Greater Phoenix and Arizona Catholic/Evangelical Bridges

Greater Phoenix and Arizona Catholic/Evangelical Bridges
Presented during Movement Day NYC
October 20, 2016

Personal Background

For decades I have been passionately engaged in bridge-building and collaboration in Phoenix and Arizona. My personal pilgrimage is based on an essential understanding of the gospel as St. Paul expresses it in the context of division in the church in Corinth: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Simply stated, this is Jesus plus nothing. He died not only to reconcile us to God, but to one another, and those two outcomes of the Cross are inseparable.

St. Paul writes, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2:14-16).

As Pope Francis stated recently in a meeting which I was privileged to attend, “We must make Jesus Christ our center, not the church.” We have our differences, but if we share faith in Christ, we can’t allow our distinctives to become reasons for division.

Events and Activities

Late 1990s. I preached a series of messages on what Evangelicals can learn from Catholics and what Catholics can learn from each other. Perhaps half of the people in my congregation were from a Catholic background. (I never called them “former” Catholics.) Most of their families were divided: Catholic family members were offended and angry their loved ones were no longer attending mass, and Catholic-background folks in my congregation wanted their Catholic family members to be “born-again.”

For my message on what we can learn from Catholics, I invited the local monsignor to do a video for us to answer the question. After the service, my wife said, “I want to go to his church.”

My purpose in this teaching series was to bring down the dividing walls of misunderstanding and hostility. As my dear friend in Phoenix, Auxiliary Bishop E. Nevares loves to say, “Can we just pray together?”

2000. We formed an interconfessional team (Catholics, Mainline, Evangelicals) to plan and implement a citywide celebration of the 2000-year history of Christianity. About 35,000 attended the event at our baseball stadium. I served on the planning team, which met at the diocesan center.

2010. Our new Phoenix Bishop Olmstead asked me and another friend to present him with a list of a dozen or so key evangelical pastors and leaders which the Bishop invited to a luncheon at the Diocesan Center. He told us that mainline churches have a point person, as do the Mormons. (We have three Mormon temples in Phoenix.) But no one person speaks for Evangelicals. The meeting was a first for many, maybe most of the people in room. The bishop’s purpose was to call us together around our shared concerns about religious liberty, life, and family and he shared his remarkable faith journey.

2013-Present. I’ve been told that, at the time or our lunch meeting with Bishop Olmstead, he was more interested in shared activism than in deep and personal fellowship. That changed dramatically three years ago. A dear friend and colleague, Joe Tosini, who has residences in Phoenix and Long Island, reconnected with his Italian friends Giovanni Traettino, a Pentecostal pastor, and Mateo Calisi, appointed by St. John Paul II to lead the Charismatic Movement in the Catholic Church. (It’s estimated that there are 150 million Catholics who have had a deep personal experience with the Holy Spirit.)

For a decade or more, Giovanni and Matteo have been leading Catholic/Evangelical reconciliation meetings around the globe, perhaps most notably in Latin America, where Giovanni became personal friends with Cardinal Bergoglio, who became Pope Francis. Early in 2014, these two Italian brothers, at Joe Tosini’s invitation, visited Phoenix, where we held several small reconciliation meetings and launched our John 17 Movement (www.john17movement.com). Pope Francis sent us a personal letter encouraging our unity efforts, and both Bishops Olmstead and Nevares participated in all those meetings. When I expressed my deep gratitude to Bishop O, he replied, “It’s providential I’m here. I was supposed to be Rome this week, but those meetings were cancelled!”

Subsequently, we’ve held multiple John 17 worship and prayer events, as well as leadership luncheons. Most notably, we had a grand event a year ago May on Pentecost Sunday at the Phoenix Convention Center. Again, both Bishops spoke, over 2000 attended, and Pope Francis sent us a personal video greeting.

Our J17 leadership has decided that our only mission is to bring Christians together in worship and prayer, believing that our unity efforts will be a significant factor in building kingdom collaborations for the good of our city and state. Direct and indirect outcomes of our J17 Movement include:

  • AZ127 (www.az127.com), based on James 1:27, is a local church and parish movement to reduce significantly the number of foster children in our state system by getting kids into Christian homes. In the last couple years, AZ127 has place more children in foster care homes than all the other agencies of the state combined. The movement was initially formed and led by three evangelical megachurches, but in the last year, Paul Mulligan, President of Phoenix Catholic Charities, “translated” the AZ127 content into Catholic language, and the diocese has adopted AZ127 as a model for families in their parishes to open their homes to foster kids.
  • For the last eighteen months I’ve been serving as the Phoenix Mobilizer for American Bible Society’s 6-city scripture engagement campaign. Bishop Olmstead has given me his full blessing to spearhead a decade-long Bible engagement movement for the Diocese of Phoenix. Key Catholic priests and parish leaders have come together to develop and implement a plan.
  • The Arizona director of Alpha (http://alphausa.org/), Jad Levi, who also serves on our John 17 Movement advisory team, has had remarkable favor with the diocese. In the next six months, about two dozen of the 93 parishes in the diocese will be launching Alpha as a part of the the New Evangelization to bring Catholics and their friends into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. The website of the USCCB states, “The focus of the New Evangelization calls all Catholics to be evangelized and then go forth to evangelize” (http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/new-evangelization/).
  • Our John 17 Movement has sprouted in NYC, where we held an advent worship event last fall, and in Houston, where the cardinal, bishops, priests and Protestant pastors have been gathering for fellowship and prayer.
  • On June 10, at the invitation of the Vatican, seven prominent evangelical pastors from Phoenix and many others from Portland, Salem, LA, Denver, NYC and Richmond spent two hours with Pope Francis. We worshipped, prayed, and asked him prepared questions. He’s invited us back for similar meetings.
  • Some years ago I launched a fellowship of the pastors of the largest churches in Phoenix. We/they have been meeting regularly now for ore than 10 years. Bill Hybels met with them two years ago and told them he had never seen that level of friendship and collaboration among influential pastor in any city in North America. This week they are gathering for their eighty annual summit. Several of these pastors were with us in Rome and have invited Joe Tosini to the retreat to talk about our extraordinary movement.

We are living in a new day.

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