Pope Francis will pay a brief “private visit” to the Italian church of a Pentecostal pastor he knew from Argentina, a Vatican spokesman has said.
The visit to the Evangelical Church of Reconciliation in Caserta, about 130 miles south of Rome, “is under study and likely would take place July 26″, said Fr Federico Lombardi.
Fr Lombardi said the Pope knew the church’s pastor, Giovanni Traettino, from Buenos Aires, where the Pentecostal pastor participated in ecumenical events with Catholics, especially Catholics belonging to the charismatic renewal movement. The then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, along with Traettino and Capuchin Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, headlined a large ecumenical charismatic gathering in Buenos Aires in 2006.
Pope Francis mentioned his plan to make a Sunday visit to a Pentecostal church in late June when he met a group of evangelical pastors and televangelists at his Vatican residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae.
Brian Stiller of the World Evangelical Alliance, who was present at the meeting, wrote about the encounter on his Facebook page and on a blog.
“We talked about Christians marginalised, pressed under the weight of government power or the majority presence of other faiths,” Stiller wrote. “He listened and then told a remarkable story. In his years in and out of Rome, he became friends with the pastor of a Pentecostal church in Rome. In time he came to learn that the church and pastor felt the power and presence of the Catholic Church, with its weighty presence, obstructing their desire to grow and be a witness. ‘So,’ he said, ‘this July I will preach in his church on a Sunday and offer an apology from my Church for the hurt it has brought to their congregation.’”
Fr Lombardi said the Pentecostal friend the Pope was referring to was Mr Traettino. The spokesman did not comment on the rest of Mr Stiller’s account, other than to say the expected visit to Caserta would be “extremely simple and quick – just for the morning”.
The meeting with the Pentecostal leaders took place June 24 and also included Kenneth Copeland, James and Betty Robison and Bishop Tony Palmer of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches.
Bishop Palmer, who also knew the Pope from Buenos Aires, had a private meeting with him in January and used his iPhone to record a video message from the Pope to evangelicals.
“Pray to the Lord that he will unite us all,” the Pope said in the video. “Let’s move forward, we are brothers; let us give each other that spiritual embrace and allow the Lord to complete the work he has begun. Because this is a miracle; the miracle of unity has begun.”
Since 1972 the Vatican has co-sponsored an official dialogue with Pentecostal Christians, mainly focused on promoting mutual understanding and clarifying points of shared faith. In many parts of the world, Catholic leaders have complained about Pentecostals using harshly anti-Catholic rhetoric and questionable methods of proselytism to entice the faithful.