Pope Francis' mission for unity and CCR

Author: Charles Whitehead

Photo: Mazur/

Pope Francis' mission for unity and CCR

Pope Francis’ meetings with Anglican, Lutheran and Pentecostal leaders remind us of CCR’s roots in ecumenism, says Charles Whitehead.

October 2016 was a month where Pope Francis busily set about meeting with leaders of other Christian denominations.

He began the month meeting with Georgia’s Patriarch Ilia II and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and finished it visiting Sweden as Lutherans begin a year-long celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

As we prepare for the celebration of 50 years of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) next February, our thoughts turn to the events of that student weekend at The Ark and The Dove retreat centre near the US city of Pittsburgh where it all began

A major reason the professors leading the retreat chose the theme of the Holy Spirit was their conviction in prayer of the importance of being open to the Spirit, which had taken them to a local Protestant prayer group where they had received prayer for Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

This highlights the fact that the CCR has an important role to play in the work for Christian unity, because without the example, availability and support of Protestant, Pentecostal and New Independent Church groups, it is unlikely the Renewal would have taken root and spread throughout the worldwide Catholic Church in the way that it did.

Holy Spirit & Unity

Pope Francis fully understands this and knows well how important Baptism in the Holy Spirit is in the work for Christian unity.

He has described the CCR as a current of grace, a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. He has stated that it is inherently ecumenical, and that Baptism in the Spirit is for the whole Church.

For him the key to the development of unity is to build strong personal relationships with a cross-section of leaders in other expressions of the body of Christ.

His aim is to meet, to pray, and then to work together. He has a high regard for the theologians who work with their opposite numbers in other churches to address the areas of theology, doctrine and pastoral practice where we are not in agreement - their work is essential.

But at the same time he knows well that this will take time. He has even jokingly commented that the Lord may well have returned before some of it is finished!

Working together

So in the meantime we must get on with doing together as much as we possibly can, hence his frequent meetings to get to know leaders across a range of Pentecostal and New Independent Churches - meetings which do not always receive any publicity.

At the same time, he's establishing joint initiatives with the mainline Protestant denominations. After meeting with the leaders of the Orthodox church in Georgia, Pope Francis began this month welcoming Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to Rome, where they signed a common declaration and sent out on mission together 19 pairs of Anglican and Catholic bishops from countries around the world.

He's also taking a very positive line with Lutheran leaders as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

So he's expecting us in the CCR to follow his example and to establish local initiatives across the whole body of Christ.

If we also follow his methods and build close personal relationships with all the local church leaders - sharing together, eating together and praying together regularly - we will certainly find ways to work together throughout the year instead of focusing all our efforts on the January Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, important as that is.

So let's commit ourselves to this vital work, following the example and encouragement of Pope Francis and many other leaders across the Christian spectrum, recognising that the CCR owes a particular debt of gratitude to our charismatic brethren in many of the other churches and fellowships.


  • Charles Whitehead is chairman of Celebrate and of the CREW Trust.

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