Pope Francis asked forgiveness on Monday for the Roman Catholic Church’s “non-Christian and inhumane” treatment in the past of the Waldensians, a tiny Protestant movement the Vatican tried to exterminate in the 15th century. He also spoke about diaconia as a source of Christian unity.
Francis made his plea during the first ever visit by a pope to a Waldensian temple on the second day of a trip to Italy’s northern Piedmont region, the center of the Waldensian Church, which has only about 30,000 followers worldwide.
While the movement is minuscule compared to the 1.2 billion member Roman Catholic Church, the gesture is part of Francis’ drive to promote Christian unity and it has taken on added significance ahead of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017.
“On behalf of the Catholic Church, I ask forgiveness for the un-Christian and even inhumane positions and actions taken against you historically,” he said. “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us!”
Both the Moderator of the Union of Waldensian and Methodist Churches in Italy, Pastor Eugenio Bernardini and Pope Francis noted that for some time in Italy Catholics and Protestants have been working together fruitfully in assisting the fragile and the marginalised in our society. They added that still today, working together on social problems brings the two faith traditions closer together. In his speech, Pope Francis stressed: “Another realm in which we can work increasingly united is that of service to suffering humanity, to the poor, the sick and migrants. Stemming from the liberating work of grace in each one of us is the need to witness the merciful face of God who takes care of all and, in particular, those who are in need. The choice of the poor, of the least, of those that society excludes, bring us closer to the very heart of God, who made himself poor to enrich us with his poverty (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9), and, consequently, brings us closer to one another.”