Pope Francis visited the Waldensian Church in Turin and in a powerful, emotional moment, asked the Waldenses to forgive the Catholic Church for its historic and brutal persecution in the Middle Ages. Francis is the first pope ever to enter a Waldensian church.
“On the part of the Catholic Church, I ask your forgiveness, I ask it for the non-Christian and even inhuman attitudes and behavior that we have showed you,” said Pope Francis. “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us!”
Prior to the Pope’s remarks, Pastor Eugenio Bernardini, the pastor of the Waldensian community in Turin, asked why the church had been rejected by Rome. “What was the sin of the Waldensians,” he asked. “It was being a movement of popular evangelization, carried out by lay people using itinerant preaching from the Bible, read and explained in the language of the people.”
In his remarks, Bernardini, who is also the Moderator of the Waldensian Board, listed the representatives of other churches present including Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists and Adventists.
“As Moderator of the Waldensian Board, I want to thank you in particular for the words of fraternity you have repeatedly expressed towards our Church. By entering this temple, you have crossed a historic threshold, that of a wall that stood over eight centuries ago when the Waldensian movement was accused of heresy and excommunicated by the Roman Church.”
“We believe that Christian unity can and should be designed precisely so: as reconciled diversity…” he added. “This is precisely ecumenism: the end of self-churches; each church needs the other to fulfill its vocation,” Bernardini continued. “We can not be Christians alone.”
The moderator also gave a list of collaborations between the two churches.
“We believe that relationships between the Waldensian Church…
and the Roman Catholic Church, have already produced good results in various fields,” including the inter-confessional translation of the Bible in the vernacular (NASB), the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Christian collaboration at the level of theological faculties, collaboration in the formulation of the Ecumenical Charter, and the common Catholic-evangelical-Orthodox document signed March 9, combating violence against women, etc.”
He also significantly included the Eucharist, which is at the heart of the Roman Catholic Ecumenical agenda. “Among the things we have in common are the bread and wine of the Last Supper and the words that Jesus spoke on that occasion. The interpretations of those words are different between the churches and within each of them. But what unites Christians gathered around the table of Jesus are the bread and wine He offers us and His words, not our interpretations…”
Then urging that the Eucharist be the theme of the celebrations of the end of Protestantism in 2017, Bernardini said “It would be nice if in view of 2017 our churches would face together this theme.”
In conclusion, he said, “and it is our true ecumenical mandate, dear brother Francesco: what we called unity above all in proclaiming the Word because the world may believe” (John 17:21). Dear Pope Francesco, thanks for being with us and with us. God bless and enlighten your service.”
Pope Francis’ remarks also reflected on unity in diversity. He said the principle benefit of ecumenism “is the rediscovery of the fraternity that unites all those who believe in Jesus Christ and are baptized in His Name.” Then he added: “But the unity that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit does not mean uniformity. Brothers have in common the same origin, but they are not identical among themselves.”
Pope Francis’ ancestors come from the region around Turin where the ancient Waldenses lived before their persecutions. Some of Francis’ relatives still live in this area. After the visit to the Waldensian temple, he met and celebrated mass with approximately 30 of his family members including six cousins and their families. The Waldenses stridently objected to the Mass in the Middle Ages.
The Waldensians claim to currently have 45,000 followers, mostly in Italy, Argentina and Uruguay.
“And all the world wondered…” Revelation 13:3