February 28, 2014

The pope and the Pentecostal smartphone

The image projected onto the giant screen above the recent Kenneth Copeland Ministries conference was not your usual clever smartphone video.

Still, the crowd of Pentecostal Protestants was mesmerized because the man vested in white who addressed them -- in Italian, with subtitles -- was one of the last people on earth they would have expected to warmly bestow his blessing on them.

Pope Francis stressed that they "must encounter one another as brothers. We must cry together. ... These tears will unite us, the tears of love. ... I speak to you in a simple way, with joy and yearning. Let us allow our yearning to grow, because this will propel us to find each other, to embrace one another and together to worship Jesus Christ as the only Lord of History."

There was another historic twist. The pope from Latin America ended by asking the flock in Texas for a spiritual favor, an unthinkable request during decades of bitter tensions between established Catholic churches and the rising tide of Protestant -- usually Pentecostal -- believers in the Americas.

"I thank you profoundly for allowing me to speak the language of the heart," said Pope Francis. "Please pray for me, because I need your prayers. ... Let us pray to the Lord that He unites us all. Come on, we are brothers. Let's give each other a spiritual hug and let God complete the work that he has begun. And this is a miracle. The miracle of unity has begun."

Copeland then took the stage, shouting, "Glory! Glory! Glory! Come on, the man asked us to pray for him!"

Many in the crowd lifted their hands and began speaking in what Pentecostal Christians believe are heavenly, unknown tongues. Copeland -- a global televangelist -- proclaimed: "Father we answer his request. ... We know not how to pray for him as we ought, other than to agree with him in his quest ... for the unity of the Body of Christ. We come together in the unity of our faith. Hallelujah!"

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