On Ecumenical Dialogue With Pentecostals

Friend of Pastor Traettino, Matteo Calisi Speaks to ZENIT on Wider Significance of Pope's Caserta Visit

Vatican City, (Zenit.org) Deborah Castellano Lubov | 1791 hits

A promoter of Catholic-Pentecostal relations believes Pope Francis is opening up dialogue between Catholics and Pentecostals.

Matteo Calisi is the founder and president of the Comunità di Gesù (Community of Jesus), located in Bari, Italy. Together with Pentecostal Pastor Dr. Giovanni Traettino, Bishop of the Evangelical Church of the Reconciliation, Matteo founded in 1992 Consultazione Carismatica Italiana (Italian Charismatic Consultation – CCI), a joint committee of Catholic Charismatics and Pentecostal Evangelicals.

This committee began a dialogue between Catholics and Pentecostals in Italy. Presently, Calisi still serves as co-president with Pastor Traettino. Among those with whom they have collaborated is Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Papal Household.

Calisi has collaborated with the Pontifical Council for the Laity and in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as a Member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, which he served on until the end of 2013. He has personally met Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI on various occasions.

Calisi spoke with ZENIT on his friendship with Pastor Giovanni Traettino, his views on the significance of the Pope’s meeting with Pentecostals in Caserta, as well as what this means for ecumenical dialogue.

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ZENIT: Could you speak about the Pope’s visit to the Evangelical Church in Caserta?

Calisi: The visit of Pope Francis to the Evangelical Church in Caserta on July 28, 2014, as it is well known, had a private character even though the event had a historic significance. It is the first time that a Pontiff has visited an Evangelical Pentecostal Church, and even though it may sound unusual to many of us, we must remember that Pope Francis, when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, had stable relationships with the Pentecostal Churches of his town and used to attend several private and public meetings with representatives of these Evangelical communities.

ZENIT: Have you personally had the opportunity to observe this yourself?

Calisi: I have had the privilege to witness this process, which started in 2003 in Buenos Aires and continues still today, that has led to the birth of the ecumenical initiative called "Renewed communion between Catholics and Evangelicals in the Holy Spirit" (CRECES). Therefore, the visit to Caserta is part of this Catholic-Pentecostal dialogue that Pope Francis knows very well. Moreover, during the worship session in the Pentecostal Church of Caserta, the Holy Father asked for forgiveness on behalf of those baptized Catholics who were accomplices in the persecutions of the Pentecostal churches from the fascist regime, an act of justice which follows the example of the actions of [asking] forgiveness made by the previous Pontiffs. Another significant fact is that, according to the Holy Father, the word "sect" is not to be used to name a group of Christians. We must be able to discern what the sectarian attitudes are, which can be found in any religious group - Catholic, Evangelical or Orthodox one - and from which we must mend our ways, but it is extremely offensive and unfair to name a Christian church as a whole with the word "sect". Therefore the request for forgiveness has been accompanied by the request to purify the language: an important factor to heal the memories of the past.

ZENIT: According to you, does the Pope’s visit to Caserta have a wider significance?

Calisi: The meeting in Caserta precedes and has a wider significance than the visit made by the Pope. The Bishop of Rome is perfectly aware of the urgency to search for unity between the Catholic Church and the Pentecostal Evangelical Churches. More than half a billion Christians adhere to the Pentecostal Movement, which is the second Christian confession soon after the Catholic Church for its large numbers. The Pentecostal Movement is the fastest growing movement in the whole history of the Christian Church, there is no other precedent. A movement born from the Holy Spirit without human founders, so little known by specialists and ecumenists especially here in Italy, which had an astonishing growth in the past century from 0 to 600 million participants.

In Italy, the Pentecostal movement represents nearly 70% of the Italian Protestantism with which the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) hasn't established a relationship yet. Compared to the copious Anglo-Saxon literature, suffice it to think of the academic institution Society for Pentecostal Studies with the publication of the magazine of theology "Pneumatic", in Italy we can only report the valuable book by Professor Massimo Introvigne "The Pentecostal challenge" (LDC Turin) and the research made by the Center for Studies on new religions "Cesnur", Turin. We are grateful to the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome for having established training courses on "Pentecostalism" held by Professor Teresa Francesca Rossi. But "Pentecostalism" is nearly totally absent in the study plans of the Pontifical Universities, as well as in the seminaries for the training of future Catholic priests. The Pro Unione Centre of the Friars of the Atonement, Rome (Director Father James Puglisi S.A.), which sponsors initiatives and meetings with scholars and Pentecostal, Charismatic and Evangelical theologians, gives another contribution to the knowledge of Pentecostalism.  

ZENIT: How is dialogue developing between the Holy See and Pentecostals?

Calisi: Even though there was an official consolidated dialogue between some Pentecostal representatives (only on a personal level) and the Holy See, which started after the Second Vatican Council and has published important documents with undeniable pastoral-theological importance (cfr Enchiridion Oecumenicum, EDB Bologna), very little is known about the ecumenical activities carried out among the Catholic and Pentecostal faithful, the so-called "spiritual ecumenism".

ZENIT: Can you tell us about your friendship and collaboration with Pastor Giovanni Traettino?

Calisi: Pastor Giovanni Traettino and I have been friends and have been collaborating in the ministry of reconciliation for more than 30 years. In the early '80s a dialogue started to take place between the Community of Jesus, Bari, and his Movement of Communion and Restauration, Caserta (then renamed Evangelical Church of Reconciliation). In 1992 I invited Pastor Traettino to talk at a Catholic Charismatic Conference which took place at Saint Nicholas Football Stadium in Bari. On that occasion Pastor Traettino made a prophetic gesture, he washed the feet of a representative of the Catholic Church. This gesture of humility marked the beginning of a long-lasting collaboration between me and Pastor Giovanni Traettino. In the same year we founded an organism of dialogue between Catholics and Charismatic Evangelicals and Pentecostals in Italy, called "Italian Charismatic Consultation". Historians have considered this work as a pioneering event at the ecumenical level (see the vast literature of Professor Vinson Synan, Divinity Faculty, Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA, USA). Professor Massimo Introvigne has written an interview book to Pastor Traettino and the undersigned, entitled "Aspettando la Pentecoste" (Waiting for the Pentecost - il Messaggero Publisher, Padova 1996) which is intended to witness the path of reconciliation between Catholics and Evangelicals, a movement born in Italy that has spread to many countries all over the world. It was during our visit to Buenos Aires in 2006 that Pastor Giovanni Traettino got in touch with Cardinal Bergoglio. I still work with Pastor Giovanni Traettino preaching this “Gospel of Reconciliation". In the past months we held some meetings of reconciliation in Phoenix, Arizona, with the support of Pope Francis and the local Catholic Bishops, and attended a meeting of important European Evangelical Leaders in Palma de Mallorca (Spain). We do hope we will be able to carry out some future projects for Italy with the help of God.

ZENIT: In Caserta, Pope Francis mentioned “reconciled diversity.” Could you elaborate on what this is? 

Calisi: Pope Francis, speaking at the meeting in Caserta, has mentioned a theory by the reformed theologian Oscar Cullmann, who sustained that the unity of the Church would be possible by mutually accepting a "reconciled diversity". To this end, it is worth mentioning the ecumenical experience matured within the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, a "current of grace" which is present crosswise in most Christian churches. This ecumenical and charismatic grace has been widely illustrated by one of the protagonists of the council renewal, Cardinal Léon Joseph Suenens, archbishop of Malines-Bruxelles. With the publication of the second Document of Malines entitled "Ecumenism and Charismatic Renewal", the Belgian Cardinal writes that the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, or otherwise called "Catholic Pentecostal Renewal", conveys unity by its nature, because it shares the same graces as the spiritual experience of the Evangelical Pentecostal movement. And even though the Catholics may prefer doctrinal and ecclesiological justifications different from the Evangelical Pentecostal movement, however it is undeniable that they share with the Pentecostal movement the same experience that is characterizing the contemporary Christianity in a decisive way. This ecumenical grace is commonly described as a new "Baptism in the Holy Spirit", a biblical expression that has been recently recommended also by the Holy Father, who has asked its spread in the Church. On the same occasion Pope Francis has publicly encouraged the Charismatics to continue the ecumenical reflection on the nature of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and to commit themselves to the "spiritual ecumenism with all those brothers and sisters of other Christian churches and communities that believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior" (Cfr Pope Francis, Olympic Stadium, Rome 1st June 2014). This is the direction to interpret the public speeches of Pope Francis of last January referring to the Chirograph addressed to Pastor Giovanni Traettino for supporting the meetings of reconciliation held in Phoenix, Arizona (USA) and to the well-known message on the Smartphone recorded by the late lamented Bishop Tony Palmer (Communion of the Episcopal Evangelical Churches), for the Evangelical Pentecostal-Charismatic Conference of Kenneth Copeland's ministry, in Texas (USA).

ZENIT: Have you followed the movement in English-speaking nations as well?

Calisi: From 2002 to 2013, as President of the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships, an organism recognized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity with head office in Vatican City, I followed closely the apostolate of Charismatic covenant Communities with ecumenical vocation that are present in Europe, United States and Australia. In particular, the Community of Jesus, Bari, of which I am a moderator, has been inspiring in several countries since 1983 various initiatives of dialogue with Pentecostal churches and other ecclesial traditions reached by the Charismatic Renewal, among them there's also the Messianic Jews tradition.

ZENIT: Could you highlight some of the initiatives?

Calisi: Here are some initiatives: CCI "Italian Charismatic Consultation" (Italy since 1992), UIC "United in Christ" (United States of America since 1993 – Canada since 2010 – United Kingdom since 2011), CRECES "Renewed Communion between Catholics and Evangelicals in the Holy Spirit" (Argentina since 2004); ENCRISTUS "Meeting among Christians who look for unity and holiness" (Brazil since 2008); International meetings between Catholics and Messianic-Hebrews (Bari, Italy since 2002). Moreover, I mention the International  Meetings for Peace among Nations called "Kairòs", which have been taking place since 2000 in Bari, ecumenical town par excellence, with the participation of international representatives of Churches and denominations reached by the Pentecostal-Charismatic experience. This activity has been described in the Magazine "Tempi di Unità (Times of unity)", a periodical published by the Community of Jesus, in the interview book to Matteo Calisi and Giovanni Traettino "Aspettando la Pentecoste (Waiting for the Pentecost)" by Professor Massimo Introvigne (EMP Padova 1996); in the recent book by Msgr. Peter Hoken entitled "Pentecost and Parusia, Charismatic Renewal, Christian Unity, and the Coming Glory" and in the prestigious "The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements" (Stanley M. Burgess, Eduard M. Van Der Maas).

ZENIT: Do you believe the initiatives you just explained contribute to ecumenical dialogue? And how so?

Calisi: From these testimonies, we understand that the Holy Spirit is giving a boost to the ecumenical process among the churches, not only the Pentecostal ones. At the same time we can see, through the Petrine ministry, a growing incisiveness and decision to continue a friendship with the Evangelical Pentecostal and Charismatic churches, even though there is still resistance and closure in some of these denominations, which can be found also in some Catholic milieus. Despite this, the visit of Pope Francis to Caserta has written a new page in the history of Christians' unity, which is unlikely to be forgotten. The Holy Spirit is greatly working in His Church.