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Fire and Fusion conference focuses on love as road to Christian unity

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Bishop says Holy Spirit bringing 'new wave of unity and revival'
By Deborah GyapongFaith leaders pray for international Charismatic Catholic leader Matteo Calisi at the Fire and Fusion conference in Ottawa. Deborah Gyapong / (CCN).Faith leaders pray for international Charismatic Catholic leader Matteo Calisi at the Fire and Fusion conference in Ottawa. Deborah Gyapong / (CCN).

Catholic and evangelical speakers at the Fire and Fusion conference here Aug. 28-31 stressed Christian unity begins by loving each other and trusting the Holy Spirit.

"We have a dream! - our dream is to be united in love as One Body in Christ," said Ottawa auxiliary Bishop Christian Riesbeck at the conference's closing Mass Aug. 31. "We have had a glimpse of that unity these last few days."

Bishop Riesbeck said the power of the Holy Spirit is bringing a "new wave of unity and revival" he described as "prophetic."

"We are invited to cooperate with His initiative," and "to give God permission to empower us to be ambassadors of Christian unity," he said.

"This work of Christian unity does not make sense to many people who like things the way they are, who may have some preconceived ideas of each others' faith traditions and beliefs," said Bishop Riesbeck. "There's a certain pride that needs to be broken; we have to humble ourselves."

"As Christians this is not foreign to us," the bishop said. "The whole notion of humbling ourselves, renouncing ourselves, taking up the Cross so as to follow Jesus - isn't that the call we just heard in the Gospel?"

Matteo Calisi, a leader in the worldwide Catholic Charismatic renewal and former member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, described reconciliation to the estimated 300 Catholic and evangelicals who participated as "the heart of the Gospel."

"Jesus died to reconcile us to the Father and for us to be reconciled to each other," he said.

But Calisi warned the road to unity would not be easy, that it was a way of the Cross.

Speaking in Italian with translation by Bruno Ierullo, pastor of Toronto-based Catch the Fire's Newmarket, Ontario campus, Calisi said Jesus "knew he would be rejected before he was crucified. He was rejected, insulted, spat upon."

Love gave Him the power to go on, he said.

"What is really scandalous is the sin inside of the Church," Calisi said. "If we ignore the reality of sin and of division, this is the true scandal."

"If we leave people in division, if we tolerate division, it is like a gas that invades and makes you go to sleep and in the end you die," he warned.

Jesus is the only way to salvation, he said, but it's the absence of His love among Christians that prevents the message from getting out the world.

Among the speakers was Toronto's Catch the Fire founder John Arnott who had met with Pope Francis June 24, along with leaders of the World Evangelical Alliance, and prominent American televangelists at a meeting facilitated by Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches (CEEC) Bishop Tony Palmer who died in motorcycle accident July 20. Palmer, a close friend of Pope Francis' had been slated to speak at Fire and Fusion.

Arnott spoke of how, when revival came to the Toronto in 1994, people from all around the world and from all Christian denominations visited to see what God was doing. Though Arnott had welcomed them, he realized he needed to do more after meeting with Pope Francis.

"We have to intentionally build towards unity," he said.

"When you try to have unity on the basis of identical doctrine, that's a hopeless cause," Arnott said. "Two Baptists can't agree; two Pentecostals can't agree."

"When we have unity on the basis of the Father's love, it begins to make sense," he said. "Otherwise you get this Pharisaical person turning off one person after another."

But Arnott said he and his movement are already paying a price for meeting with Pope Francis, who he described as "the most loving and Spirit-filled person" he has ever met.

"We have had two churches leave the movement so far," he said. "We have had families leave our other churches."

"This business of loving one another is easier said than done," he said.

The Pope has also endured criticism.

"The pope speaks for three hours with evangelical leaders, but what happens outside?" Calisi asked. Many Christians cry out, "what a scandal!"

But the Cross is a scandal. Jesus is a scandal, he said.

For this reason Jesus scandalizes up to this day, he said. Jesus prayed to the Father, "Father make them one, so the world may know that you sent your Son."

"We can discuss doctrine, but in the end we will never be united," Calisi said. "There is not an ecumenical doctrine. Even though the Lutherans signed an agreement with the Catholic Church, this document hasn't created unity. Divisions still exist."

"The Holy Spirit doesn't come with pieces of paper, but with tons of fire," he said.

Calisi pointed to a reality "more profound" than documents: The reality of the Holy Trinity as "unity in diversity." There are three Persons, but they are One, he said. "There are not three divinities, but one divinity. God in three Persons."

"The Son doesn't argue with the Father or the Holy Spirit," he said. "They don't argue or discuss things; they love each other.

"I believe this unity is glorious, but it is also a crucifixion. It is a way of the Cross. Without the Cross there is no salvation," Calisi said. "There is no love greater than to give your life---if this takes place today, are we ready?"

"Are we ready to drink from this profound chalice?" he asked. "Here is our call. Do we want to live like it doesn't exist? Or do we want to begin to love each other. It's not a miraculous event; it's a decision. We need to put our will behind loving each other."

Pope Francis has spoken of the "ecumenism of blood," Ierullo said.

Persecutors do not distinguish among Catholics, Orthodox, or other denominations. "They kill Christians. In the eyes of the persecutors, we are already one."

"Persecutors do not make distinctions, they kill Christians," Ierullo said. "In the eyes of the persecutors we are already one."

"When we meet God, we will be asked 'How much did you love God and your neighbor as yourself?"---[we will not be asked] whether you got your doctrine right," he said.

Quoting Ephesians 5, Ierullo said, "We are to put off falsehood and speak truthfully," and as members of one Body, to "get rid of anger, bitterness, and jealousy."

"We can rely on the Holy Spirit to do the work," he said.

That doesn't mean "we sit back and watch," but that we "get our hearts right."

"Hurting people hurt people," he said. "That's why the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation is so important."

"We're on a journey to Jesus, two parallel journeys," he said. "But as we come closer to Christ, we will come closer to each other."

Calisi said the Pope has "given us a strategy."

"You start first by purifying your tongue," he said. "Don't speak evil about one another."

"In unifying this diversity we need to have courage," he said. "Christ doesn't have many brides. He is not polygamous. He has purchased one bride with his blood." He noted Christ will not be returning for a quarrelsome bride, either.

"We need to start operating," he said. "This call to unity is urgent. We need to be ready."

The conference paid tribute to Bishop Palmer who had met Pope Francis when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires and the two had become friends.

Palmer had facilitated the meeting with evangelicals and Pope Francis June 24, and had worked with Calisi for ten years, under both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI in promoting unity through relationship building among Catholic and evangelical charismatic communities.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 September 2014 15:06  

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