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Home Canadian Pope Francis is following the Holy Spirit in reaching out to Evangelicals: evangelical bishop

Pope Francis is following the Holy Spirit in reaching out to Evangelicals: evangelical bishop

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Meeting over lunch at Pontiff's residence took three hours
By Deborah GyapongA sign with a dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit is seen as Pope Francis greets the crowd after celebrating a Mass at which he confirmed 44 people in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in April. CNS photo / Paul Haring.A sign with a dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit is seen as Pope Francis greets the crowd after celebrating a Mass at which he confirmed 44 people in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in April. CNS photo / Paul Haring.

A meeting of evangelical and charismatic Protestant leaders with Pope Francis June 24 may lead to concrete steps forward for a visible unity after 500 years of division, says Bishop Tony Palmer.

"We met Pope Francis; we are accepting his call and trying to put an end to division," Palmer said in a July 1 interview from South Africa.

"We are already one in Christ, but we're not in visible unity," the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches (CEEC) bishop said. "We need to demonstrate that."

The unprecedented three-hour private meeting over lunch at the Pope's residence at Casa Santa Marta was not on the Pope's official agenda and took place with no Vatican secretaries present.

In addition to Palmer, the leaders meeting with Francis included World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) head Geoff Tunnicliffe, who divides his time between Vancouver and New York City; WEA's theological commission chair Thomas Schirrmacher; WEA's global ambassador Brian Stiller, a former president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) and Tyndale University College in Toronto; Toronto-based Catch The Fire founding ministers John and Carol Arnott; and popular American televangelists James and Betty Robison, founders of Life Outreach Int. and Kenneth Copeland, founder of KCM Ministries.

At the meeting, the leaders "expressed our common desire to work toward the visible unity," Palmer said. "Because we all agree that [Martin] Luther's central protest of salvation by grace through faith was accepted in 1999 in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Catholic and Lutheran Churches, we today, as evangelicals, can make a public statement that we are united in faith in a common understanding of the justification of salvation and secondly we agree on the same definition of salvation. That means we can also agree to announce together the salvation message."

"So we asked Pope Francis, as a delegation, to offer us further insight into how we can make a common declaration --a public visible joint-declaration of our unity in the faith and unity in mission," Palmer said.

"While I facilitated a meeting, I made sure everyone had time to speak to Pope Francis about their own personal agendas," he said.

"Pope Francis very clear in stressing the unity we are speaking of is a reconciliation of diversity," Palmer said, noting the concept of reconciling diversity comes from Lutheran theologian Oscar Cullman who was an observer at the Second Vatican Council and influential on Catholic thought regarding ecumenism.

"Pope Francis agrees with me when I say diversity is divine, but division is diabolic," Palmer said. " Pope Francis is fully aware of the necessity for diversity. We need each other. Together, united, we represent the fullness of Christ through our reconciled diversity."

Ordained a priest 10 years ago with the CEEC and subsequently a bishop in the Anglican-style body not affiliated with the Anglican Communion, Palmer organized and facilitated the meeting with Pope Francis, acting as his translator.

For the past ten years under three Popes, at the invitation of the Roman Catholic Church, Palmer has worked with the Catholic charismatic movement in Rome and elsewhere, including a stint in Buenos Aires, where he became friends with the future pope Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

His work for the Church required he raise his own financing. Having worked for the Copeland's KCM Ministries in South Africa in the 1990s, the Copeland's provided funding for Palmer and his family to do their work in Rome and in Buenos Aires. Palmer also received some help from Robison's ministries as well.

After Bergoglio became Pope, Palmer was stunned to receive a phone call from Francis, inviting to meet with him in Rome last January. At that meeting, with no agenda, Palmer told the Pope he was going to be traveling to Texas later that month to a conference Copeland was hosting for charismatic leaders. At the Pope's suggestion, Palmer recorded a spontaneous message from Francis on his iPhone that was later edited with English subtitles and played on a big screen at the conference and greeted with a standing ovation.

In the video, which has gone viral, Pope Francis speaks about how sin has separated us, "all our sins. The misunderstandings throughout history. It has been a long road of sins that we all shared in."

"Who is to blame? We all share the blame," the Pope said. We have all sinned. There is only one blameless, the Lord. I am nostalgic (yearning) that this separation comes to an end and gives us communion."

The Pope said he yearned "for that embrace that the Holy Scripture speaks of when Joseph's brothers began to start from hunger, they went to Egypt to buy, so that they could eat," he said. "They went to buy. They had money. But they couldn't eat the money. But there they found something more than food, they found their brother."

"What's happening is a spontaneous move of the Holy Spirit which was ignited after the two of us got together in January and he very graciously made a video which was intended only to greet the leaders at the Copeland ministers' conference," Palmer said. "Speaking under the unction of the Holy Spirit, which Pope Francis, admitted, he challenged them, a call to evangelicals to seek a deeper communion than the mere sharing of bread."

"For many evangelicals, they want to have communion, they are seeking bread," Palmer said. "Pope Francis made us understand by using the analogy of Joseph's brothers, true communion is not in sharing bread, it is in sharing brotherhood.

"Basically Pope Francis is saying unless there is brotherhood, sharing the bread is not communion," he said.

"Even though Pope Francis obviously knows the definition of communion and the theology of the Eucharist, the essential essence of the Eucharist is our unity in Christ and fraternal bonds," Palmer said.

"This spoke deeply to the evangelical heart," Palmer said.

Palmer and the Pope met again in April to review the response from the Protestant world, and out of that meeting the decision was made to invite the leaders to the Vatican in June.

"This is uncharted territory; uncharted waters," Palmer stressed. "The Holy Spirit is our captain."

Pope Francis and I and the Vatican have "no protocol for what we are doing," he said. "We are trying to be courageous men of God. "We need prayers."

Last Updated on Monday, 07 July 2014 07:59  

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