The late Bishop understood that the prayer of Jesus, recorded in the Gospel of John, “May they Be One” (John 17:21) still echoes in this hour. It is the prayer of Jesus and so it is heard by the Father. We are invited into the response. It requires our sincere commitment to work to heal the divisions in the Body of Christ as a part of the answer.
This young, dynamic, charismatic, evangelical Bishop was – and still is – a friend of Pope Francis. He was catapulted into prominence in the broader Christian community when, while meeting with his friend the Pope in January, he was given a recorded message from Francis to deliver to a large group of charismatic, evangelical protestant leaders who gathered in the United States.
The video went viral. It moved millions to sincere prayer for the healing of the divisions in the broken Body of Christ and is prompting a renewed commitment to common apostolic action between Christians.
It has become controversial in some circles, as the comments from the misguided traditionalist Catholic quoted above demonstrate. The opposition has come from some Catholic, protestant and orthodox Christians. In the video, Pope Francis expressed his sincere Christian affection to the protestant leaders, extending what he called a “spiritual hug” to them.
That meeting led to another meeting at the Vatican between Pope Francis and several Evangelical Christian leaders on June 24, 2014. That meeting included my friend, James Robison, and other evangelical and charismatic protestant leaders, including Ken Copeland. That meeting was also historic. Its rippling effects have only begun to be experienced in the broader Christian community.
On Monday, July 28, Pope Francis will travel to Caserta, Italy for a visit with another evangelical protestant Christian friend, Rev. Giovanni Traettino of the Evangelical Church of Reconciliation. Bishop Tony Palmer was scheduled to be at that meeting.
Francis is dedicated to helping heal the divisions in the broken Body of Christ. He is encouraging courageous efforts at Christian cooperation. He has raised the water level for the whole Catholic Church, by bringing his lived experience in Argentina, along with his unique palate of gifts, to the office of Successor of Peter at a prophetic moment in history.
In a teaching on the Church as the Body of Christ given on June 19, 2013, Francis made an extemporaneous comment which revealed what his life work revealed. Throughout his service as priest, spiritual father, Bishop and Cardinal, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, has always heard the passionate Prayer of Jesus Christ and made it his own:
"I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me." (John 17:21)
Here are a few of those heartfelt words from his message:
"Divisions among us, but also divisions among the communities:
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Evangelical Christians, orthodox Christians, Catholic Christians, but why divided? We must try to bring about unity. Let me tell you something, today, before leaving home, I spent 40 minutes more or less, half an hour, with an evangelical pastor. And we prayed together, seeking unity."
"But we Catholics must pray with each other and other Christians. Pray that the Lord gift us unity! Unity among ourselves! How will we ever have unity among Christians if we are not capable of having it among us Catholics, in the family, how many families fight and split up? Seek unity, unity builds the Church and comes from Jesus Christ. He sends us the Holy Spirit to build unity!"
With this clear and courageous commitment to unity, Francis stepped into the trajectory of his two predecessors, Saint John Paul II and His Holiness Benedict XVI. The sincerity of his quest for healing the divisions between Christians is expressed in word and deed.
The comfortable way in which he shares from his heart and prays with evangelical Protestant Christian leaders reveals his naturally supernatural approach to living his Christian faith. It also sets an example for all of us. It should inspire each one of us to reach out to other Christians with the love of Jesus Christ and find ways to work, walk and pray together.
I have spent years praying and working with evangelical protestants and orthodox Christians, co- laboring in the trenches of the culture on the great challenges of our neo-pagan, or what I prefer to call pre-Christian, age. I am so very happy to have Pope Francis make it clear that this is part of our task, our call and our mission.
For those who followed the selection of Cardinal Bergoglio as Pope, this will come as no surprise. One of his evangelical friends from Argentina, protestant evangelist Luis Palau, has been straightforward and enthusiastic about his friendship and prayer with Francis. In an interview with Christianity Today entitled Why It Matters that Pope Francis Drinks Mate with Evangelicals.