Pope Francis met on Monday with members of the Waldensian movement, an ecclesial community which suffered persecution from Catholic authorities from the 12th to 17th centuries. He apologized for the Church’s “non-Christian attitudes and behavior” towards the Waldensians during that period.
“Reflecting on the history of our relations, we can only grieve in the face of strife and violence committed in the name of faith, and ask the Lord to give us us the grace to recognize we are all sinners, and to know how to forgive one another,” the Pope said June 22 at a Waldensian temple in Turin.
“I ask forgiveness for the non-Christian – even inhuman – attitudes and behaviors which, through history, we have had against you. In Jesus Christ’s name, forgive us!”
Monday’s encounter marks the first meeting between a Pope and the Waldensian community. Founded in Lyon in the late twelfth century, it is currently centered in Italy’s Piedmont region, which Pope Francis visited June 21-22.
The movement was founded by Peter Waldo, and embraced evangelical poverty and lay preaching, and believed there were only two sacraments. The movement’s ideas were condemned as early as the Third Lateran Council, in 1179. Beginning in the early 1200s, many Waldensians were executed on account of heresy.
One of the largest killings took place in 1545, during which soldiers killed scores of Waldensians in the French city of Mérindol, although the extent of casualties is disputed by historians.
Currently consisting of tens of thousands of members, the Waldensian community is headquartered in the Piedmont region, of which Turin is the capital.
Pope Francis told the community, “On behalf of the Catholic Church, I ask for your forgiveness.”
During the meeting, the Roman Pontiff praised ecumenical advancements which have been made among those united in baptism and belief in Christ.
“This tie is not based on simple human criteria, but on the radical sharing of founding experience of Christian life: the encounter with the love of God who reveals to us Jesus, and the transformative action of the Holy Spirit who helps us on life’s journey.”
Pope Francis noted that this communion “is still on a journey, which, with prayer, with continual personal and communal conversion, and with the help of the theologians, we hope, trusting in the action of the Holy Spirit, can become full and visible communion in truth and charity.”
He added that unity, as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, is not the same as uniformity.
“In fact, our brethren are united by a common origin but are not identical to one another.”
The Holy Father cited the scriptures, which speak of different charisms and gifts.
However, wars often break out when these do not accept these differences of others, he said.
Pope Francis thanked God that the relationship between Catholics and Waldensians continue today to be ever more rooted in “mutual respect and fraternal charity.”
The Pope said he is also encouraged by the various ecumenical steps that have been taken between the Church and the Waldensians, and reiterated the call to continue forward together.
There are various areas where the Church and the Waldensians could work together, he said, one being evangelization.
Another field of collaboration is working with those who suffer: the poor, the sick, and migrants, he added.
“The differences on important anthropological and ethical questions, which continue to exist between Catholics and the Waldensians, do not prevent us from finding ways of collaborating in these and other fields. If we walk together, the Lord helps us live this communion which preexists every conflict.”
Pope Francis concluded by saying a“new way of unity begins with seeing the “grandeur of our shared faith and life in Christ and the Holy Spirit,” before taking into account the differences which exist.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the Waldensian community gifted Pope Francis with a copy of the first Bible translated into French, dating from the 16th century.