“Warm, personable and full of joy.” That was Joel Osteen’s description of Pope Francis, after meeting with him at the Vatican on June 5, part of a visit to promote interfaith understanding and ecumenical prayer.
According to the Deseret News, Osteen was part of a delegation organized by The International Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to world-wide development.
The delegation included political and religious leaders from the United States including Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), former U.S. Interior Secretary Dick Kempthorne, pastor and author Tim Timmons from Newport Beach, and Westmont College president Gayle D. Beebe. Their meeting was cut short, Osteen reported, because a Cardinal had died that morning. (He was speaking, no doubt, of the funeral for Indian Cardinal Simon Lourdusamy, former prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Oriental Churches and former Archbishop of Bangalore, whose funeral was held in St. Peter’s Basilica June 6.)
Osteen was, according to the Houston Chronicle, representing the pastors of America at the meeting. In remarks on Friday, June 6, Osteen said of Pope Francis:
“I like the fact that he’s trying to make the church larger, not smaller. He’s not pushing people out but making the church more inclusive. That resonated with me.”
Osteen also reported that Pope Francis had asked the delegation to pray for him, and to pray for peace in the Middle East.
The day before the meeting with the pope, Osteen had attended Mass with the Holy Father with 100,000 pilgrims gathered in the heat in St. Peter’s Square. Osteen reflected on that experience,
“Afterward, (the pope) spent an hour and a half going through the crowd with the Popemobile, greeting people. It was very heartwarming to see him caring for people.”
Osteen told the Houston Chronicle that he met the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and had dinner with another cardinal in a stone house on the Vatican grounds. The small structure with magnificently painted ceilings served as the pope’s home 600 years ago, he said.
During the busy week, the 15-member group also had the opportunity to tour the Vatican and attended the Convocation of Renewal at Olympic Stadium in Rome, where more than 50,000 charismatic Roman Catholics had prayed for the pope as he knelt on the ground.
According to a Westmont College statement, the pope had
“…invited the Protestant leaders to discuss the question: “Can we find common ground in order to advance the life and ministry of Jesus so more people can experience the joy of Christian faith?”
And Westmont’s President Beebe, in his own reflection on the meeting at the Olympic Stadium, wrote,
My whole adult life has been devoted to advancing the purposes of God in the world, but nothing could adequately prepare me for what I experienced.
Recently, Pope Francis has clearly stated that he wants to invite Christians everywhere to seek unity in Christ. His recent trip to the Holy Land included a visit with Bartholomew, patriarch of the Orthodox Church. Why does he desire to dissolve the long factions dating back hundreds of centuries? He believes that our post-Christian world has developed not simply indifference to Christianity but outright hostility, which corrodes the life-giving power of the Gospel. If we are to combat it, we will have to learn how to work together.
Of course, this appeal is not new. Catholics and Protestants in America have been working together for decades. But the desire that we do so as equals and not as adversaries is new.
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A CLARIFICATION: The June 5 assemblage of 100,000 faithful in St. Peter’s Square, described by Mr. Osteen in the Houston Chronicle as a Mass, was actually the Wednesday General Audience.