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Motorcycle crash claims life of Pope's friend

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Bishop Tony Palmer of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches knew Pontiff in Argentina
By Deborah GyapongHarley-Davidson gave Pope Francis this new Dyna Super Glide in June; the pope autographed and put it up for auction, raising $326,000 for a Rome soup kitchen and homeless shelter. CNS photo / Benoit Tessier, Reuters.Harley-Davidson gave Pope Francis this new Dyna Super Glide in June; the pope autographed and put it up for auction, raising $326,000 for a Rome soup kitchen and homeless shelter. CNS photo / Benoit Tessier, Reuters.

Pope Francis' friend Bishop Tony Palmer of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches (CEEC) died in England July 20 after his motorcycle collided with another vehicle.

According to email reports obtained from The Ark Community he founded, three teams of surgeons tried to save his life but he passed away in the evening, leaving behind his wife Emiliana Palmer and two teenaged children Daniel and Gabriella. Palmer was in his early 50s, and grew up in South Africa, though recently he had been living in England.

Palmer recently facilitated an historic private meeting of evangelical and charismatic leaders June 24 with Pope Francis at the Holy Father's residence inside the Vatican. In January, Pope Francis had recorded a message on Palmer's iPhone for charismatic leaders attending a conference in Texas. The two had become friends when Palmer was doing ecumenical work with charismatic Catholics in Buenos Aires.

World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) global ambassador Brian Stiller was among the leaders present at the June meeting with Pope Francis. "Tony was a most remarkable young man," he said in an email. "I so well remember his gracious and active leadership in bringing members of the World Evangelical Alliance together in conversation with Pope Francis late June."

"His joyful personality, his peaceful presence and his ability to generate true fellowship made Tony one of a kind," Stiller said. "He will be so missed by us all."

"However, with his life and witness still fresh in our memory, I believe it is important that we carry on, as he would have desired, finding ways for our major Christian bodies to have friendship and to understand our respective communions," said Stiller, who headed the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada for 16 years. "So that in living out Christ's call, by the Spirit, we will bring the presence of Jesus Christ, his peace and transforming power into our troubled world."

Bruno Ierullo, Catch the Fire founding member and pastor of its Newmarket, Ontario campus knew Palmer for seven years and worked with him in a worldwide movement called United in Christ that brings Catholics and evangelicals together. He said he was "distraught" to hear of Tony's death.

"He was a remarkable guy, a very sensitive, extremely forgiving and loving man," said Ierullo. "It will be a great loss for the Kingdom, a just outstanding man of faith."

He said it was a privilege to work with him, that he had "a radiance about him."

"He was always energetic, a real influencer, a real encourager, almost like a Barnabus," Ierullo said. "He relied totally on God."

Palmer had also been invited to Rome to work with Catholic charismatics there in unity efforts that had the blessings of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Palmer had to raise his own support, and most of it came from American televangelist Kenneth Copeland Ministries. Palmer also served for Copeland's ministries in South Africa, where he was development director for an orphanage for abandoned children with HIV/AIDs.

Palmer and Ierullo were among headline speakers lined up for an ecumenical conference in Ottawa Aug. 28-31 called Fire and Fusion ( Other speakers include Matteo Calisi, an international leader in the Catholic charismatic renewal and leader of efforts for unity and John Arnott, leader of Catch the Fire, the former Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship. Arnott and his wife Carol were present at the meeting with Pope Francis.

Pierre Hogle, who is organizing Fire and Fusion with a team from Lift Jesus Higher, a Catholic charismatic community in Ottawa said they expect the conference will go ahead. "We're not too sure how we'll fill that hole or honor Tony."

"There's a whole network of people all across the world who have this cause of unity in their heart," said Hogle. "I think right now they are totally devastated."

Hogle had heard early Sunday about the accident and joined people who prayed and fasted for Palmer's recovery.

The conference speakers had been lined up before Palmer met with the Pope last January and recorded the message on his phone that went viral on social media.

Lift Jesus Higher has had a vision and mission of building bridges between Catholics and evangelicals for the past 30 years, he said. They were already organizing the conference when they saw the Pope's video message to charismatic leaders. "We're seeing the Pope's on board with us."

Last Updated on Thursday, 24 July 2014 07:51  

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