“God is not polygamous; he is monogamous, he has only one Bride,” said Rev. Giovanni Traettino, the Pentecostal pastor from Caserta who became famous overnight three years ago when Pope Francis decided to flip protocol and drop in on Traettino’s church. His words, echoed by Pope Francis, were addressed to some 50,000 assorted leaders from 128 different countries attending the festivities in Rome for the 50th anniversary of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. The implication was that Christians are to leave aside their historical divisions, in this year marking the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s revolt, and seek to be united simply as followers of Jesus Christ.
“We have chosen to meet here in the Circus Maximus,” said Pope Francis, “where so many Christians were martyred, just for laughs. Today there are more martyrs than in those times. Today’s martyrs are not asked ‘Are you Catholic? Orthodox? Coptic? Pentecostal?’ before being killed. They are killed because they are Christian. We are united by this ecumenism of the blood.”
Unity, defined by Pope Francis as “reconciled diversity”—not his words, Francis pointed out, but the words of a Lutheran friend—was the main thrust of the five days of workshops, symposiums, schools of evangelization, ecumenical forums, healing sessions, covenant meetings, all-encompassing concerts and prayer meetings variously combined, held to celebrate the 50 years that have passed since the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at a student retreat at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh started the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church.
The festival included several non-Catholic leaders, most notably Pentecostals, Evangelicals, Anglicans, non-denominational Christians and even Messianic Jews, who were not just guests but were showcased in a few of the events and were on stage for the conclusion with Francis, alongside Cardinals Agostino Vallini, Salvatore De Giorgi, Kevin Joseph Farrel, Christoph Schönborn and Marc Ouellet.
The Pentecost Vigil was opened by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Papal Household, who reminded the members of the Renewal that Pentecost was the opposite of Babel, where God confused the tongues and made communication impossible. At Pentecost, on the contrary, the Apostles spoke to people who didn’t know their language and were understood, by grace of the Holy Spirit, because they were working for the glory of God and not their own.
“The Pentecostal and Charismatic event has a particular responsibility with regards to the unity among Christians,” said Fr. Cantalamessa. “We must begin to love each other in order to understand each other better. What unites us is infinitely more important than what divides…”
The Charismatic Renewal was not born Catholic, the Pope reminded the crowd, but was born ecumenical. Hence it has within it the means to lead the way. “Today the call to unity among Christians is more urgent than ever,” he said. “Christians are to journey and work together. We must love each other, but as we journey on. The Holy Spirit wants us to be on the move. The Holy Spirit can’t be caged in.”
How to achieve unity among such disproportionate realities? Set aside the doctrinal discussion, said the Pontiff, and leave it to the theologians. As they work things out, we can be friends.