The following is a column titled “Pope’s video captures a 7-minute ‘catholic’ moment” from the April 15 issue of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. It was written by Peter Finney Jr., executive editor and general manager.
If St. Francis were tweeting from the terra-cotta rooftops of Assisi today, he might avert his eyes briefly from the sparrows and the azure sky to tap out this message with both thumbs: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use an iPhone 5s, if necessary.”

The Jesuit pope who bears Francis’ name and missionary zeal created a social communications and ecumenical splash recently with a seven-minute iPhone video, filmed inside his Vatican office, in which he speaks conversationally to Pentecostal and evangelical Christians as though they are sitting on the sofa next to him, sipping a cup of hot tea.

The video was captured by Bishop Tony Palmer, an Anglican Episcopal bishop who had befriended then-Cardinal Jose Mario Bergoglio during tense times when the Catholic Church in Argentina was losing worshipers regularly to fundamentalist, Bible-based churches.

Bishop Palmer and Cardinal Bergoglio, however, are good friends. So, when Bishop Palmer went to see the pope at the Vatican, he whipped out his iPhone at the pope’s request.

Something magical then happened.

Looking straight into the three-and-a-half-inch screen, Pope Francis launched an appeal for Christian unity. Go to YouTube and see it for yourself. There are two versions — a shorter one with only the pope’s message and a longer version that shows Bishop Palmer, back in Texas for a major meeting of Pentecostal ministers, setting up the pope’s surprise video by basically saying the Protestant Reformation is over — and then letting the man in white speak words none in the assembly ever thought they would hear from the supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church.

In his introductory remarks, Bishop Palmer outlined the split in the Catholic Church in the first millennium between East and West; and then “500 years later, we had Luther and his protest.”

“From Luther’s protest onward, we have 53,000 denominations,” Bishop Palmer said. “I’ve come to understand that diversity is divine. It’s division that’s diabolic. … Jesus said, ‘Until they are one, the world will not believe.’ Division destroys our credibility. It is fear that keeps us separated.”

In 1999, Catholics and Lutherans reached a landmark agreement on justification by grace through faith — the issue that became the head of the spear piercing the heart of Christian unity. The Catholic Church had emphasized the necessity of good works for salvation.

That fracture has produced five centuries of religious shards.

“What these two churches did (in 1999) was put these two definitions together,” Bishop Palmer said. The joint declaration states: “Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.”

Pausing briefly, Bishop Palmer looked out at the Pentecostal ministers in the hall.

“This brought an end to the protest of Luther,” he said. “Brothers and sisters, Luther’s protest is over. Is yours? … I get a little bit cheeky here because I challenge my Protestant pastor friends: If there is no more protest, how can there be a Protestant church? Maybe now we’re all Catholics again.”

Let’s just say it was so quiet in the room you could hear a rosary jingle.

Then, with the touch of the “play” button, Bishop Palmer brought in the successor of Peter, a grandfatherly type with a wide smile who spoke of a special yearning in his heart.

Pope Francis spoke in Italian (with English subtitles), but then he corrected himself: “I will speak no Italian, no English, but heartfully. It is a language more simple and authentic. This language of the heart has a perpetual, particular language and grammar. It is a simple grammar, with two rules: Love God above all, and love the other because he is your brother and sister.”

The pope praised the ministers for coming together to “worship Jesus Christ, the only Lord, and to pray to the Father and receive the Spirit. This brings me joy because we can see that God is working all over the world.”

He spoke of religious separation in the context of an estranged family. “It is sin that has separated us — all our sins, the misunderstandings throughout history,” he said. “It has been a long road of sins that we all have shared in. Who’s to blame? We all share the blame. We have all sinned. There is only one blameless — the Lord. I am (yearning) that this separation comes to an end and gives us communion.”

He then told the story of Joseph’s brothers, who went off to Egypt because even though they had money, they had nothing to eat. “They couldn’t eat the money,” the pope said.

What they found, more important than food, was their brother.

“All of us have currency — the currency of our culture, the currency of our history,” he said. “We have cultural riches and religious riches and diverse traditions. But, we have to encounter one another as brothers. We must cry together, as Joseph did. These tears will unite us — the tears of love. I am speaking to you as a brother. I speak to you in a simple way, with joy and (yearning). Let us allow our (yearning) to grow because this will propel us to find each other, to embrace one another and together worship Jesus Christ as the only Lord of history.”

The pope’s astonishing plea culminated in his asking the ministers to pray for him, as he would pray for them.

“Let’s pray to the Lord that he unites us all — come on, we are brothers!” he said. “Let us give each other a spiritual hug and let God complete the good work he has begun.”

Pope Francis closed by quoting Italian novelist Alessandro Manzoni, who wrote in “The Betrothed”: “I’ve never seen God begin a miracle without him finishing it well.”

“I ask you to bless me, and I bless you,” Pope Francis said. “From brother to brother, I embrace you.”

As the video ended, the atmosphere in the room turned electric. Pastor Kenneth Copeland, a television evangelist and, historically, no friend of the Catholic Church, proclaimed: “Glory! Glory! Glory!” before praying in tongues for Pope Francis.

“Thank you, sir,” Pastor Copeland said. “We do bless you. We receive your blessing. It’s very, very important to us. We bless you with all of our hearts and souls. Be blessed. Be blessed. Amen! Amen!”

“You know what’s so thrilling to me?” Pastor Copeland asked his audience. “When we went into this ministry 47 years ago, this was impossible. People would read that Scripture and say, ‘Yeah, right, until we all come together. Ain’t no way that’s ever going to happen!'”

It did. In seven minutes. On a three-and-a-half-inch screen.

Francis, rebuild my church.


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