Roman Catholic Church leader Pope Francis has asked Protestants and other churches to forgive Catholics for their behaviour towards them, and also called Catholics to forgive others in the same manner.
In his homily, delivered at Vespers on the solemnity of the conversion of St. Paul, at a prayer ceremony closing the week of prayer for Christian unity held at Brasilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the pontiff highlighted the importance of forgiveness. Starting his homily with the words of Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:9, “I am the least of the Apostles … because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace in me was not without effect”, he talked about the need to forgive each other.
He further went on to say, “As bishop of Rome and pastor of the Catholic Church, I want to beg for mercy and forgiveness for un-Gospel-like behaviour on the part of Catholics against Christians of other churches.”
“We ask most of all for forgiveness for the sin of our divisions, which are an open wound on the body of Christ,” Pope Francis said.
“Beyond the differences which still separate us, we recognise with joy that at the origin of our Christian life there is always a call from God Himself. We can make progress on the path to full visible communion between us Christians not only when we come closer to each other, but above all as we convert ourselves to the Lord, who through His grace, chooses and calls us to be His disciples,” he continued.
He also asked Catholics to forgive those who had wronged them. “At the same time, I ask all my Catholic brothers and sisters to forgive if, today or in the past, they were hurt by other Christians,” he said. “We cannot erase what happened, but we do not want to allow the burden of past faults to continue to poison our relationships.”
As is customary, Pope Francis led the service at Rome’s Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, which tradition holds as the burial site of the apostle. Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios, representing the ecumenical patriarch, and Anglican Archbishop David Moxon, representing the archbishop of Canterbury, joined the pope in prayer at St Paul’s tomb at the beginning of the service.
Back in July 2014, Francis became the first pope to officially visit a Pentecostal church, where he again apologized for persecution of Pentecostals by the Catholic church, and reached out with friendship to Evangelicals.
“Among those who persecuted and denounced Pentecostals, almost as if they were crazy people trying to ruin the race, there were also Catholics,” Francis said during his historic visit to the Evangelical Church of Reconciliation in the southern city of Caserta, Italy.
“Someone will be surprised: ‘The pope went to visit the Evangelicals?’ But he went to see his brothers,” he added.