Un ecumenist penticostal la adunarea pontificală pentru pace de la Assisi (Oct. 27)

Pentru prima dată în istorie, la 27 August 1986, Papa John Paul II a chemat reprezentanți ai tuturor religiilor lumii să se roage pentru pace la biserica Sf. Francis de Assisi în Italia. Anul acesta (Octombre 27, 2011) evenimentul marcat de Papa Benedict XIV celebrează împlinirea a 25 de ani de la această premieră.

Rugăciunea Sf. Francis de Assisi:

 Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Următoarea narațiune a paricipării la acest eveniment a fost trimisă într-un email de Profesor Dr. Cecil M. Robeck Jr. familiei și prietenilor. Când i-am cerut permisiunea să o fac publică mi-a spus că este surpins câți prieteni i-au cerut acest lucru și a dat-o cu plăcere. Remarcați că mesajul nu a fost intenționat original pentru o audiență publică, de aici unele detalii de culise.

Mesajul de la Dr. Robeck:

Dear Friends and Family,

You are now receiving a long email from me. I know, this is par for the course from me, but I hope that you take the time to read it. This has been an incredible week for me. I have much to think about in coming weeks, and could use your prayers.

I have just completed two days of official business with Pope Benedict XVI and 300 of his guests. The reason for this visit to Rome and Assisi was to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 1986 event to which Pope John Paul II called world religious leaders together to pray for world peace. It was an interreligious event, with nearly equal representation from Christian and non-Christian delegates. John Paul II held a second such event in 2002 and I was privileged to participate in that one. The event this week, called by Pope Benedict, was the third such event, and it marked not only the 25th anniversary of the first one, but a recommitment of the Vatican to work both with other Christians and with other world religious leaders in the fields of justice and peace. A wide range of religions were present, including but not limited to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Shintos , Taoists, Yoruba, etc. It was a very colorful affair. The plumage was everywhere. I can assure you that regardless of the fact that the event was interreligious in flavor, there was not a hint of compromise or of syncretism in the meeting.

The weather was perfect for our work together, especially since some of it was done outside. I received my invitation to attend, this past May. On Thursday, October 27, 2011, 300 of us who were invited by Pope Benedict, were picked up from our various hotels at 6:30 AM and taken to the Vatican’s private railway station, where we boarded our assigned cars. Our buses were given a full scale police escort through the city of Rome, around traffic with sirens and lights, often flying down the wrong side of the streets while people on their way to work were required to stop. Once the Pope arrived, we took the nearly two hour ride north to Assisi. It is a clear sign that the old Christendom is not yet dead. In any case, the ride to Assisi was very nice.

Along the trip, the service crew served us coffee and cookies. The Italian railroad company gave each of us a specially engraved, silver bookmark as a souvenir of the trip. There was less attention to our train along the way than there was in January 2002. I suspect that there were a couple of reasons for this. In January 2002, we were only three months after 9/11. The world was looking for signs of peace. It was also the case that John Paul II was a very popular pope, much more so than Benedict XVI. In 2002, helicopters, with military personnel holding weapons through open doors, accompanied our train from beginning to end, flying from 25 to 50 feet above us, moving from side to side across the train as we went. This time, there was no such protection provided. In 2002, the tracks were lined with people for mile after mile. This time, while there were many people along the way, the crowds were fewer and further between. The train was slowed through three small towns, where literally thousands of people came to the station to wave at us, posting signs, and waving papal flags. All the school age kids were there just to get a glimpse of the Pope. To witness their love, their hope, and their loyalty to him is really remarkable. I cannot imagine another person on earth getting that kind of attention, though the Ecumenical Patriarch draws some pretty spectacular crowds as well.

The 300 participants were separated upon arrival in Assisi. I had been given a red ID pass, which made me one of 80 people selected to sit on the platform with His Holiness. Those of us on the platform were selected as “heads of delegations”. Since I was the only Pentecostal to attend, it was my honor to be so selected. I am very much aware that for 25 years I have simply served as a place holder until such a time as some Pentecostal leader takes it upon himself to take the risk to attend one of these kinds of ecumenical functions.

In any case, when we left the train, we walked only a short distance to a set of buses that took us to the Basilica di Santa Maria di Angeli. We disembarked, and walked a block up a walkway lined on both sides by barricades and hundreds of people. The police and Vatican security were very much present. Some were dressed as monks in habits. Others were in military uniforms. Still others came in business suits with backpacks. Upon our arrival, those delegates not among the 80 were seated before us. As the 80 selected to sit on the platform entered the basilica, the Pope stood at the doorway and greeted each one of us, shaking our hands before we processed down the aisle of waiting participants and guests. That was the only opportunity that I would have to say anything to him. I thanked him for his invitation and wished him well.

It is obvious that Pope Benedict is not well. I met him in July this year and he was quite vital. He was but a shadow of himself yesterday morning, very weak, and I am sure, very much in need of rest. He hardly responded to me when we spoke, even though it was only the beginning of the day. On Friday, Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the WCC and I were talking with Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Olav mentioned how frail Benedict looks, and Brian, who normally would not engage in conversation about papal health even in John Paul’s last days, volunteered that the Vatican is quite concerned with the rapid decline in Benedict’s health.

In any case, we made our ways to our appropriately assigned platform seats. As John Paul did in 2002, the Christians were seated on the right of the Pope, while the non-Christians, representatives of various world religions, sat on his left. The rest of the delegates, who had been bussed away immediately, sat in the main sanctuary where they were joined by several hundred others. For the next 90 minutes or so, we listened to a number of 5 minute speeches by perhaps a dozen speakers, interspersed with some beautiful instrumental selections. Our time concluded with Benedict giving a short address, perhaps 15 minutes in length. We then moved back into buses and were driven up into Assisi proper, this time to the Lower Piazza di San Francesco. The sky was now blue, and it was beautiful outside.

Once again, a crowd, including the other participants was already seated, and we processed to the platform, taking the same assigned seats. I had Jeff Tunnicliff, General Secretary of the World Evangelical Alliance on my left, and an empty seat to my right. In this gathering, Pope Benedict made a very short welcome speech, and we were treated to an international group of young people who sang for us. There were another dozen or so short speeches, outlining what our commitments were for praying and acting for peace and justice in the world. There were short musical interludes, and a very nice closing with more music from the young people. They gave us lamps that were lit, which we held while people exchanged a sign of peace with one another. We then gave them back to the young people and they left the platform. At the end of our time, white doves were released by some of the local Franciscans, though half of them didn’t want to fly anywhere.

We were then escorted to a large refectory. I was flabbergasted when I found that I had been given one of seven seats at the head table. The table itself had one seat on each end, with five leaders on the long side. I sat on one end of the table, at 90 degrees from the five. On my right was the Patriarch Anastas of Albania. Moving down the table, it was Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, His Holiness Benedict XVI, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, and Metropolitan Aleksandr of Kazakstan, representing the Russian Patriarchate, and on the end opposite to me was Norvan Zacharyan, Primate Archbishop of the Armenian Diocese in France. I have only one expectation for my “accidental” placement at this table. I would call it a manifestation of the Lord’s grace! There is no other way to say it. So, I spent much of the time talking with Patriach Ananstas and a bit less time talking with Rowan Williams as well.

Following lunch, the 80 of us followed Pope Benedict on a walk of about two blocks, to a convent, where each of us was given a key to a room and asked to go there and pray and think about our place in bringing about peace and justice in the world. For me that was a rich quiet time, in which I read a number of Psalms having to do with peace or justice. Suddenly, however, my quiet was shattered by a telephone call that told me to get downstairs quickly, since it was time to move on. I joined the Pope and the 80 others for another block-long walk down a crowd-lined street, where we were met by buses that took us, once again, to the train station and the trip back to Rome. I arrived at my hotel about 9 PM, ate dinner, and went immediately to sleep. It was an exhausting end to an exhausting day.

On Friday morning, I went to breakfast at 9 AM, where I was given three gifts form Pope Benedict. One is a silver bell, which features a globe at the top of the bell proper, with a curlicue standing up, and a dove flying over the globe. It was made especially to commemorate the Assisi event, and it is labeled the “Peace Bell”. It would function as a nice “call to dinner bell” in a civilized household. The second item is a lamp like the one we were given in Assisi. It is glass, has a wick, and would obviously hold some kind of liquid fuel. The third gift is an absolutely beautiful book published specifically for the occasion. It has a nice snap clasp, and two copper plates in relief are on the front cover, one with the date and the name of the event, the other with a picture of a number of probably Franciscan priests standing below a scene from Assisi. It is quite beautiful. The book gives a history of the Assisi events in 1986 and 2002. It may weigh as much as 8 lbs. All of these gifts created a luggage problem for me!

On Friday, we left the hotel at 10 AM, once again by bus. Once again, we were given a police motorcycle escort to the Vatican, sirens screaming, and lights flashing. I sat at the front of the bus, so I was able to watch these motorcycle policemen do their thing. They really live on the edge, working in tandem with one another, weaving their way, sometimes at high speed, and then suddenly stopping altogether, racing through traffic jams, pushing people to the side, running red lights, stopping cars in their tracks, driving us down the wrong side of the street for blocks on end because of frustrating morning traffic jams. They are incredibly impressive, but they must live on adrenalin. I certainly would.

We arrived through the back gate of the Vatican, and slowly made our way through a series of courtyards to the main internal entrance. After walking up three flights of stairs, we were ushered into a large and beautifully painted decorated room. Seating was as it had been in Assisi, so once again, I was situated at the front of the room and to the right of Pope Benedict. He came into the room from a side door and took his seat at the front of the room, and gave a simple speech of 5 or 6 minutes, thanking all of us for coming to the event in Assisi and telling us how significant he thought it was. He then announced that he wanted to give each of us a gift, and he shook hands with those of us who were in the front. The rest of the 300 received the gift, but he left the room as soon as he had shaken hands with those of us who were in the front. The gift is a beautiful silver medallion struck for the occasion. It is actually a Vatican issued, 5 Euro coin, but it is highly polished and it has a plastic ring around it to protect it from fingerprints!

At the end of the meeting, we were shuffled out once again, down the three flights of stairs, back outside, and we made our way around the back and to the other side of St. Peter’s Basilica to the Paul VI Auditorium. I believe that it was built at the beginning of Pope John Paul’s tenure as pope. It has typically been used by the Pope for General Audiences, where a large number of the public can attend. I don’t know how many people it will seat, but I would guess about 3000. It may hold more. In any case, the foyer was sufficient to handle a luncheon of about 500 people at large tables, with a Cardinal or a series of bishops assigned to each table. If I was shocked on Thursday because I was invited to sit at the head table, I was flabbergasted on Friday to have the invitation repeated!

The table was formally set with fine china, three forks, two knives, three wine glasses of varying types (don’t ask me what that is all about because I don’t know), and a glass for water. The servers were all professional. We had a four course lunch. It was very nice, although being Friday, it was fish. We had salmon on the first plate along with a type of green that I have seen and eaten before, but could not name, and some small rolls. The second course was kind of pasta dish with a small portion of eggplant on top. The third course was some kind of white fish with small potatoes that had been quartered and browned in an oven, with butter, and a batch of broccoli that was waaaay over-cooked. For dessert, we had vanilla ice cream with pieces of meringue in it, with a raspberry sauce and a sprinkling of chocolate on the side.

The seven of us at the head table sat in the same positions we had the day before, but we now sat in a line. Thus, my seat now sat beside that of Patriarch Anastas instead of around the corner at that table. “Come on, Professor, take your seat,” he said in a loud and welcoming voice. So, somewhat embarrassed, I did. The only difference in the seating lineup was that Pope Benedict did not attend the luncheon. Instead, the Vatican had Cardinal Bertone, their Secretary of State, host the meal, and he sat at the central seat. Added to both sides of the head table were two smaller tables each with four seats. I should have made a note as to who was at these tables, but I was only able to remember that Rabbi David Meier was at the table on the far side. He is the International Director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, and he represented the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

Around the corner from me and to my left sat a Hindu named Rajmohan Gandhi. He is the head of an organization that works on interreligious issues. He told me that he was present at the 1986 gathering that John Paul II had held in Assisi. To his left sat Olav Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches.

I was occupied with Patriarch Anastas for much of the luncheon, with occasional conversation with Professor Gandhi and with Rowan Williams. I asked the Patriarch whether he had been a monk, and the answer is that he has not. He did his academic training in world religions and went immediately into academic life. His choice not to marry allowed him not only to became a priest (Orthodox priests are free to marry before their ordination), and was ultimately given the Patriarchate of Albania (something that a married priest would be barred from doing) at the time of the transition from communism in Albania.

I asked him how he spends an average day. He told me that it is hard to define average since there have been so many changes. In any case, he said that he spends about 3 hours in Bible reading, prayer and liturgy each morning. He finds that he has to do a great deal of administration. He has restored scores of churches and has built 150 new ones since he went to Albania. He told me that because so many people stumble at the cross and the resurrection of Jesus (he cited Paul’s Mars Hill experience in Acts as an example), he has chosen to name many of the churches including the words cross or resurrection. His sense is that he wants people to understand that this is the only way to God, and that the cross and resurrection are critical in providing hope to the people. The churches have seen thousands of converts under his leadership, and he has a very high commitment to personal evangelism. He told me that he spends a good time writing as well, and attending to pastoral commitments. He asked me a number of questions about various aspects of Pentecostalism as well.

As for Mr. Gandhi, it turns out that he is the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. He told me so. He and Olav talked a lot about human rights, in what ways or to what extent government should be expected to guarantee them, and in what ways human rights should be on the agenda of the World Council of Churches and other Christian organizations. The most interesting thing I heard in the conversation came from Professor Gandhi’s comment that human rights must begin with the individual and not with government. Even if governments are abusive within the arena of human rights, every human being has the ability to grant human rights to another person. I thought that was a very interesting piece of insight. It is an obvious position for Christians to take (The Golden Rule) but I don’t think I have ever heard it expressed in quite this way.

Before we sat down to lunch, I had the opportunity to meet the new President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, who posed with me for a photograph. He is the head of the office with which I most frequently interact. He was as pleased to meet me as I was to meet him, and he informed me that he thought the dialogue of which I am co-chair was both very interesting and very important.

At the end of our luncheon, we were dismissed by Cardinal Bertone. We exchanged greetings with one another, and Cardinal Koch sought me out to tell me how pleased he was that I had come. My bus returned to the hotel, once again led by the police escort. We arrived at the hotel about 3:30 PM, and I spent time doing emails.

At 6 PM, about 10 of us were picked up in a small van, and taken to the St. Egedio Community for prayers and for dinner. The St. Egidio Community numbers about 8000 members in Rome, spread throughout the city in about 40 locations. They hold evening prayers in all of these locations, including three churches. We were first taken to one of their churches, that of St. Bartholomew. It sits on a small island in the middle of the Tiber River. We had a tour of the church, which is dedicated to Christian the modern martyrs of all faith traditions. It is a beautiful church, constructed by Franciscans. It was a place for treating lepers and it was a place where Italian Christians hid about 300 Jews during the Nazi occupation.

Each night, this church hosts a prayer service at 8 PM with several hundred young people, mostly teenagers and college students. They have six niches or what were probably small chapels originally that are now dedicated to (1) martyrs under the various communist regimes, (2) the martyrs of North, Central, and South America, (3) the martyrs of Africa and Madagascar, (4) the martyrs of Spain and Mexico, (5) the martyrs of the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, (6) and the martyrs who died during the Nazi occupation of Europe, In addition, they have a beautiful and bright 4 foot by 6 foot icon just above the main altar, depicting the martyrs of the 20th Century. Pope John Paul II blessed the icon in 2002 and dedicated the church to the modern martyrs. The artist who painted the icon explained each section of it to us. We were given small books describing the church as well as a couple of other pieces of information. She autographed mine.

Following a tour of the archaeological digs that have taken place below the church (It was built on a former temple dedicated to Aesclepius, the god of health and healing.), we made our way to another church, the Church of Santa Maria of Travestere. There, about 600 people were present for prayers between 8 and 9 PM, 90% of whom are members of the St. Egidio Community. This is a daily feature in their community. Many of these people are professional people who donate their time to the community to work on issues related to the poor and to the quest for world peace. The service was very nice, with sung prayers, sung Psalms, and with a homily on the peace that Jesus alone offers to the world (John 14).

Following the service, we were taken to the “home” of the St. Egidio Community. It is a building that they own, and use for hosting discussions and dinners such as the one we attended as their guests. They were the ones who brokered the peace deal between Madagascar’s Communist government and the guerilla’s during the early 1980s. It took them six months to get the two sides to the table, at which we dined, but the peace was established. They planted themselves firmly into the peace process, largely because two of their number were martyred during that war and they thought they should do something tangible to stop it. Since that time they have brokered talks which include people like President Bush, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gadhafi, and many others. They were also involved in the Sarajevo talks in the Balkans.

For me to sit in that room and be served dinner by members of that community (my second time there), was another honor. They served us prosciutto, stuffed tomato, and cheese in the first course. The second course was a pasta dish, a small, round, and delicious lasagna-like pasta perhaps 3 inches across and an inch high. The third course included spinach and a rolled meat dish that was formed from pork loin, ham, egg, and some kind of vegetable. It doesn’t sound especially good, but it was quite tasty. After that, we were given a small serving of some kind of pudding. Finally, we ended with platters of fresh fruit – oranges, strawberries, and grapes.

As we left the community, we were given a book of daily readings for the year that written by their community. We were also given a large bronze medallion (3 inches in diameter and perhaps 3/8 of an inch thick, featuring St. Egidio on the front side, with the dates 1968-2008. The community was formed in 1968. On the back side are the words Community of Saint Egidio around the edge, and a relief of a church entrance.

Today, I flew from Rome to Amsterdam, and then on to Riga, Latvia, where tonight, I am holed up in a newly renovated hotel. Tomorrow is Sunday, and I am looking forward to observing a Sabbath rest, with plenty of time to reflect on the events of this week.

When we followed the call of the Lord into ministry in the late 60s and early 70s, Patsy will agree with me that we had no sense that our world would become anything like what is has become for us. When the Lord gave me a vision of him, with a very clear request that I speak about ecumenism in my presidential address to the Society for Pentecostal Studies, I never dreamed that it would begin a ministry in the ecumenical world that has lasted nearly 30 years. And in my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined the ways the Lord has led me down this ecumenical path. I wasn’t and still am not smart enough to have plotted this path for myself. One of the things that I take great pleasure in, is the knowledge that in all these years of ecumenical work, I have never taken the initiative to pursue something that would seem to enhance my career. I simply stand in amazement at the wonderful privileges that the lord has given to me. I hope and pray that He will continue to use me in the process of opening up Pentecostal, Evangelical, Protestant, Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox believers to one another, and that in the end, I will be found faithful to the call. I am also extremely grateful to Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, to our pastor, Phil Hilliard, and especially to my wife, Patsy and our four sons, Jason, John Mark, Peter, and Nathan, for believing in my call, and supporting me in so many, many ways. Tonight as I sit alone in a hotel in Riga, Latvia, I am overwhelmed by the Lord’s grace to me. His grace in my life has been nothing less than stunning thus far, and I am incredibly grateful for it.



  1. DanutM

    Reblogged this on Persona and commented:
    Mel Robeck, un ecumenist penticostal cu care m-am intilnit recent la reuniunea evanghelic-ortodoxa din Albania, a participat si la intilnirea papei Francisc cu penticostalii din Italia. Iata aici relaterea intilnirii.

  2. Pingback: ”Un ecumenist penticostal la adunarea pontificală pentru pace de la Assisi (Oct. 27)” | Aradul Evanghelic

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