The recent informal video of Pope Francis, made on a smartphone by the British charismatic Anglican bishop Tony Palmer, has now become a viral phenomenon. The seven-minute greeting by Pope Francis, seen by millions of viewers, called upon all Christians to set aside their differences to pursue a deep “longing” for Christian unity.
I prayed for this January 14 private meeting @ the Vatican in early January when Bishop Palmer asked some friends to privately pray for this one-to-one meeting. I also knew that the first airing of the video would be at the Kenneth Copeland Ministries center in Texas. I privately expressed my concerns about this “context” to Tony but when he explained his friendship with Copeland, and his relationship with Pope Francis, I knew that he was right in what he did and why he did it in this context.
As you will see in the now-edited version of this presentation, made available last week by Bishop Palmer, the pope urges all Christians to put aside their divisions and to pray that the Lord “will unite us.” Francis says, “We should move forward. We are brothers. We should give each other a spiritual embrace and open ourselves to letting the Lord complete the work he started.” The pontiff adds, “I never saw the Lord start a miracle without finishing it. And he will finish this miracle of Christian unity.” The pope concluded, “Who is at fault? (For our myriad divisions.) All of us are. We are all sinners. There is only one who is right, and that is our Lord.”
One of the most remarkable things about this video is the informality of the presentation. Most things done at the Vatican are never released in such an informal way and certainly through a single person who released the pope’s words to a charismatic conference in Texas. Generally the Vatican press office, or some other official agency, handles all such presentations. They are crafted and edited carefully, for very good reason.
So far as I can tell no Pope has ever sent an impromptu video message that shared his greetings with a Pentecostal conference in the United States, much less anywhere else. Many Argentinian evangelicals already know that the Pope’s bold step is consistent with his character as a Catholic bishop. For many years, Archbishop Bergoglio of Buenos Aires entertained close friendships with leading charismatic Christians, some of whom I have had the joy of knowing in recent years. In 2006, at a large gathering of Catholics and evangelicals a number of leading evangelicals laid hands on the cardinal in public prayer. This was so surprising, indeed shocking, that my good friend in Argentina sent me an article that appear in the Argentinian Catholic magazine Cabildo. In it a story is reported under a heading that called the Archbishop apostate (apostate). This widely known controversy in his native country did not stop Bergoglio’s enthusiasm for reaching out to evangelicals as this new video makes abundantly clear. I am inclined to believe that few people, Catholic and non-Catholic, understand the power of this gesture and where it might lead us in coming days.
Tony Palmer sent me an email two weeks ago with a link to his now edited version of this presentation to the Copeland Ministries gathering. This includes his interview with Pope Francis. This new video appears on Tony’s Ark Community website. I have included it here with the hope that many of you, my friends and fellow missional-ecumenists, will watch this thirty-three minute address and marvel at the power of the words spoken as well as the manner in which they are spoken in both tone and context. Do I agree with everything spoken here? Not at all. What I am profoundly moved by is this – after nearly 500 years we are finally talking openly about how the Spirit is bringing us together. And this pope is responding to missional-ecumenism in ways unheard of before. I have to wonder how this movement will continue to grow since it is not limited to formal decrees, councils and previous church responses to some of the very issues that have divided us for so long. True missional-ecumenism will not walk way from what is true and right but it will always pursue what is true by seeking to remain in the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.