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Waldensian delegation received by the Pope. Pastor Eugenio Bernardini: “Ecumenism of charity: a project that we share”

A conversation with Pastor Eugenio Bernadini, moderator of the Waldensian Church, head of the Waldensian delegation received in private audience by Pope Francis past Saturday. The tragedy of refugees fleeing from war and the dramatic poverty of European cities: “We consider the concept of the ecumenism of charity – he said – whereby mutual trust furthers creative solutions, as a path that deserves being pursued, which could bring new, unexpected results. We share this project.”

Christian Churches that don’t waste their energies “arguing with each other” and that decide to jointly address the epochal problems of our times, from the tragedy of refugees fleeing from war to dramatic situations of poverty present throughout the rich European metropolises. It’s the time of an ecumenism carried out by “walking together”, as Pope Francis has pointed out on many occasions. “We consider the concept of the ecumenism of charity, whereby mutual trust furthers creative solutions, as a path that deserves being pursued and that could bring new, unexpected results. We share this project”, said the moderator of the Waldensian Table, pastor Eugenio Bernardini, following the audience for the first time in the Vatican of a delegation of Methodist and Waldensian Churches with Pope Francis. The meeting – the pastor said – was characterised by an atmosphere of “great informality, fraternity and sincerity. There were no prepared speeches, but rather a conversation on the problems that our Churches are called to face in Italy and in the Western world.

“We discovered that we share the same concerns as well as a profound harmony in terms of the response we believe should be given.”

To be more daring. “On the religious and theological planes – said the Waldensian representative – there is the wish to overcome a climate of suspicion and polemics and replace it with mutual trust. As regards the social responsibilities of our Churches, we share the intention to be more daring.” This is what our times require. Off the Turkish coasts people continue to die and at least 25 migrants, including 10 children, have drowned yesterday in the umpteenth shipwreck in the Aegean Sea. Referring to this unending tragedy, the Pope at the Angelus yesterday praised the “humanitarian corridors”, a pilot project carried out by the Sant’Egidio Community, Evangelical Churches and the Waldensian Table, which has hitherto enabled the arrival in Italy of 97 Syrian refugees from Lebanon with safe travels. In the coming months, thanks to an agreement with the Italian Government, over one thousand people, selected at local level according to their vulnerability (victims of persecution, torture and violence, families with children, old and sick people, people with disabilities) will enter our Country thanks to the humanitarian corridors.

“We have persuaded our government by saying: let us do our job as Christians.”

“The purpose of this project is to show that there is another option, and that there are different ways to address this tragedy. We hope that European institutions and governments will take new measures, but unfortunately not much has been done: despite concerns and controversies inaction prevails,” the Pastor said.

The sign of Lampedusa. On his first papal visit Francis went to Lampedusa, underlining his special attention for this issue. On this front, Pastor Bernandini pointed out, there is ongoing cooperation between our Churches and the Catholic Church, also in Lampedusa. Such efforts focus also on the services to people, on the dramatic situation of poverty in cities, on the fragility of our families and of our elderly.

“This requires the commitment of the Christian faithful; that they may not waste their energy in controversies but devote it entirely to the service to others.”

Thus a new chapter in the dialogue between the two Churches has been ushered in. “Indeed, compared to the past, now new fruits have been delivered, since previously we didn’t know one another and the dialogue was lacking. However, it should be said that the dialogue based solely on the will to reconsider past divisions at a certain point had ceased being fruitful.” Now it’s time also for an outgoing ecumenism.

References to the Bible and the Gospel. “Our delegation –Pastor Bernandini went on – was impressed by Pope Francis’ many references to the Bible and the Gospel in particular. They were more than quotations one would expect from a man of the Church. We understood that Pope Francis’ words are nurtured by his daily Biblical readings and reflections.” The Waldensian delegation was then invited to lunch at Saint Martha’s House (Santa Marta) to the presence of Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, and of the bishop of Pinerolo Monsignor Giorgio Debernardi.

“We felt at home”, said Pastor Bernandini. “Santa Marta reminded us of our Waldensian guest houses”, he added.

Has the meeting with the Pope in Rome marked a new step in the dialogue process? “It has – replied the Waldensian pastor – it’s a step that confirms our mutual will to turn a new page, to write a new chapter in our history, and not only for the good of our Churches but also for the mission we are called to fulfil in our Country and worldwide.”

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