For­give Catholic per­se­cu­tion of evan­gel­i­cals: pope


Pope Fran­cis asked for­give­ness Mon­day for the Catholic Church’s per­se­cu­tion of mem­bers of a small evan­gel­i­cal church in Italy whose leader was ex­com­mu­ni­cated and fol­low­ers branded as heretics dur­ing the Mid­dle Ages.

Fran­cis made the ap­peal dur­ing the first-ever visit by a pope to a Walden­sian house of wor­ship, start­ing the sec­ond day of his two­day visit to Turin with a strong ec­u­meni­cal mes­sage of Chris­tian in­clu­sive­ness and fra­ter­nity.

The Walden­sian church was founded in the 12th cen­tury by Peter Waldo, a wealthy mer­chant from Lyon, France, who gave up his be­long­ings to preach a Gospel of sim­plic­ity and poverty that con­demned pa­pal ex­cesses. He was ex­com­mu­ni­cated and his fol­low­ers per­se­cuted as heretics by Rome.

The Walden­sians to­day are united with the Methodist Church and claim 45,000 fol­low­ers, mostly in Italy, Ar­gentina and Uruguay.

Dur­ing a speech to a few hun­dred peo­ple in the Walden­sian tem­ple of Turin, Fran­cis de­cried how Chris­tians over history com­mit­ted atro­cious acts of vi­o­lence in the name of faith.

“On the part of the Catholic Church, I ask your for­give­ness, I ask it for the non-Chris­tian and even in­hu­man at­ti­tudes and be­hav­ior that we have showed you,” Fran­cis said somberly from the al­tar. “In the name of the Lord Je­sus Christ, for­give us!”

His speech, greeted with warm ap­plause, was rem­i­nis­cent al­beit on a smaller scale of the ap­peals for for­give­ness made by St. John Paul II dur­ing the 2000 Ju­bilee. In sev­eral events that year, John Paul asked par­dons for the Cru­sades and Catholic wrongs com­mit­ted against Jews and oth­ers.

Fran­cis, an Ar­gen­tine Je­suit, has con­tin­ued his strong friend­ships with lead­ers of Protes­tant and evan­gel­i­cal churches that he de­vel­oped as the arch­bishop of Buenos Aires.

Later Mon­day, Fran­cis was to have lunch with and celebrate Mass for mem­bers of his ex­tended fam­ily, who hail from Italy’s Pied­mont re­gion.

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