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What I Learned By Working With Catholics

I love Alpha, the ministry that introduces people to Jesus without all the trappings of organized religion. They do this with an 10-week Bible study. Alpha asked me to help lead a youth retreat retreat in Isernia, Italy. So a few weeks ago I had the chance to work alongside a group of Cath…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I love Alpha, the ministry that introduces people to Jesus without all the trappings of organized religion. They do this with an 10-week Bible study.

Alpha asked me to help lead a youth retreat retreat in Isernia, Italy. So a few weeks ago I had the chance to work alongside a group of Catholic believers. Isernia is a small town in the mountains a few hours south of Rome.

What I experienced was wonderful. I’ve shared in an earlier blog how Alessandro Sono, the leader of Alpha in Italy, is from the same tiny town in northern Italy where I lived as a boy for three years. He welcomed us to Isernia and the retreat along with some 300 young people from all over Europe.

Italy is a culturally Catholic country. And if you were to characterize America, you might say that we are “Christian,” but the reality is that faith is waning here – our heritage is culturally Christian, but we are losing our way.

So, in terms of our actual practice of faith, we have a lot in common with many western European nations like Italy. And that is why I so enjoyed seeing the way many of the Catholics I met through Alpha practice their faith.

The Pope

The pope is a good example. Though Pope Francis is 85 and reportedly thinking about stepping down, when he heard that so many young people were coming together for the Alpha retreat, he invited us to a private audience at the Vatican.

And what an impressive visit that was – all the artwork and marble, the Swiss guards and protocol officers. But even more impressive was to see Pope Francis’s humility and focus on Christ. Although it seemed to be painful for him just to walk, he shared with us the hope that he has in Jesus:

“Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive! He is in you, he is with you and he never abandons you. However far you may wander, he is always there, the Risen One. He calls you and he waits for you to return to him and start over again. When you feel you are growing old out of sorrow, resentment or fear, doubt or failure, he will always be there to restore your strength and your hope.”

After speaking to us, he took the time to shake everyone’s hand, smiling at them as he did so.

They love Jesus

Just as Pope Francis is not confused about why we follow Jesus, so we worked with many other Catholic leaders who are Spirit-filled believers sold out to Christ and focused on planting his kingdom.

Don Rito is a great example. He notes that Charismatic Catholics have more in common with Charismatic Evangelicals than they do with many nominal Catholics. When he leads worship at his church in Sorrento, he may wear vestments, but he wears tennis shoes underneath. And he has a heart for the people outside the church walls. His dream is to open up a coffee shop next door where the church can minister to the community.

He believes in a God who touches people and heals. When he heard Chris Carlson’s testimony of God’s radical healing, he invited her to share it with the church.

They love Jesus

A big tent

We talk about diversity in America, but Sunday morning is the least diverse time of the week. Not only do we all look similar, we also have thousands of different denominations and churches that struggle to find common cause with the body of Christ in their community.

In contrast, the Catholic church is a very big tent. It makes room for views that are widely divergent.

Yes, we read about scandals in the Catholic church. But evangelical churches seem to have new scandals every day as well. There is ample evidence of the gap between what we say we believe and what we do in every church.

In his last time with his disciples, Jesus prayed for them to be in unity in John 17, “May they all be one.”

Jesus said that it is our unity that will bring nonbelievers to belief. The body of Christ is so much bigger than we realize. In a time in history where Cancel Culture has divided so many, what a radical act it is to embrace as opposed to divide.

Comments (10)

  • Thanks for sharing this story. I listened to it. I always use an audio app to listen to long emails.
    I wish I had been there to experience this in Italy. Maybe one day I will have the chance to visit a so-called Charismatic Catholic church”. My experience in the Catholic church in PR as a child was so, so empty. It was dead. And I grew up listening to my grandmother and other family tell me – ‘que la Virgen Marai te acompane” and they had statues of saints around their house. You know – it was different for me. And now when I do mission trips in PR, I wonder if a person has such a real experience with Jesus, why do they stay in the Catholic church? There are so many things that are not true in the Catholic church…. Oh well, but who am I to judge? It is a never-ending learning experience for me – I am Latino at heart. smiley face here.

  • What a “foretaste” of Rev. 7:9 – God’s people from every nation, every tribe, every peoples, every language standing before the throne and before the Lamb in worship! Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift.

  • Well said Seth, thanks for sharing. And that was a special opportunity you had. I won’t be surprised when I get to heaven to find any of my Catholic friends there as well.

  • Dear Seth,
    Thank you so much for what you wrote.
    It was a great experience of unity also for me.
    I lernt so much from your mentoring dispite for many Catholics it can sound so strange that a priest have to learn from outside what they think the only true Church. As I read in other posts, this is one of our biggest problems: each denomination think to own the Truth instead to search and follow the Truth together, even if from different prospectives and traditions.
    It was so important for me Chris’ testimony from the altar, not only for what she said, but also to teach my congregation to open hears and hearts to the Spirit who comes from the four winds…
    Sometimes we thought unity as uniformity, but as in personal relationships trou love is not when you find something that is your photocopy but when you appreciate, esteem and embrace someone different from you, so I think will be unity in the Church. We have to think different denominations simply as different people who together search and work for the Kingdom of Christ.
    Pope Francis in our meeting quoted Carlo Acutis that wrote: “God doesn’t want photocopies, but people unique”

    Sometimes as churches and denomonations we can have different ideas to how get the Kingdom but we must not forget that we are united in the desidere to get it… or better, to receive and accept in in our lifes freely from God.
    God blees you and all the readers of this post

    • That quote and the life of Carlo Acutis continue to inspire me today. I don’t want to be a photocopy – God made us to be originals. And you are certainly an original, Rito!

  • Excellent! I learned so much from my time with the nuns in Kolkata, who were also Spirit-filled agents of reconciliation. I love your picture!

  • I’m late to the plate in reading this, but glad I finally had a chance to do so.

    I think God is stirring something good up in the Catholic church to perhaps bring revival. The last year or two I’ve had a number of friends find God there. I even have an evangelical pastor friend who once had one of the largest churches in America now quietly attending a Catholic church in his neighborhood because the hunger he finds there is so genuine. They are allowing him to teach at times too.

    Not sure what God is up to, but perhaps He is leading the Catholic church as well to embrace Acutis’s call to not be a photocopy, but be unique as Holy Spirit leads.

  • Thank you Seth for everything you shared with us, thank God who put us on the same path, our community will never forget the gift they received that week. And it is here ready to welcome you again. Ps.un appassionato di “Men’s Retreat”, good walk.

  • Wonderful article Seth. I couldn’t agree with you more about the Roman Catholic Church. I’ve learned many powerful and influential things about following Christ while serving with Roman Catholics abroad. From the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata to the Basilica in La Union Guatemala, I have developed a deep respect for our sisters and brothers in the RC denomination.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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