Pope Francis has been working very diligently to “win the favor” of the worldwide “evangelical” and Pentecostal leaders in what is called by some as the “fourth ecumenism.” The pope connects with charismatic leaders because he views this as the best way to foster the ecumenical path.
Pope Francis attended the large Catholic charismatic movement’s Renewal with the Spirit convocation, a heavily ecumenical event for the second year in a row. Present were Louie Giglio from the Passion City Church of Atlanta, Jonas Jonsoon, from the Lutheran Church of Sweden, and Giovanni Traettino of the Evangelical Church for Reconciliation in Italy.
But the Evangelical world, which the Catholic Church calls the “new Protestant sects,” is a big challenge for the Catholic Church and its ecumenical movement. For instance, Rome’s most “fearsome” competitors are the Pentecostal churches in Latin America. They have been winning “enormous masses” of Catholic people away from the Church. It is estimated that 100 million have left the Catholic Church and joined the evangelical Pentecostal groups. But the pope sees these groups as perhaps the most fruitful ground for ecumenical dialogue. Attending large gatherings of Pentecostals, the popular pope is a bridge to unite them to Rome.
Though Pentecostals make up two thirds of Protestants in some parts of the world, they are diverse and fragmented, which may be why Pope Francis is engaging individuals and small groups. For instance, in July of 2014, Francis privately visited Giovanni Traettino’s church in Caserta, Italy. The two men maintain good relations.
Also, in 2014, Francis met with Joel Osteen, megachuch pastor in Houston, Texas, Tim Timmons, teaching pastor of the Bridge Community Church, and Gayle D. Beebe, president of the Evangelical Westmont College.
The pope also met that year with Pentecostal pastors Kenneth Copeland, James Robins, Tony Palmer, John and Carol Arnott, Geoff Tunnicliffe, and Brian C. Stiller.
On his trip back to the Vatican from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Pope Francis told reporters that he used to look at charismatic movements with suspicion, but that he had changed his mind, and now he believes that “this movement does much good for the Church overall.”
The President of the “Renewal with the Spirit” Salvatore Martinez had a meeting with Pope Francis shortly after his election to the Papacy in 2013, then again in September of that year. At the September 2013 meeting he extended the invitation to attend the 2014 annual convocation.
Meeting with the International Catholic Charismatic Services group in Oct. 31, 2014, the Pope praised them and stressed that “unity is not uniformity… it does not mean doing everything together, nor thinking the same way, nor losing identity.”
In May of 2015, Pope Francis sent a video message to the participants of the Day of Dialogue and Prayer, organized by the Diocese of Phoenix. Gathered there were Catholics and evangelical Pentecostal pastors. The Pope asked them to pray “together for the grace of unity,” that unity that “is flourishing among us, and begins with the only Baptism all of us received.” Putting prayer at the center of his appeal has a very powerful effect on evangelicals.
The Pope knows that if, through his “diplomatic” efforts, evangelicals can become friendly to the Catholic Church they will have few negative things to say. This will also isolate those that remain opposed to papal influence.
“And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him…” Revelation 13:8