Posts Tagged ‘ecumenism’

When writing a blog aimed at Christians from all Church traditions, it is probably not advisable not to write an entire post on the Pope, but hopefully you will agree that I made the right decision in doing so!

pope laughing

Here are 20 things you might not have picked up on which either Pope Francis has done during his pontificate or got up to before he came to Rome:

1. Today he has broken years of tradition by choosing not to hold the Maundy Thursday foot-washing in one of the main Churches in Rome, such as St Peter’s Basilica. Instead he is heading to a young offenders institute in Rome to wash and kiss the feet of 12 of them.

2. When leaving Argentina to cast his vote on who the new Pope would be, a couple of his friends clubbed together to buy him some new shoes because the ones he was planning to wear were shabby and worn. (Those same new black shoes are apparently the ones we’ve seen him wearing as Pope!)

Pope shoes

3. Once declared the new Pope (something he was not expecting due to his age) it was customary for the Cardinals to greet him one by one. He decided not to sit on the throne prepared for the welcome, instead choosing to stand up and greet his ‘brothers’.

4. As the Pope and Cardinals were leaving for St Peter’s (where the new Pope was to appear on the balcony), a special Papal car had been prepared for Francis, however he opted to travel by bus with the other Cardinals.

5. Having left his life in Argentina there are few things he had to sort out. Rather than ask a PA or secretary to call up his newsagent back in Buenos Aires to cancel his daily paper delivery, he decided to do it himself! It took a while to convince the boy on the other end that it really was the Pope on the phone, calling from Rome, wanting to thank them for their service all these years. (It has been reported by the newsagents that the paper delivered to the Cardinal was always bound by a rubber band, and at the end of each month he would return all the elastic bands! A thrifty Cardinal.)

6. He liked to dance the tango when he was a young man.

7. When Pope Francis was a Cardinal he turned down the bishop’s palace, choosing more modest accomodation, which included cooking for himself.

8. In his first week in office Pope Francis had Mass with the Vatican gardeners and cleaning staff.

9. Once he became Pope he decided to return to the guesthouse he had been staying in prior to the voting process to collect his belongings himself… and also to settle the bill and thank the staff!

10. His financial advisor in Argentina was an evangelical Christian, with those who know the Pope saying that he reportedly chose him because he knew he could trust another Christian. Apparently they spent hours reading the Bible together.

11. He has washed the feet of Aids victims, sick children and new mothers.

foot-washing-1

12. He said that the papal apartment is too big for one man so has not moved in there.

13. The Pope is living in the Vatican guesthouse with other clergy who work for the Vatican, using a communal dining room and living in modest accomodation.

14. Evangelist Luis Palal (who runs Christian crusades the world over) counts Pope Francis as a personal friend, sharing how he is a man of prayer who knows the Gospel/kerygma.

luis palau

15. He had the Patriarch of Constantinople at his inauguration Mass, the first time since the split from Rome.

16. Pope Francis has chosen not to wear a gold cross usually worn by Popes, wearing a simpler one.

17. He likes to give the thumbs up to people when he sees them in the crowd!

thumbs

18. Pope Francis said his first Mass in the small church on the edge of the Vatican instead of in the main basilica, and then stood outside afterwards like a parish priest greeting all the parishonners one by one.

19. He is a friend of Pentecostals, evangelicals, Jews, Orthodox Christians and more! Reports suggest that he always asks other Christians to pray for him, often asking them to ‘lay hands’ on him.

20. He chose the name Francis after St Francis of Assisi because his Cardinal friend whispered to him ‘don’t forget the poor’ just before he had to choose a name.

st francis

I think he is a man who reminds all Christians that our faith is about love and service, and that through reaching out to others we will point them to Christ.

© Maria Rodrigues-Toth

Advertisements

Is the Catholic Church in danger of losing some of its most active, committed young members or are these young people paving the way for a new season of ecumenism?*

This week I learned of 14 young Catholics who individually plan to attend a service, conference or prayer meeting outside of their own denomination at the weekend.  This is not a one off occurence for a Churches Together initiative but something they do regularly.  Had I been specifically searching for Catholics who practise this sort of ecumenical worship in Britain the numbers would have been considerably higher.

In some cases it involves double servicing on a Sunday, perhaps attending Mass in the morning and a Protestant Church in the evening, for others it means participation in weekday prayer gatherings or teaching nights at an alternative Christian Church to their own. Ecumenism is encouraged by the Catholic Church, but in Britain are the Protestants the ones discipling the younger generations for them?

Amongst those in their teens, twenties and thirties there is an increasing eloquence when it comes to explaining Catholic Church teaching.  With the recent publication of the YouCat (Youth Catechism), the availability of Vatican documents online, and initiatives such as Catholic Voiceswho specifically train people in not only understanding but also articulating their faith to others, there has arisen a movement of parishonners who are confidently doing their own faith study. Some are proficient in Koine Greek and/or Hebrew, while others turn up at Church having prayed through the coming Sunday’s readings in advance.  Although they are pursuing personal study many are turning to the Protestant Church to get their needs met for deeper formation outside of a short 15 minute sermon in an hour long Mass.  They are getting access to internationally acclaimed preachers, discovering a sense of Community during the weekly Protestant homegroup/cell meetings and are experiencing new models of communal prayer alongside their own Sunday service with their parish priest.

The ecumenical insight of this ‘group’ is noteable: whilst keenly aware of their own roots, they are also knowledgeable about what is available to them in the Protestant world. Many could tell you about the latest Protestant prayer movements in the States (e.g. IHOP Prayer Movement), or who the leading Pentecostal evangelists are in Africa (Reinhard Bonnke) or Australia (Christine Caine) – they are reading their books, watching their preachings, getting spiritual food from it, all whilst being able to identify which elements to deliberate over or discard due to theological conflicts with their own beliefs.

These individuals who look to other Church traditions for formation and spiritual experiences to support them are spread geographically around the country, and don’t necessary know one another because there is no umbrella movement which unites them.  They might meet others in the same situation as them (being Catholic but benefitting from attendance at other Churches) at one of the many Catholic gatherings which take place throughout the year such as the Celebrate conferences, 40 Days for Life, Youth 2000 or in their University Chaplaincy, but beyond that the journey is a personal one. They are often readers, Eucharistic Ministers, youth workers, or those providing music ministry and catechisis for a parish. But is their turning to other Churches a sign that the Catholic Church is failing to meet the needs of the very people who keep it going at a grass roots level, or an indicator that there is a new move afoot of Church unity which will be characterised by greater tolerance, respect and understanding?

There was recently a Leadership Conference at the Royal Albert Hall which saw Christian leaders from all walks of life gather (around 4000 of them).  Although it was run by the Anglican HTB Church, they had a Catholic stream to the event.   Speakers such as Christopher West, of Theology of the Body fame, were flown in, as well as Catholic worship leader Matt Maher, along with ordained hierachy from France. This Protestant Church in London even has a global movement called Catholic Alpha which seeks to serve the needs of Catholic parishes worldwide in discipling their congregations in the basics of the faith.

They are not the only Protestants who are providing prayer and formation for the Catholic Church. In America the ‘One Thing’ conference taking place at the end of this year (which it is estimated will draw an attendance of around 25,000 young people) has a Catholic track supported by the Catholic University in Steubenville.  It’s founder Mike Bickle is sensitive to the needs of Catholics having grown up in the tradition himself.  Although now departed from the Church of Rome, he is said to encourage Christians from all backgrounds to read the lives of Catholic Saints such as St John of the Cross to learn from their prayer lives. So are Protestants doing a better job of providing for the needs of young Catholics than the Church herself?

Soul Survivor is an annual summer camp for young people in Britain, once again being one at which tens of thousands are in attendance. Testimonies pour in of lives changed and faith renewed as a result of the experiences of prayer, preaching and praise.  The man at the helm (Mike Pilavachi) had some of his early years formation in a charismatic Catholic prayer group in London.  Far from being anti-Catholic and trying to draw young people away from their Catholic roots, provision is being made at the camp to enable them to fully participate in the summer events programme.  For a number of years now Mass has been provided for those who require it as an alternative to the Protestant Communion service.

There are many lay movements in the Catholic Church which provide formation and prayer experiences, some of which have been alluded to in this piece, but perhaps the Catholic Church owes some gratitude to the Protestants who are giving some of their key workers the input they require to inspire and encourage them to keep going in their roles as evangelists and disciplers in the Church?

© Maria Rodrigues-Toth

*Please note that this post is not based on statistical research but rather on obvservations I have made on what I see as a growing trend among Catholic young people. .

At which Christian event would you see a Pentecostal pastor sitting with a Catholic priest, a young trendy man in a skinny tie chatting to a gentleman in a bow-tie, and a lady in an evening dress conversing with a Bishop from the Coptic Orthodox Church?  Yes, it’s the Christian New Media Awards ceremony!

This year on World Communications Day, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the importance of us embracing the world of new media as Christians rather than getting left behind:

“Attention should be paid to the various types of websites, applications and social networks which can help people today to find time for reflection and authentic questioning, as well as making space for silence and occasions for prayer, meditation or sharing of the word of God. In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated, as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives.”

Back in 2007 I stumbled across an underground world.  It was the year when Twitter was pretty much unknown in the UK and Facebook was in it’s infancy, predominantly being used by University students.  I had started writing a blog which mainly consisted of simple daily reflections from a faith perspective composed during the morning commute.  Writing the posts was not particularly life transforming but the people I met through it were.  My eyes were opened to a movement of Christians around the world who were encouraging, supporting and even counselling one another through the medium of the internet.  After several months I came to realise that there were a few Churches and Christian organisations who had a dominating presence online through use of blogs and websites – they knew the importance of using new media to reach young people and even unbelievers with the Gospel message.  However there were many who were stuck back in the 90’s with primative websites (if they had a site at all) and I was determined to do my bit to change that!

The original concept was to hold a ceremony at which those who were doing a great job in the digital world in the UK could be both encouraged and commended, mainly because no one was giving them any recognition.  The dream was that anyone who was lagging behind in the area would then be inspired to take advantage of the opportunity presented by new media, having seen the way that others were modelling it as a tool for witness or discipleship.  After a few months of working out the logistics the ‘Christian Blog and Web Awards’ were birthed (now the Christian New Media Awards).  The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, attended the first gathering along with around 100 other people for a three course meal complete with live music and an awards ceremony.  During his address the Bishop nicknamed the event ‘The Bloggies’, something which has stuck to this day!

Next Friday, 19th October 2012 marks the 6th awards ceremony at Skinner’s Hall in London where the entrance gate reads ‘To God only be all glory’!  I have seen the embargoed list of winners and runners up which I think contains a few surprises.  The judges have made their decisions but whether we agree with the outcome or not, hopefully greater unity between believers will occur as well as greater emphasis upon new media as a method of spreading the Gospel.

Only the finalists make it to the black tie event but a new addition in the last two years has been the Christian New Media Conference which takes place the day after the awards night, and anyone can attend that!  It’s an inspiring gathering for digitally minded believers who come together to share ideas, theology and more.  (You can book on here: www.christiannewmedia.com)

New media is a gift if used wisely.  We have the ability to influence thousands of people through a tweet or a video but may our aim be to point people to God and glorify Him rather than glorifying ourselves. “To God only be all glory!”

©Maria Rodrigues-Toth

p.s. Video from the awards and podcasts from the conference will be available online afterwards. Watch this space!