NEV-Special issue on Pope Francis
monthly newsletter of the Federation of the Protestant Churches of Italy
by Sergio Rostagno, theologian, emeritus professor at the Waldensian Faculty on Theology, Rome
When a few days ago I heard of the name Francis for the new Pope, I immediately said: “this is impossible”. No pope would have the nerve to give himself such a name, for historical and ideal reasons. The figure of Francesco, in the history of the Church, is a too distinct and authoritative one for a Pope to just take possession of it. Surprise: the first Jesuit pope took the name of Francis, denying all in one go every obstacle. Papal power extends also to names and may take possession of, with no respect, whatever it decides to make his own.
However something serious and beautiful happened when the newly elected Pope asked the people standing in St. Peter’s Square, first of all, to pray for him.
The rest is known: cheering indistinct crowds to whom it is easy to give the name of People of God. But fortunately this is not all, not even in Catholicism. Peoples are made of individuals: an intense action of awareness and recovery of the deepest themes of the Christian faith can continue in several continents. We’ll see to what extent the different religious and non-religious sensibilities may meet. At the same time, everywhere in the world, there is a great need of social aid. Two parallel paths which involve all religions.
We hope to meet with Catholics in full fellowship, without the suspicion that the papal power is always and everywhere concerned to underline his importance.
In the various churches slogan such as “let’s go back to the origins, to the roots, to primitive purity!” seem to be very successful. These references are purely illusory and only serve to numb the consciences with the idea that there is a primitive age of purity without compromise. We are instead to stick to present and especially to future, where we are challenged by our intelligence and our devotion to do our best. Inspiration can come from afar, from Peter and from Francis – not to speak of Jesus – but the solution is not longing for the past but for full awareness of the future. The tools for a responsive Christianity are work, reflection and open dialogue. Peoples need – rather than guides – maturity and confidence in their ability to make experience and be accountable for it. We are not called to the past but to the present: only freedom can ensure the help of God.
Waldensian theologian Paolo Ricca: a presentation full of promises
Rome (NEV), March 15, 2013 – “From a protestant point of view the pope’s authority is based on the myth of Peter’s primacy and therefore the pope is always the pope, but I must say that the first impression of Pope Francis is certainly positive”. This is what Prof. Paolo Ricca – who has always been involved in the ecumenical movement – first declared about the election of the Pope.
Ricca continued underlining three aspects: first, the category of the “bishop of Rome” by which he repeatedly defined himself, never pronouncing the word “pope”. The dimension of the local church, of a precise diocese comes before the function and the claim of universal shepherd – particularly problematic in the ecumenical field. Second, the name chosen. It’s a challenging and promising name, if indeed it corresponds to a programme. Third, particularly meaningful the request for prayer to the believers before him to bless them. It’s an act which introduces reciprocity as the basis for relationships within the church.
Waldensian theologian Fulvio Ferrario appreciates his simplicity
Rome (NEV), March 15, 2013 – “Like all Christians we share intercession in this important phase of the life of the church of Rome”: with these words the theologian Fulvio Ferrario, coordinator of the Baptist, Methodist and Waldensian Ecumenical Commission, welcomed the election of the new pope. He expressed also his appreciation for the sober message addressed to Rome and to the whole world, wishing that also the comments to his election might be as simple as that. The lengthy and detailed analyses of these days are premature: time will sort out the most fruitful ways to communicate with him.
Gabriela Lio, Argentinian pastor, FCEI’s vice president: “A pope with lights and shades”
Rome (NEV), March 15, 2013 – “Those who, like me, were expecting a revolutionary Pope surely will not meet him in Pope Francis”: declared Gabriela Lio, an Argentinian pastor and vice president of the Federation of protestant churches in Italy (FCEI). According to her Bergoglio is a character with lights and shades. He does not belong to the most conservative wing but neither can he be counted among the progressives; he is at the forefront in defending the poor’s rights, but his conduct against the military dictatorship of the seventies cannot be said transparent. The request for forgiveness for the Church’s role during that period, came too late (2012) and was not appreciated by many Argentinians and civil rights fighters, also because it equalled the violence of the regime to that of the victims. Besides these shades, very heavy for all Argentinians, it is undeniable that Bergoglio stood, in the years of the economic crisis, for the fight against poverty and for the moral resurrection of the Country.
The comment of pastor Maria Bonafede, member of FCEI’s board
Rome (NEV), March 15, 2013 – “Francis is a very challenging name for a pope” observed pastor Maria Bonafede, former Moderator of the Waldensian Board and member of the Council of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI). She expects that having chosen this name might mean that the Pope wants the church he has been called to govern to be poorer and less compromised with the power that comes from money. A difficult choice for a Pope: therefore she hopes that the choice will not correspond to the appropriation of a name who represents for Christianity a reference to beautiful and good principles, including also Francis among the things that power can use as it likes.
On one side Bonafede approves the way the Pope presented himself as first elected, on the other she asks him to immediately express with clarity his relationship with the fascist dictatorship in Argentina.
Waldensian Board Moderator: In the name of Francis and Valdo serving the poor
Rome (NEV) March 15, 2013 – The moderator of the Waldensian board, pastor Eugenio Bernardini, sent today a message to Pope Francis: “I write to You in this time when You assume the role of bishop of Rome, and address to You the greetings of the Waldensian Church. May the Lord bless and enlighten You in Your ministry of announcing the Gospel”.
Pointing out that the new pope has taken the name of Francis, moderator Bernardini reminds that the ‘poor of Assisi’ was contemporary of Valdo of Lyon and that the two shared “the idea of a church serving the poor and the outcasts, inspired and renewed by the Word of God”.
“Struck by your first words and gestures at the beginning of Your ministry – the moderator continues – I cannot but hope that in Your role You’ll give impulse to a new ecumenical season nourished by the same evangelical attachment and spirit of serving the needs of mankind as those of Francis and Valdo. In this sense we hope and pray that all women and men who share the sign of the baptism in Christ – Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants – may meet and recognize each other in a renewed path in the unity of all Christians so that the world may believe”.
Holger Milkau, dean of the Lutheran Church in Italy, wishes a renewed dialogue
Rome (NEV), March 15, 2013 – “I admired the way in which Pope Francis presented himself to the believers, with the humility of one who is fully aware of the responsibility he has been invested with: a responsibility also encouraged by the reforming sign expressed by the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI” declared pastor Holger Milkau, dean of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Italy (CELI). He also expressed the hope for a renewed and open dialogue in the name of ecumenism that has always characterized the relations between the Lutheran and the Catholic churches.