Learn from Pentecostals, Catholic leader says
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Before criticizing Pentecostal churches that draw Catholics as members, Catholic leaders should ask why their own parishes aren't meeting the needs of those who leave, the Vatican's top ecumenical representative said yesterday at Duquesne University.
"Our response cannot be in the form of a polemical approach, leaving ourselves to condemn the activities of other groups," said Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Such an approach "is not constructive and could even be counter-productive," he said.
While Cardinal Kasper is known for outreach to traditional Protestant and Orthodox churches, he said it is crucial to be engaged with a diverse global Pentecostal movement that now claims 600 million adherents.
He spoke to an audience of about 225, including Bishop Paul Bradley, administrator of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, Metropolitan Basil Schott of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, Episcopal Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh and Metropolitan Nicholas of the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church of Johnstown.
Cardinal Kasper, 73, is a German theologian and former diocesan bishop. He flashed a broad smile, displaying the demeanor that has reportedly caused some U.S. bishops to nickname him Kasper the Friendly Cardinal.
His talk focused on Pentecostalism, a Christian movement that emphasizes supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, prophecy and faith healing -- and which has often clashed with Catholicism. But he noted that in 1967 Duquesne University was the birthplace of the Catholic charismatic movement, which has brought Pentecostal practices into the Catholic church. The Catholic charismatic movement offers a way of holding people within parishes when they might otherwise leave, he said.
Rather than criticize Pentecostals, "We should ask ourselves, 'Why do some of our Catholics leave?' " he said.
Often they long for a sense of Christian community and direct spiritual experience that they find lacking in large parishes, he said. Many haven't been taught enough about their own faith to respond to the criticisms that Pentecostals may confront them with. These problems are acute in the global South, he said.
Better faith formation is needed "to enable Catholics to respond to this propaganda ... in particular, for less educated and poor Catholics," he said.
Such education must teach the faith without denigrating other Christian traditions, he said.
"Unfortunately parishes in some parts of he so-called Third World are often so large that our faithful do not feel at home, and many often feel abandoned and neglected," he said. He urged parishes to start small prayer groups, youth groups and Bible studies where people can form a close spiritual community.
Although there is a tendency to think of ecumenical dialogue as the work of theologians, all Christians need to make it part of their daily lives, he said.
"Catholics and Pentecostals live and work together in many ways on a daily basis," he said, "There can be joyful and happy events and sad events in the family or community where they could express solidarity ... A beginning of small gestures is important in many ways."
Bishop Bradley found the cardinal's advice pertinent.
"The challenge he gave to us is to ask ourselves the question -- 'What are they leaving us for?' -- so we can respond in a more pastoral and caring way," he said.
The Rev. Lou Vallone, pastor of St. John of God Catholic parish in McKees Rocks, once participated in a joint Catholic and Pentecostal medical mission to Mexico. He believes there is hope of rebuilding ties with ex-Catholics who miss Catholic sacramental and devotional life.
"People are attracted to the emotionalism and high levels of joy, but they miss the Mass," he said. "When we held Mass on the mission trip, it wasn't just the Catholics who came. Everybody showed up. It was like a coming home for them."
The Rev. Donald Green, executive director of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania, said that ecumenical organization includes no Pentecostal denominations because they have no hierarchy or executives to represent them. He endorsed Cardinal Kasper's call for building relationships at pew level.
"We have to move to the reality of grassroots ecumenism," he said.
First Published October 10, 2006 12:00 am