CASERTA, Italy (RNS) Pope Francis sought forgiveness for decades of persecution of Italian Pentecostals when he met with around 300 evangelicals from the U.S., Argentina and Italy in the southern town of Caserta on Monday (July 28).

Pope Francis talks with Giovanni Traettino, a Protestant pastor and his friend, in Caserta, Italy, July 28. Pope Francis said he knew people would be shocked that he would make such a trip outside of Rome to visit a group of Pentecostals, “but I went to visit my friends.”

Pope Francis talks with Giovanni Traettino, a Protestant pastor and his friend, in Caserta, Italy, July 28. Pope Francis said he knew people would be shocked that he would make such a trip outside of Rome to visit a group of Pentecostals, “but I went to visit my friends.” CNS photo/ L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters


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The pope made his second visit in as many days to the Mafia stronghold near Naples, this time to meet evangelical pastor Giovanni Traettino, whom he befriended while he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.

During the visit, Francis apologized for the persecution suffered by Pentecostals under Italy’s fascist regime in the 1920s and 1930s and urged Christians to celebrate their diversity and unity.

“Catholics were among those who persecuted and denounced the Pentecostals, almost as if they were crazy,” Francis said.

“I am the shepherd of the Catholics and I ask you to forgive my Catholic brothers and sisters who did not understand and were tempted by the devil.”

Since his election last year, the pope has been reaching out to other faiths and has held talks with Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders. On Monday, he went even further by apologizing for what Catholics had done.

Luca Baratto, a pastor from the Italian Federation of Evangelical Churches, said the pope’s apology was unexpected and greatly appreciated.

“It is very important to remember the racial laws through which the Pentecostals were victims under fascism,” he told the Italian news agency, AdnKronos. “We really appreciate the opening of dialogue by this pope.”

Calling the pope “my beloved brother,” Traettino said the evangelical community was deeply grateful for the visit, which would have been unthinkable until recently.

James Robison explains a "high five" to Pope Francis at the Vatican on June 24, 2014. During their meeting, they agreed all Catholics and Protestants need to come to know Jesus personally.

James Robison explains a “high five” to Pope Francis at the Vatican on June 24, 2014. During their meeting, they agreed all Catholics and Protestants need to come to know Jesus personally. RNS photo courtesy LIFE Outreach International

Indeed, whereas now-retired Pope Benedict XVI channeled his energies into trying to reconcile with traditionalist Catholics, Francis has spent more time reaching out to conservative evangelical leaders; his recent three-hour meeting with American televangelists raised some eyebrows and resulted in what was dubbed the first-ever papal high-five.

“With a single gesture he has opened the door wider, overcoming any complications of protocol and going directly to the heart of human relations,” Traettino said of his meeting with Francis.

One participant said it was a very emotional moment when the pope asked forgiveness, and “everyone was in tears.”

The pope arrived in Caserta by helicopter and after a private conversation at Traettino’s home, he met with the community of the Evangelical  Church of Reconciliation at the site of their church, which is under construction.

A notable absentee was Bishop Tony Palmer, the charismatic preacher who used a cellphone camera to record Francis’ appeal for unity between Catholics and evangelicals. He was killed just over a week ago (July 20) in a motorcycle crash in the United Kingdom.

On Saturday, around 200,000 faithful gathered for the pope’s first stop in Caserta, a stronghold of the notorious Naples Mafia known as Camorra.

The pontiff did not mention the Camorra, which runs a vast organized crime empire including drug trafficking, money laundering and extortion, but spoke out against “corruption and lawlessness” during his address.

KRE/AMB END McKENNA

44 Comments

    • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

      Somehow this compassionless comment strikes me as typical of why it is so hard to erase evils of the past. Evils that then become fertilizers for future evils.

        • I thought the comment was funny..

          seriously how can any one apologize for some one else with out there
          permission..

          Pentecostalism is not even Christian yet many Pentecostals are ..

          Pentecostalism is built on navel gazing ..its not built on what Jesus has done for us but what we are doing for him other wise known as navel gazing.. making one self known —- by what we do .
          Tongue talking holy laughter even the healings that have never been proven all focus’s the attention on the one doing it rather than Jesus..
          and it goes around Christian church bodies leach like attaching it self to them..

          • I found this article rather disturbing. Francis again is giving his OPINION and he is speaking for the ENTIRE church membership. He is not reinforcing AUTHENTIC Catholic teaching. Catholics believe that our roots are in Judaism and during the Last Supper, the Old (Testament) law surrendered to the New Testament Law. Christ was/is the Pascal lamb, unblemished, the Perfect Sacrifice. Christ shed His blood for MANY/NOT ALL. As some people, will not accept the Truths, that Holy Mother Church Teaches. I am Catholic, I am NOT Protestant. What has happened since Vatican II, should be a sign that, our Church, like Christ is walking the road to Calvary. The Catholic Church is going through a great trial, Her death and Resurrection are soon to follow. (See Catholic Catechism 675 & 677).

            Scripture reminds us, “By their fruits, you shall know them.” Many CATHOLIC schools, hospitals, seminaries have closed. Parishes have consolidated. Churches have been sold for secular use. The amount of clergy and religious sisters, have shrunk dramatically. The sexual abuse scandal has shaken the faith of many. More than 2/3 of Catholics doubt CHRIST’S REAL PRESENCE in the EUCHARIST. TRUE Catholics Believe that the PERSON OF CHRIST Is TOTALLY PRESENT, therein. That is why the EUCHARIST was often referred to as The MOST BLESSED SACRAMENT, because it is CHRIST HIMSELF. All these NEGATIVE changes have happened in a 50 year time span. A fraction of time, for a two thousand year institution.

            What is occurring in the Church and world has been predicted at LaSalette, Fatima and Akita. We know that Mother Mary, prophesied that Rome would lose the faith and become the seat of the Anti-Christ, at LaSalette. Our Lady of Fatima, warned the dogma of faith would be preserved in Portugal, but will be lost elsewhere. Our Lady of Akita, also warned us that a great Chastisement is coming for the Church and world. Fr. Malachy Martin, who read the Third Secret of Fatima, warned that Apostasy Would begin at the top. (The Pope). Christ and Truth are ONE. The Bride of Christ, i.e. the Catholic Church, CAN NOT contradict the Truth, either. We have had bad popes in the past. We need to watch with our eyes, ears, and hearts open to the (Holy) Spirit of Truth. Above all, we need to pray for Pope Francis.

  1. Abdullah B. Utcher

    In truth both sides should be apologizing; if you lived in the American South you would know why. And brother, you should be very sparing in your criticism until you have closely examined Francis’ comments. He has not said anything heretical.

  2. Bruno VAN de VLIET

    This is all a farce. The pope is the head of a church that never really changes. The last thing this pope did, just before becoming pope was confirming all the the RCC doctrines, otherwise he could not become pope. That is included all the decrees of the council of Trent, condemning all non-catholic Christians, the infallibility of the pope, the worship of Mary etc
    So apologizing about something someone else did in the past is easy, Changing the false doctrines of the church is another.

    • This raises some interesting questions.

      Bruno seems to know Catholic doctrine better than I do, but if you read between the lines, is the Pope saying, “We ask your forgiveness, Pentecostals, but you’re still going to hell because you don’t believe in the ex cathedra teaching that Mary rose bodily into heaven, etc.”?

      “Changing the false doctrines of the church is another.” I heard that there is one instance on record of a heretical church returning to the truth. Supposedly, before he died, Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God, confessed the error of his way and encouraged his followers to go forth and join biblical churches.

    • Danielle de Barberac

      Bruno,

      He does believe the doctrines of the church. I am not knowledgeable about all past decrees, but I know that you are wrong about at least two things that you mentioned. Non-catholic christians are not “condemned,” and mary is not “worshipped.” You have not taken the time to truly understand the subtle distinctions of the faith, and therefore your criticism is not accurate. A great place to start is with “Rome Sweet Home” by Scott Hahn.

      Peace,

      Danielle

      • Danielle,

        I was raised a Catholic, I am now an Evangelical. With regards to your two points. Is it true that non-Catholic Christians are not condemned? My understanding is that there are many official Catholic doctrines (such as the assumption of Mary bodily into heaven and the notion that Mary was both born without sin and did not sin in her lifetime) such that if anyone does not believe them they are anathema (condemned). Now I would imagine that this would apply to a great many Catholics, not just Protestants like myself. Now you shouldn’t take my word for it; talk to your priest about it. They will probably have some way to explain it away, despite the fact that official Catholic doctrine (i.e., ex cathedra) by definition cannot be rescinded. If nothing else, though, the mere fact that one could so reasonably come to the conclusion by reading these documents that non-Catholic Christians are damned should give you some pause. You have well said that there are subtle distinctions in the Catholic faith. Much subtlety cannot be avoided, but in basic matters of salvation, it can be. The Philippian jailer said to Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” And they responded, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16.30-31). I recently went to the funeral of a Catholic friend, and the priest spoke with great confidence that she was now in heaven. He sounded just like an Evangelical! But alas, there is no such certainty to be found in the Catholic church; the nuanced and labyrinthine doctrine of salvation doesn’t allow for it.

        Is Mary worshipped in the Catholic church? Not by all, to be sure. I think that declaring Mary sinless goes well beyond the honor that should be given to any mere creature, but perhaps it is not worship. But there is a strong undercurrent of Mary as Co-Redeemer and Queen of Heaven in some parts of the Catholic church which is undeniably worship. They are not yet official Catholic doctrines, but they are certainly tolerated within the church.

        What I say about Catholicism is the same thing I say about Mormonism: Why, given a choice, would someone choose to be a Catholic instead of an Evangelical? Even so, men like Thomas Howard leave Evangelicalism for the Roman Church. In Christianity Today he gave as his reason, “I could no longer resist the Magisterium of the Church” (from memory, may not be exact). Ahh.

        • Theophilus,
          The doctrine of the Catholic Church does not need to be explained away. Any one, priest, or lay person, who does that risks losing him soul. Church doctrines are essentially unchangeable.
          1: is Mary worshipped? Mary, because of her privilege as the Mother of God, is honored far above all creatures in heaven and on earth. Being the mother of Christ, Who is God, she in intimately related to the Trinity. The Catholic Church merely gives her honour which is due to her. If it seems that we give her too much honour, we must blame God for first raising her above all men and angels by making her the mother of Jesus Christ Who is both true God and true man.

          2: Catholics never considered Mary a co-redeemer, that would be heresy. What we say is that The Blessed Virgin Mary is the co-redemptrix.

          • To say that Mary was a co redemptrix is to say that the deep sorrow she underwent at the foot of the Cross, earned for her the title of mother of sorrow. She assisted at the Foot of the Cross, while Our Lord underwent His Passion. There at the Foot of the Cross, she began her duty of caring for the flock, as Our Lord asked of her when He told her ” behold your son. To be co-redeemer means to partake equally,and we cannot say this of Mary. But a co- redemptrix compassionates the Redeemer.
            3: Theophilus, there people who claim that they believe in Jesus, but do nothing by this actions to show for it. So merely saying ” I believe in Jesus Christ, does not qualify one for salvation. There is also hope, charity, faithfulness to Christ and His teaching which is found only in the Catholic Church. It is not that the catholic must memorise every single dogma, but it is only necessary that at least, he rejects none of them.

          • Okechukwu,

            Thank you for your thoughtful response.

            “Catholics never considered Mary a co-redeemer, that would be heresy. What we say is that The Blessed Virgin Mary is the co-redemptrix.”

            As the Oxford English Dictionary makes quite clear the suffix -trix just signifies that the agent is a female as opposed to a male. So by your own words the Catholic Church is heretical in this matter.

            “If it seems that we give her too much honour, we must blame God for first raising her above all men and angels by making her the mother of Jesus Christ Who is both true God and true man.”

            This is an instance of the logical fallacy known as “begging the question” — that is assuming the very thing that you are trying to demonstrate. Mary is indeed blessed among women as the mother of our Lord, but it is the Catholic Church, not God, who has declared her to be sinless. If, as Hebrews 11 suggests, the saints in heaven are able to observe the present affairs of men on earth, I believe Mary is heartsick that glory that should be given to her Son is being given to her. The idea that the perfect God-Man needs to be “compassionated” by a mere mortal is heresy in itself.

            “Theophilus, there people who claim that they believe in Jesus, but do nothing by this actions to show for it. So merely saying ” I believe in Jesus Christ, does not qualify one for salvation.”

            Yes, you are correct in this. Not all who claim to have placed their faith in Christ really have. Only true faith that is associated with the transformation into a new creature in Christ will exhibit God-honoring fruit. But that does not justify the nullification of Paul’s words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

            “It is not that the catholic must memorise every single dogma, but it is only necessary that at least, he rejects none of them.” This suggests that Catholics may keep themselves out of trouble but not exposing themselves to those doctrines that they are unlikely to believe. How very Jesuitical!

            I have taken a harsh tone because I believe there are serious deficiencies in the Catholic Church. It is unclear to me what God’s ultimate criteria are for salvation. I know that a sincere faith in Christ as Savior is sufficient, but if it is admixed with heresy, does that not at some point become a faith that cannot save? I encourage you to find a home for your heart in the incontestable truths that we both know are in the Scriptures, the Word of God. Peace to you.

  3. What does it mean: ‘Christians’ celebrate their diversity and unity? Could this ultimately lead to a WORLD ‘Christian’ religion, with Catholicism as a sect? Should Catholics actually “celebrate” something in which they do not believe?

    Reminds me of the saying, “He who believes everything, believes nothing.”

    Practically speaking, the Faith would seem to become “watered down” and, dare I say, “lukewarm”? As if the Faith is not “lukewarm” enough!

    Hold on, as we slide down the slippery slope!

  4. There is a great difference between what most churches teach and what Jesus taught.Let’s give Pope Francis credit for trying to reconcile the two points of view. It will cause much grief to Fundamentalists of every stripe.Long live the progressive Pope Francis.

    • Dean—Fundamentalist and Progressive are not the correct dichotomy. What’s at work here is 2000 years of Church teaching and tradition versus a “reconciliation” with the World. “Woe, woe to the Christian Church if it would triumph in this world, for then it is not the Church that triumphs, but the world has triumphed.”

      Two major blunders that resulted from Vatican II are the downplaying of “Church Militant” and the subtle elevation of Man to a level tantamount to God (‘closet’ secular humanism).

      Since Christ’s redemptive act, the individual has always had the same equal access to God. (Justice would demand this.) And that way, although narrow (consciousness of sin), has always been “upward”, vertical, with humility at its source. The knowledge of the last 2000 years (progressive pride) means very little in terms winning one’s salvation.

      By the way, “progressive”, at its root, is a secular concept, linear in its aspect and has ABSOLUTELY no place in the TRUTH of Christianity. IN THIS WORLD , Christ’s line of progression was to the Cross—as should be yours and mine.

  5. Do any readers know what the persecution of the Italian Pentecostals in the 1920s and 1930s was like? I had never heard of it before (although I don’t doubt that it happened).

    Regardless, I have seen the evidence that apologizing does, in fact, go a long way to reconciling peoples.

  6. I am happy to hear and accept the Pope’s apology. Growing up in the Italian Pentecostal Church in Montreal I remember the persecution faced by new converts. They would come to experience a profound relationship with Jesus that would clean up their life from sexual promiscuity and drug addiction. Were their Catholic families happy? No, many were treated with physical and emotional abuse. If they did not leave our church they were disowned by their families.

  7. Nuwatuha Ruth

    Folks, Jesus asked “When theson of man returns, shall he find faith on Earth?”
    Because people have rebeeled againist the truth (as preached by bthe successors of the appostles-i.e. the CATHOLIC CHURCH), God will send then operation of error so that they shall follow it and be condemned (2Thess:2-11-12)..
    The Catholic Church/Faith shall always be the true one whether tose from within turn away from the truth like all Protestan denomonations

    • I agree wth you Ruth. Truth dies not depend upon how many people believe but upon its unity. “even if Catholics adhering to tradition are reduced to a handful, they will still remain the true Church of God.” St. Athanasius.

  8. Dear all,

    I’ve read through all your comments. I’m myself from a “hybrid” family, meaning that my father was raised in a Protestant family and my mum in a Catholic family.

    After having spent many years of struggles around the differences you are mentioning, although I had my own opinion on this, I came to the point that the only way to walk for me is to offer my heart to God, with all my own heresies, and ask Him to transform my way of thinking according the only Truth.

    Brother Lawrence said: “It requires no skill nor knowledge to go to God, but only a heart resolute to turn to him, and for him, and to love him only”.

    Dear Catholic friends, if you believe that the other denominations are wrong, please pray for them that the Lord would reveal the only Truth.
    Dear Protestant friends, if you believe that the other denominations are wrong, please do the same.

    And in all of it, as the Lord’s prayer says: “May His kingdom come and may His will be done”.

    Blessings to all

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