cuff address, which lasted about 30 minutes, Pope Francis asked forgiveness for the Catholics who, in the 1930s, contributed to the persecution of pentecostals under Mussolini and the Fascists.
“Among those who persecuted and denounced pentecostals … there were also Catholics. I am the shepherd of Catholics, and I ask you forgiveness for those Catholic brothers and sisters who have not understood, and have been temptated by the devil.”
Pope Francis maintained that even for the Pope “there is the temptation of assessing: I am the Church, you are a sect. Jesus has prayed for unity. The Holy Spirit makes diversity in the Church. But the same Holy Spirit makes unity, and the Church is unity in diversity. A diversity reconciled through the Holy Spirit.”
Pope Francis spoke at the conclusion of an ecumenical celebration, in which some 350 persons took part. The celebration included three testimonials of faith, a musical performance, and addresses by both Traettino and Pope Francis.
Prior to the celebration, Pope Francis spent some 50 minutes with Traettino at his home.
Traettino’s reconciliation community was founded about 20 years ago, while Raffaele Nogaro was Bishop of Caserta.
Traettino and Bishop Nogaro soon became friends, which made the evangelical community's church a central point for ecumenical efforts in the city.
Pope Francis had learned of Caserta's ecumenical commitment from Traettino, who visited Argentina on business and with whom he had become friendly while Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
In his address, Traettino said that the Pope, “with but one gesture, overcame 'protocol' and got to the heart of human relations.”
“You gave us a great, and unexpected gift … I can say on behalf of all of us, that we love you. You came to visit your brother where he is, as he is.”
Pope Francis in turn stressed that “some may be surprised that the Pope has come to meet the evangelicals. I have come to visit the brethren.”
Pope Francis’ request of forgiveness dealt with religious persecution against evangelicals that took place in Italy under Fascism.
Pentecostals were excluded from the religious confessions admitted by a 1929 law, because they lacked a central governing body. Pentecostal worship was then forbidden in Italy in 1935.
After that time, their worship was denounced, including by some priests, and some pentecostal pastors were sent to prisons or concentration camps.
Pope Francis asked forgiveness for those Catholics who had behaved as did the 11 brothers of Joseph who, influenced by the devil and envious, sold him as a slave.
Following the celebration, he lunched with the evangelical community.
He was expected to visit the convent of nuns of Falciano, a Caserta suburb. The convent is home to five nuns who work with children, and a small crowd was waiting to see him in front of the enclosure.
But as his lunch with evangelicals lasted longer than expected, Pope Francis did not have time to visit the consecrated religious of Falciano.
Once the meal ended, he had time to meet two disabled children before returning to the Vatican.