November 18, 2014: Increasing numbers of Catholics in Latin America are abandoning the Catholic Church in favour of Evangelical congregations or non-religious life, according to a new survey, making Pope Francis’ calls for renewed evangelisation efforts in the region ever more urgent.
The Washington CD-based Pew Research Center survey of 30,000 residents of 18 countries and Puerto Rico showed 69 per cent of respondents confirming they were Catholic, even though 84 per cent of people said they had been raised in the Church.
The Catholic population has slipped sharply over the past century, when their numbers topped 90 per cent. Evangelicals have attracted Mass-goers often by promoting what those converting would consider more attractive ways of worshipping the Lord, an emphasis on morality and solutions for their earthly afflictions – mostly poverty-related, said Andrew Chesnut, religious studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Some Central American countries and Uruguay now have almost as many Protestants or religiously unaffiliated people as Catholics in their populations. If the trend continues, “even Brazil, home to the largest Catholic population on earth, will no longer have a Catholic majority by 2030,” said Dr Chesnut, author of a book on Evangelicals in Brazil.
The survey underlines the urgency of the Pope’s pleas for action in Latin America, where Catholicism has been intimately associated with culture, governance and history for more than 500 years.
Pope Francis has called for Catholics to adopt a more missionary mindset and take their faith to people on the periphery of society – places where Protestants often find converts.
The Pew survey found Evangelicals showing more enthusiasm for their faith, expressed by attending church services and praying more frequently, adherence to moral teachings and the level to which religion is important in their daily lives.
The level of enthusiasm “often is more demanding in terms of personal commitment,” said Dr Chesnut, an academic consultant to the Pew survey.
Protestants now make up 19 per cent of the Latin American population, while another 8 per cent now profess no religious affiliation – a figure reaching 37 per cent in Uruguay. Roughly half these people did not grow up in their current congregations or in non-religious homes, according to the survey.
Some 65 per cent of Protestants in Latin America belong to Evangelical congregations.
“Christianity in Latin America is thoroughly ‘Pentecostalised,’ with 70 per cent of Protestants and 40 per cent of Catholics identifying as charismatic,” Dr Chesnut said. “If it weren’t for Charismatic Renewal, Catholic decline probably would have been even greater.”
In Brazil, where 60 percent of the population is Catholic, evangelical pastor Jay Bauman said the style of worship attracts people to Protestant congregations – along with the promotion of “prosperity Gospel” teachings by some Pentecostals.
Dr Chesnut said services at World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro showed more of a charismatic style, and it is being adopted by Latin American Catholics in increasing numbers.
Francis has proved popular among Catholics in Latin America, “but former Catholics are more sceptical,” with only majorities of ex-Catholics in Argentina and Uruguay expressing approval of the first Latin American pope, according to the survey.
A table from a survey published last week by the Pew Research Centre graphically illustrates the decline of Roman Catholicism in Latin America. Most dramatic is the finding that most of Central America is now only “half Catholic”, with Honduras “Less than half Catholic”. Pope Francis’ homeland Argentina just scrapes into the “Predominantly Catholic” category, whereas Brazil is on its way to becoming only “Half Catholic”. Uruguay, the least Catholic country in the region, has a secularist tradition going back to 1861. Overall, over 425 million Latin Americans identify as Catholic, or 69 per cent of the continent’s population and almost 40 per cent of the world’s Catholics. That means the number of Latin American Protestants – known as evangélicos – stands at around 117 million.
- the tablet
The tradition and discipline of the Eastern churches allows for the ordination of married men to the priesthood. (Bishops must be unmarried, however, and once ordained, a priest cannot marry.) The Vatican has repeatedly approved this tradition, while insisting on the importance of priestly celibacy in the Latin rite.
However, in the late 19th century, with the arrival of many Byzantine Catholic immigrants in Canada, Latin-rite prelates complained that the presence of married Catholic priests could create a “grave scandal.” The Vatican eventually ruled that the Eastern churches could not ordain married men in the countries where their communities form a minority of the Catholic population. The rule has historically applied primarily to Canada, the US, and Australia.
With a decree approved by Pope Francis, and signed on June 14 by Cardinal Leonard Sandri, the Congregation for the Eastern Churches has now rescinded that ban. Catholic bishops of the Eastern churches serving in eparchies (dioceses) in the West are explicitly authorized to ordain married men.
The decree requires a bishop of the Eastern Catholic Church to “give prior notice, in writing, to the Latin Bishop of the candidate’s place of residence, so as to obtain his opinion and any relevant information [regarding the candidate].” An Eastern-rite bishop who ordained a married man for service in another country is directed to inform the episcopal conference of that country, and the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, of this action.
In practice, the ban on married priests had been relaxed in recent years, with the tacit acceptance of the Holy See. Some married priests from the East have been assigned to serve parishes in the West, and some men from the West have traveled to the East to be ordained before returning to serve at home. In a few cases, bishops of the Eastern churches have simply ignored the ban, ordaining married American men to serve in American parishes.
The new Vatican document allowing for the ordination of married men notes that when the ban was originally imposed, thousands of Catholics of the Ruthenian Catholic community in Canada left to join the Orthodox Church. The document also notes that when Pope Benedict XVI issued Anglicanorum Coetibus, allowing for the reception of Anglican communities into the Catholic Church, he explicitly provided for the presence of married Catholic priests. In 2012, Pope Benedict remarked that “the ministry of married priests is a component of the ancient Eastern traditions,” which he encouraged the Eastern Catholic churches to maintain.
- catholic culture
Vatican city, November 18, 2014: Feeling spiritually comfortable is a “state of sin,” Pope Francis cautioned today during his morning homily at the Casa Santa Marta as he reflected on the problem of lukewarmness.
As reported by Vatican Radio, the Pope drew his homily reflections from the readings of the day taken from Revelation Chapter 3 and the Gospel according to St. Luke on the encounter of Jesus and Zacchaeus the tax collector.
In the first reading, he noted, the Lord asks Christians in Laodicea to convert because they have become “lukewarm.” They live a “comfortable spirituality.” They think: “I do what I can, but I am at peace and do not want to be disturbed with strange things.”
Pope Francis noted that people who “live well think nothing is missing: I go to Mass on Sundays, I pray a few times, I feel good, I am in God’s grace, I’m rich” and “I do not need anything, I’m fine.”
This “state of mind,” he warned, “is a state of sin, feeling spiritually comfortable is a state of sin.”
The Lord has harsh words for people like this, he said: “Because you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
Then, he added, “there is a second call” to “those who live by appearances, Christians of appearances.”
These believe they are alive but they are dead. And the Lord asks them to be vigilant.
“Appearances,” the Pope said, “are these Christians’ shroud: they are dead.”
And the Lord “calls them to conversion.”
“Am I one of these Christians of appearances? Am I alive inside, do I have a spiritual life? Do I hear the Holy Spirit, do I listen to the Holy Spirit, do I move forward, or …? But, if everything looks good, I have nothing to reproach myself about: I have a good family, people do not gossip about me, I have everything I need, I married in church …I am ‘in the grace of God’, I am alright.
“Appearances! Christians of appearance … they are dead! Instead [we must] seek something alive within ourselves, and with memory and vigilance, reinvigorate this so we can move forward. Convert: from appearances to reality. From being neither hot nor cold to fervor.”
Change of heart
The third call to conversion is with Zacchaeus, “the chief tax collector, and a rich [man].”
“He is corrupt,” the Pope said, “he was working for foreigners, for the Romans, he betrayed his homeland.”
“He was just like many leaders we know: corrupt. Those who, instead of serving the people, exploit the people to serve themselves. There are some like this in the world. And people did not want him. Yes, he wasn’t lukewarm; He was not dead. He was in a state of putrefaction. He was corrupt. But he felt something inside: ‘This healer, this prophet who people say speaks so well, I would like to see him, out of curiosity.’ The Holy Spirit is clever, eh! He sowed the seed of curiosity, and so in order to see him this man even does something a little ‘ridiculous.’ Think of an important leader, who is also corrupt, a leader of leaders – he was the chief – climbing a tree to watch a procession: Just think of it. How ridiculous!”.
Zacchaeus “had no shame,” the Holy Father noted. He wanted to see Jesus and “the Holy Spirit was working in him.”
Then “the Word of God came into the heart and with the Word, the joy.”
“Those of comfort and those of appearance,” Francis reflected, “had forgotten what joy was; this corrupt man immediately gets it”, “his heart changes, he converts.”
And the tax collector promises to give back what he had taken.
“When conversion touches pockets, it’s a certainty,” the Pope declared. “Christians in heart? Yes, everyone is. Christians by blood? All of us. However, Christians with pockets, very few. But, conversion … and here, it arrived straight away: the authentic word. He converted.”
Pope Francis reiterated that these are “the three calls to conversion” that Jesus himself makes to “the lukewarm, the comfortable, to those of appearance, to those who think they are rich but are poor, who have nothing, who are dead.”
The Word of God, “is able to change everything,” but “we don’t always have the courage to believe in the Word of God, to receive that Word that heals us within.”
In the last weeks of the Liturgical Year, the Church wants us all to “think very, very seriously about our conversion,” Francis added, “so that we can move forward on the path of our Christian life.”
Vatican, November 15, 2014: Pope Francis has told a group of Catholic doctors that “playing with life” in ways like abortion and euthanasia is sinful, and he stressed that each human life, no matter the condition, is sacred.
“We’re are living in a time of experimentation with life. But a bad experiment… (we’re) playing with life,” the Pope told an audience of 4,000 Catholic doctors gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on Nov. 15.
“Be careful, because this is a sin against the Creator: against God the Creator.”
Pope Francis offered his words in an address given to members of the Italian Catholic Doctors Association in celebration of their 70th anniversary.
He recalled that many times in his years as a priest he heard people object to the Church’s position on life issues, specifically asking why the Church is against abortion.
After explaining to the inquirer that the Church is not against abortion because it is simply a religious or philosophical issue, he said it’s also because abortion “is a scientific problem, because there is a human life and it’s not lawful to take a human life to solve a problem.”
Regardless of the many objections he has heard saying that modern thought has evolved on the issue, the Pope stressed that “in ancient thought and in modern thought, the word ‘kill’ means the same!”
“(And) the same goes for euthanasia,” he explained, observing that as a result of “this culture of waste, a hidden euthanasia is practiced on the elderly.”
This, he said, is like telling God: “’at the end of life I do it, like I want.’ It’s a sin against God. Think well about this.”
The belief that abortion is helpful for women, that euthanasia is “an act of dignity,” or that it’s “a scientific breakthrough to ‘produce’ a child (who is) considered a right instead of accepted as a gift” are all part of conventional wisdom that offers a false sense of compassion, he said.
And this includes “(the) use of human life as laboratory mice supposedly to save others,” the Pope continued, saying that on the contrary, the Gospel provides a true image of compassion in the figure of the Good Samaritan, who sees a man suffering, has mercy on him, goes close and offers concrete help.
With today’s rapid scientific and technological advancements the possibility of physical healing has drastically increased, the Pope observed. However, the ability to truly care for the person has almost gone in the opposite direction.
Some aspects of medical science “seem to diminish the ability to ‘take care’ of the person, especially when they are suffering, fragile and defenseless,” he said, explaining that advancements in science and medicine can only enhance human life if they maintain their ethical roots.
“Attention to human life, particularly to those in the greatest difficulty, that is, the sick, the elderly, children, deeply affects the mission of the Church,” the Bishop of Rome continued, saying that often times modern society tends to attach one’s quality of life to economic possibilities.
Frequently the quality of a person’s life is measured by their physical beauty and well-being, he observed, noting how the more important interpersonal, spiritual and religious dimensions of human life are often forgotten.
“In reality, in the light of faith and of right reason, human life is always sacred and always ‘of quality’,” he said.
“No human life exists that is more sacred that the other, just like there is no human life qualitatively more significant than another solely in virtue of resources, rights, economic opportunities and higher social status.”
Pope Francis told the group that as Catholic doctors, it is their mission to affirm the sacredness and inviolability of human life, which “must be loved, defended and cared for,” through word and example, each in their own personal style.
He encouraged them to collaborate with others, including those with different religions, in seeking to promote the dignity of the human being as a basic criterion of their work, and to follow the Gospel’s instruction to love at all times, especially when there is a special need.
“Your mission as doctors puts you in daily contact with so many forms of suffering,” he said, and he encouraged them to imitate the Good Samaritan in caring for the elderly, the sick and the disabled.
By remaining faithful to the Gospel of Life and respecting life as a gift, difficult decisions will come up that at times require courageous choices that go against the popular current, the pontiff noted, saying that this faithfulness can also lead “to conscientious objection.”
“This is what the members of your association have done in the course of 70 years of meritorious work,” the Pope observed, urging the doctors to continue implementing the teachings of the Magisterium into their work with trust and humility.
- cna / ewtn news
Vatican City, November 14, 2014: Pope Francis has ordered the installation of showers for the homeless just next to St Peter’s square after a street dweller declared himself too smelly to eat with a bishop.
In an initiative sparked by one of his closest aides’ encounter with a down-and-out man on the streets of Rome, the pontiff has given his blessing to an upgrade of public toilets intended to serve the millions of pilgrims and visitors who flock to the Vatican every year.
Next week, work will begin to install three showers to enable the homeless in the area to wash themselves and their clothes just meters from where the Argentinian pope lives in his modest apartment, having eschewed the splendor of the palatial residence put at the disposal of pontiffs.
Similar initiatives are already underway at 10 parishes across Rome at the bidding of Konrad Krajewski, a Polish bishop who currently serves as the pope’s official almoner — the person in charge of delivering charity to the poor.
Krajewski, who remains widely known as father Konrad despite his lofty position, launched his initiative after a chance meeting with a homeless man from Sardinia, on one of the main streets leading to St Peter’s in October.
The archbishop had just come from hearing confessions in the Church of the Holy Spirit and was in contemplative mood as he strolled down the Via della Conciliazione and bumped into the man.
“He told me that he was turning 50 that day and that he had been living on the street for 10 years,” Krajewski recalled in an interview with Italian daily La Stampa on Thursday.
Moved, Krajewski issued an impromptu invitation to dinner which his new acquaintance initially declined, saying simply: “Puzzo” (I Smell).
Clerical persuasion prevailed however and over a Chinese meal, the man explained that while Rome was good at ensuring the homeless do not go hungry, staying clean was more complicated.
Krajewski promptly sprung into action. A construction firm volunteered to install the showers in parishes that did not already have them and a substantial donation from celebrated Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli also helped.
And the bishop insists he could not give a hoot if well-to-do visitors to the Vatican turn up their noses at having to share the toilets with the homeless.
“The Basilica exists in order to keep the Body of Christ, and we serve Jesus’s suffering body by serving the poor,” he said, echoing Pope Francis’s statement on his appointment that he wanted the Church to be a “poor Church, for the poor.”
- afp / ucan
Barnabas Edit: “The Islamic State will remain” – IS’s tightening grip and its threat to the future of Christian communities
Syria, November 13, 2014: The Islamist group Islamic State (IS) has been asserting its control over territories it occupies in Iraq and Syria, in a series of developments that will be devastating to Christians displaced from their homes in these areas.
In perhaps the most direct blow to Christians displaced from Raqqa, a Syrian city held by IS, homes that were left empty when believers fled the Islamist advance are being given to Muslims from the UK, the USA, Germany and other European countries, who have moved to Syria to join IS’s cause.
But many other measures taken by IS to transform their hometowns into Islamist strongholds will also be alarming to believers who have hopes of returning one day. IS makes its victims repeat its slogan, “The Islamic State will remain”, before they are killed. In an effort to make this slogan fact, the group has been attempting to establish itself as a long-term power in the region by Islamising institutions and societies.
After conquering cities in Iraq and Syria, IS began to control their infrastructure. On 24 October, the group carried out a mass execution of police and army officers in Mosul, Iraq. These officials had previously not been attacked, although they had been required to disavow their former allegiance to the Baghdad government.
In the place of secular security forces, Islamist brigades are active in the captured territories. These include an all-female force of British jihadis that controls brothels full of captured non-Muslim women and girls who are being held as sex slaves in Raqqa.
Schools are also under strict IS control. In Raqqa, schools have just recently reopened; however, IS has only allowed them to operate for two hours per day, according to one report. Schooling is only provided for girls aged eight to ten and boys aged ten to twelve. Students are taught only three subjects: maths, Arabic and English.
In Mosul, mosques have also been targeted for control. Some mosques, which the militant group referred to “as places for apostasy not prayer”, were blown up when IS seized the city. Others have seen imams who do not agree with IS’s extremist brand of Sunni Islam placed under house arrest and replaced with younger clerics who support IS.
Women are particularly suffering under IS oppression. In Fallujah, Iraq, all women are required to wear a garment that covers their face. Girls under the age of twelve are forced to wear head-scarfs. Women are not allowed to leave their homes unless they are accompanied by a male relative.
As well as institutionalising its ideology and Islamising societies, IS has established youth training camps in an attempt to create an entire generation of future IS militants. Many children are kidnapped and sent to these camps. Others are sent by their families, as IS offers monthly salaries for families who provide children as recruits. IS is brainwashing these children with its radical Islamist views.
Resentment of the oppressive conditions imposed by IS has begun to build, especially in Raqqa, where Western jihadists receive special treatment. Although many of those living under IS rule are unhappy, the group has attempted to win over public opinion by providing basic services. Reports say that in Fallujah, the Islamist group cleans the streets, waters public foliage and subsidises flour.
Up to 200,000 Christians were forced to flee their homes in northern Iraq by the IS advance, and three and a half years of anti-Christian, Islamist violence in Syria have also displaced whole communities. Many believers feel that the IS threat is a death knell for Christianity in Iraq and Syria – a fear that will only be compounded by the group’s tightening of its oppressive grip on the towns and cities from which they fled.
The fate for those Christians who did not escape is more horrifying. According to sharia law, Muslims are allowed to take slaves as spoils of war in the context of jihad. Recently, IS published a document that lists the different prices for Christian and Yazidi slaves. These prices vary according to age: 40 to 50-year-old women are to cost 50,000 dinars (£27/ €34/ $43) each; 30 to 40-year-olds are to be sold for 75,000 dinars (£40/ €51/ $64) each; and 20 to 30-year-olds cost 100,000 dinars (£54/ €68/ $84) each. A girl aged 10-20 years is to be sold for 150,000 dinars (£80/ €102/ $128), and a male or female child aged one to nine years is 200,000 dinars (£107/ €136/ $170).
In response to the horrific suffering of the Christians of northern Iraq, Barnabas Fund is establishing a refugee camp outside the Iraqi city of Dohuk for displaced Christians. The camp will be called Sawra, which means “hope” in Assyrian – the mother tongue of Iraqi Christians. (Yezidis already have a camp, provided by the United Nations.)
- dr patrick sookhdeo
Vatican City, November 6, 2014: This morning Pope Francis received in audience a delegation from the World Evangelical Alliance, a network of evangelical churches in 128 nations, based in New York, U.S.A., which has formed an alliance with over 100 international organisations, giving voice to more than 400 million evangelical Christians throughout the world.
The Holy Father began his address to the Alliance by emphasizing that Baptism is a priceless gift from God, which we have in common. “Thanks to this gift, we no longer live a purely earthly existence; we now live in the power of the Spirit”. He went on to remark that from the beginning, there have been divisions among Christians and “sadly, even today, conflicts and rivalries exist between our communities.
This weakens our ability to fulfil the Lord’s commandment to preach the Gospel to all peoples. Our divisions mar the beauty of the seamless robe of Christ, yet they do not completely destroy the profound unity brought about by grace in all the baptised. The effectiveness of the Christian message would no doubt be greater were Christians to overcome their divisions, and together celebrate the sacraments, spread the word of God, and bear witness to charity”.
The Bishop of Rome went on to express his joy to know that “in various countries Catholics and Evangelicals enjoy good relations and work together as brothers and sisters. The joint efforts of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance have also opened up new horizons by clarifying misunderstandings and by showing the way to overcoming prejudices”.
He continued, “It is my hope that these talks may further inspire our common witness and our efforts to evangelise: if we really believe in the abundantly free working of the Holy Spirit, we can learn so much from one another! It is not just about being better informed about others, but rather about reaping what the Spirit has sown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us. I am confident that the document ‘Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct’ can prove helpful for the preaching of the Gospel in multi-religious contexts”.
“I trust that the Holy Spirit, who inspires the Church to persevere in seeking new methods of evangelisation, will usher in a new era of relations between Catholics and Evangelicals, so that the Lord’s will that the Gospel be brought to the ends of the earth may be more fully realised. I assure my prayers for this cause, and I ask you to pray for me and for my ministry”, concluded Pope Francis.
On behalf of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and the 600 million people we represent around the globe, I greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are grateful for this meeting, for the time and freedom to discuss together issues that deeply concern us all. It is with a heavy heart that we acknowledge the fact that many Christians do not enjoy such liberty, that many suffer from fear, torture and other forms of violence. For their sake and for the sake of the Gospel, we acknowledge the differences between our traditions, yet also affirm the common tasks we have shared in the past and pray that we can build on those.
Evangelicals are a very diverse group that includes peoples and churches from Pentecostal traditions, Reformed, Baptist and independents. We share a common faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and a desire to serve God’s kingdom, we have a heart to encourage personal spiritual renewal and transformation and a passion to make Jesus known around the world. As we seek to obey Christ, we see this time as a new era in Evangelical/Roman Catholic relations. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, God is enlarging our tent, letting the curtains stretch out and lengthening the cords (54:2). Through strengthened collaboration we hope to see justice and peace kiss each other and faithfulness spring up from the ground (Psalm 85:10). It is our hope that this era will be characterized by a new level of cooperation in which we address social problems of injustice, violence and persecution on behalf of billions of neighbors around the world.
I propose a new level and quality of public discussion of our core beliefs, including both areas where we agree and areas where we have differences, so that together we might be enabled by the Spirit to find ways to share the love, peace and justice that we have in Jesus with a world suffering from hatred and wars.
In our global information society, where much of the world’s population knows what we are doing in a matter of minutes, it is important that the world know that there are many localized partnerships between Catholics and Evangelicals, which are developing into large-scale collaborations in response to tragic social problems. For example, we know that in many cities around the world, Evangelical and Roman Catholic Christians are cooperating to respond to human trafficking, while at the same time Evangelical and Catholic scholars and activists have begun collaborating to analyze and respond to the terrible problems of religious persecution. We know that Evangelicals and Catholics have worked together for many years in numerous crisis pregnancy centers, we have made joint representations to governments and legal bodies, and around the globe together serve as witnesses for the fullness of life offered to us freely by Jesus.
Let us now develop these wonderful initiatives into something larger, increasing both the range of social problems to which we respond, and our level of joint global response. For example, we are terribly worried (and know we must take further action) about the many refugees from the fighting in Iraq and Syria, many of whom are praying to our Father for help. We have to be the giving hands of Jesus together. At the same time, Christians have to work together on the frightening issue of nuclear weapons before another cold war brings humanity to the brink of disaster.
All of us are affected and damaged by particular issues. These include corruption, the role of churches in peace-building, including our efforts to reduce conflict in the Middle East, human trafficking and religious persecution. Thus a careful and joint response to such issues at a global level would strengthen our witness and shed God’s light into such darkness. Together we should work to address religious extremism, the needs of refugees, creation care, immigration, humanitarian aid, economic development, and marriage/family problems. The Christian movement as a whole can offer global leadership on the vast range of public concerns, on issues of universal human rights and universal human duties. The quality of our cooperation will be more visible and influential inasmuch as the leadership of the Catholic Church and the World Evangelical Alliance make such collaboration a high priority and work to extend cooperation through the whole range of our Catholic and Evangelical institutions and organizations.
Such collaborative work is a clear biblical and loving response to our neighbors in need and should be done in full obedience to the mission God has entrusted to the Church.
As Christians, we consistently and publicly reject coercion, manipulation, and deception as means of convincing others to believe in Jesus. Though most of our members have known this for many years, it is wonderful that we were able to affirm this together strongly and publicly in our joint code of ethics in missions, launched in June 2011, Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World. The delegates and participants in this process from the various Christian traditions represented over 90% of the world’s Christians. What an achievement and what a sign to the world that despite our differences, we stand together as witnesses for Jesus and affirm the way of Jesus for all our missionary activities! I look forward to further collaborations on this same grand scale.
Yet despite our work in joint projects such as Christian Witness, some people still expect either (i) that truly-held convictions will be expressed through the use of force, or (ii) that Christians, especially in the West, habitually of two minds, partly accept themes from secularism while at the same time accept themes from the Christian tradition. How do we persuade and show in our life and practice that we truly believe the message of Jesus and that we invite others to freely believe in this gospel without coercion or manipulation?
Christian love in action is the solution to this problem. Loving our neighbors threatened by trafficking, persecution, conflict, and corruption may not immediately lead other people to believe in the incarnation, the resurrection, or the Trinity, but such love can help convince our neighbors that we truly believe in human dignity. Furthermore, we must repeatedly affirm that we believe God has created all people in his image and that the incarnation of the eternal Son of God as a real human being confirms human dignity. Serious efforts to respond to social problems strengthen and reinforce the perception that we stand firm in our official convictions and beliefs. As we address together the challenges of our age we witness in words, deeds and character to the good news of the gospel of Christ.
In this manner, loving our neighbors whose lives are threatened or destroyed by terrible social problems can serve as an attracting function; such applied love may convince others that we have a message that is worthy of attention and which we honestly believe.
A new era of Evangelical/Roman Catholic cooperation responding to people in need should raise questions about what we believe in the manner described. Therefore, we propose that it be accompanied by a new level of public discussion of our core beliefs, on matters where Evangelicals and Catholics both agree and where we differ. Deeper levels of joint love of neighbors should be accompanied by higher levels of public discussion of fundamental theology and ethics between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals. This will have educational value for our own church members; it will provide answers for seekers who are interested in the Christian faith, whose interest and questions may have been awakened by our shared love of neighbors; and it sets healthy patterns for principled public discussion in a multi-religious world.
There are particular areas where joint collaboration between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals can serve as a sign of a new era, a sign of the peace and justice inaugurated in Jesus of Nazareth. Even as we hold deliberate and public debates over theological and philosophical matters, these can also be part of larger projects – projects that expose corruption in business and politics with Christian ethics and practices of truth-telling, projects that build up a nation through peace processes rather than violence, projects that shine the light of justice into the dark worlds of trafficking and arms deals; projects of biblical engagement that transform the world. Bible engagement is life-enhancing. It is my hope that together Roman Catholics and Evangelicals engage in renewed passion for the Scriptures and their transformative power, taking the Bible so seriously that we can see our past and our future with the same perspective as Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Mary, upon hearing that she would bear a child, declared, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord” (Gospel of Luke 1:38). To her relative Elizabeth she narrated her life and the works of God in light of texts from her sacred scriptures. The Bible both guided her thoughts and her actions such that God, through her obedience, made the world a better place. Mary is an embodiment of Bible engagement that I hope is a model for us all.
As we look towards concrete steps for further collaboration, we have developed short documents on some of the themes mentioned, such as nuclear weapons, human trafficking and peace in the Middle East. I would invite Pope Francis to consider these proposals and to endorse publicly Evangelical/Roman Catholic cooperation in these various areas. I further encourage and invite the Pope to meet with Evangelical leaders when he is traveling in the coming year, and I offer our staff expertise and time to help facilitate such meetings, especially in regions or countries where there are tensions, such as Sri Lanka, Mexico, or even in some parts of Europe.
The World Evangelical Alliance, its senior leadership and staff are eager and committed to building collaboration with organizations and institutions of the Roman Catholic Church at all levels. We do this out of obedience to the Gospel and as a concrete response to Jesus’ prayer that through our witness the world will see our mutual love, and through our love, the world will see Jesus.
Finally, in cooperation with our partner First Step Forum, we would like to honor Pope Francis today in presenting the annual Shahbaz Bhatti Freedom award. When Minister Bhatti was assassinated we wanted to do something to honor his memory as a Roman Catholic Christian who was helping suffering people from all religions and who became a brave spokesperson for all minorities in Pakistan and around the world. Therefore the Shahbaz Bhatti Freedom award was created; and so we honor Pope Francis with this award today.
Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe
Secretary General. The World Evangelical Alliance
November 6, 2014, Rome
Meeting of the World Evangelical Alliance, Pope Francis and The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Vatican, November 7, 2014: Rivalry and vainglory are two worms that weaken the Church. We should instead act in a spirit of humility and harmony, without seeking our own interests, Pope Francis told a congregation at Casa Santa Marta on Monday.
Taking a cue from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians, the Pope noted that a bishop’s joy lies in seeing love, unity and harmony in his Church. “This harmony – he said – is a grace, which the Holy Spirit creates, but we must do our part, we must do everything to help the Holy Spirit to create this harmony in the Church”.
This is why St Paul calls the Philippians to do nothing “out of selfishness or out of vainglory” or “fight against each other, just to be seen, to give themselves the air of being better than others.
“You see,” the Pope noted “this is not just something new to today”, but “goes way back.”
“And how often in our institutions, in the Church, in the parish, for example, in schools, do we find that, no?
“Rivalry; the need to be seen; vainglory. We see that there are two worms that eat the fabric of the Church, weakening her. Rivalry and vainglory go against this harmony, this agreement.
“Instead of rivalry and vainglory, what does Paul recommend? ‘Rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves.’
“He felt this himself. He qualifies himself as ‘not worthy to be called an apostle,’ the least [among others]. He even strongly humbles himself there. This was his sentiment: He thought others were superior to him.”
Pope Francis then quoted St Martin de Porres, a “humble Dominican friar,” saying: “His spirituality was in service, because he felt that all the others, even the greatest sinners, were superior to him. He really felt this.”
St Paul then urges everyone not to look out for his own interests: ”Look for the good of others. Serving others. But this is the joy of a bishop, when he sees his Church like this: the same sentiment, the same charity, being in unanimous accord. This is the air that Jesus wants in the Church. You can have a different opinion, that’s fine, but always within this air, this atmosphere: humility, charity, without despising anyone”.
- vatican radio
Iraq, November 4, 2014: Persecution watchdog group Open Doors warned that the exodus of Christians in Iraq and Syria fleeing terror group ISIS reached “biblical proportions” this year, and called for Christian unity during the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church on Sunday.
A number of Christian leaders and commentators spoke during the webcast, raising awareness and encouraging prayer for believers around the world who have faced persecution this year.
Mike Gore of Open Doors Australia highlighted what he called the “unprecedented focus” in 2014 on the persecuted church, and recalled a number of the most prominent stories that made headline news.
He said that the targeting and exodus of Christians from Iraq and Syria can only be described as “an exodus of biblical proportions,” referring tothe rise of ISIS, which has captured a number of cities in those two countries.
“Christians, not just in their hundreds, Christians in their tens of thousands [are] fleeing Iraq and Syria with little more than the clothes on their backs, because of increased pressure from the Islamic State,” Gore pointed out.
Another major focus has been on Boko Haram, the Islamic militant group in Nigeria which has also targeted Christians and waged war on the central government for over five years.
The story that has captivated the world’s attention the most has been the kidnapping of over 200 girls from the town of Chibok in northern Nigeria in April. Despite an international effort calling for their release, Boko Haram has refused to return the girls to their families, and instead has continued with killings and kidnappings.
“One of the things most people don’t realize is that in northern Nigeria, on any given Sunday, five churches are attacked in a similar fashion,” Gore noted.
Another prominent story of persecution, but with a positive ending, was the release of Christian mother Meriam Ibrahim from prison in Sudan. Ibrahim had faced the death penalty for refusing to identify as a Muslim and for marrying a Christian Sudanese-American, but after heavy international pressure, Sudan cleared her from the charges and eventually allowed her to leave the country.
Gore said that “She was sentenced to death in Sudan for refusing to recant her faith. And now through a global media outcry, she has received refugee status here in the United States.”
He argued that there is one church body, and that when one part of it suffers, the entire body suffers — recalling the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians.
“The apostle Paul says that when one part of the body suffers, we all suffer,” Gore added. “When one part of the body rejoices, we all rejoice. There isn’t a free church, or a persecuted church. There is one church.”
The webcast event included other speakers, such as pastor Ellie Davidian, the founder of He Sets Free Ministries.
Born a Shia Muslim in Iran, Davidian converted to Christianity and moved to California, where she now pastors two Farsi-speaking churches with her husband. She is also involved in broadcasting Christian content back into Iran, something which she said is vitally important for sharing the Gospel to people who have no other means of hearing it.
After sharing her personal story of coming to Christ, Davidian answered a number of questions from social media users following the webcast.
She affirmed that Christianity is illegal in Iran, and believers are heavily oppressed by the government.
“Basically, if they find out that you are a Christian, they are going to stop you, you are going to face harassment and imprisonment, and torture,” Davidian revealed. She added that women are also often imprisoned for their faith, not just men, and that the government forbids all Christian evangelical activities.
As for reaching out to Muslims to share the Gospel, Davidian stressed that it is important to consider the specific type of Islamic believers one is dealing with.
“There are different types of Muslims, some of them are nominal, like Persians in southern California,” the pastor said. “You need to find out first what type of groups you are dealing with, and the best thing is just sharing the Gospel, because the Gospel is the power of God onto salvation.”
Responding to a question about how her family in Iran responded to the news that she had become a Christian, Davidian admitted that her family was “shocked.”
“Especially if you are the first born in the family, you have to set an example for the rest of the family. And if you are coming out of faith, it’s not just basically rejecting the religion, but it’s rejecting the society, rejecting their values,” she said.
The He Sets Free Ministries founder said that prayer is greatly needed to help Christian leaders in Iran who are trying to minister to the people, but are facing persecution.
Open Doors CEO and President David Curry, who provided a preview for the Day of Prayer to The Christian Post in a phone interview last week, concluded the webcast by expressing hopes that Sunday’s event is only “the beginning of the conversation, not the end.”
“We need to be praying every day for the persecuted church. You need to take action, to find where your passion lies and connect in ways to serve the persecuted church like you’ve never done before,” Curry addressed viewers. “I believe that this is going to be the issue that we are challenged with in the next decade.”
- christian post