Evangelicals, Pope Francis Pledge to Work Together on Religious Freedom Despite Differences

Pope Francis
Pope Francis waves after delivering his ''Urbi et Orbi'' (to the city and the world) message from the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Rome, Italy, December 25, 2016. |

Pope Francis and representatives of a global evangelical network met last week at the Vatican, where they talked about their shared fight against persecution and for religious freedom, acknowledging they must work together despite theological differences.

Bishop Efraim Tendero, secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance, which represents over 600 million believers in 129 nations, talked at the meeting on Thursday with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity about the importance of cooperation.

"We want to see this world to be a place where peace, justice and righteousness reign, where everyone has a decent standard of living, and where Jesus Christ is recognized as Lord of all," Tendero said, according to the WEA.

Vatican Radio pointed out that the WEA and the Pontifical Council completed seven years of dialogue, where they admitted that "major theological differences" remain, but at the same time they are coming to an understanding that a common agenda is needed.

Tendero said that such cooperation is needed in the wake of so many challenges for Christians around the world, rather than a "focus on what differs and what pulls us apart."

The WEA secretary general explained that his home country of the Philippines, where 80 percent of the population is Catholic, can be seen as a model for good ecumenical relations.

According to Tendero, the Catholic church and evangelicals there work together on problems, including human trafficking, combating climate change, fighting corruption, promoting peace, and providing disaster relief.

The Rev. Thomas K. Johnson, the WEA's religious freedom ambassador to the Vatican, highlighted the increasing persecution of Christians around the world, with the last three years potentially becoming the worst in history for believers.

promoting the distribution of and engagement with the Bible, especially among the youth, and addressing social justice issues. 

Johnson said that no major pronouncements are expected from Thursday's meeting, but said that Catholics and evangelicals are looking into publishing "education materials that we've developed together."

He said that the message to come away with is that "Christians of all varieties need to be protecting each other in the public square."

Francis has talked about the unity between Catholics and evangelicals on a number of occasions during his papacy.

"In various parts of the world, the witness to Christ, even to the shedding of blood, has become a shared experience of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Protestants, evangelicals and Pentecostals, which is deeper and stronger than the differences which still separate our churches and ecclesial communities," the pontiff said back in November 2015 in a message to Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

He added that the communion of martyrs "is the greatest sign of our journeying together."

"Let us see this profound truth as a call to persevere on our ecumenical journey toward full and visible communion, growing more and more in love and mutual understanding," he urged.

Earlier that year, Francis suggested that it is the devil himself who keeps evangelicals, Catholics, and Christians from other denominations divided.

"Division is the work of the 'Father of Lies,' 'the Father of Discord,' who does everything possible to keep us divided," the pope said.

"I feel like saying something that may sound controversial, or even heretical, perhaps," he added. "But there is someone who 'knows' that, despite our differences, we are one. It is he who is persecuting us. It is he who is persecuting Christians today, he who is anointing us with (the blood of) martyrdom."

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