Friday, 13 April 2018

Greetings from Marco Reale

I would like to thank Past Paolo Castellina for the opportunity to contribute to this blog. I must also apologize for not having written before. 

By way of introduction..

My name is Marco Reale. I am an Italian believer from Palermo,Sicily. I moved to the United Kingdom in 1987 and  I have lived in this country - Bedford - for the last thirty years.I am married to a wonderful Anglo-Italian (Lombardy) believer, Mariella. We spent our honeymoon in the Waldensian Valleys and wanted to serve the Lord as missionaries in the Valleys or eslewhere in Italy. The Lord did not give us any opening, yet Italy is still in our hearts. We have four children from age 20 to 15.
We attend Alconbury Independent Baptist Church,Little Stukeley near Huntingdon and I currently work for the Protestant Alliance as Administrative Secretary and itinerant speaker.

I was converted in my teens when I lived in Palermo where my parents served as missionaries and worked in one of the mafia ruled area of the town. That was in the period called by the press "The Second Mafia War". 

My father had been converted in Corsica, whilst he was in a military hospital for soldiers of the French Foreign Legion. My mother was converted in Genoa where she was living after the 1968 earthquake and had been deserted by my father who joined the FFL...

My parents reconciled in 1970's and we begun attending the Waldensian Church linked with the Waldensian Institute. Our pastor was Pietro Valdo Panascia. My parents came both from  strong, traditionalist Roman Catholic families. A bishop, an abbott and saint...were part of the family.

My father, Francesco, had his own business and he was able to be involved in the church as a deacon and in the school as volunteer teacher in electronics. My mother , Luciana, begun teaching Religious Education, to the few hundred students at the Waldensian Institute.

However, they were not happy with the liberal theology and political agenda which was influencing more and more the life of the church. I remembered one particular incident as our Sunday School teacher started to explain to the class the conflict of classes and the importance of Carl Marx. I rose up and asked to be excused. When the teacher asked why I wanted lo leave the class, I replied: "I was sent here to learn about Jesus not about Carl Marx". I rejoined my parents in the main service.

Dad and Mom became missionaries - living by faith (namely no mission board supporting them) - in 1977. They were involved in radio ministry (founded Radio Logos Ribera and Radio Buona Notizia, Palermo).

Our church "Grazia & Verita'" (Grace & Truth) was an Independent Reformed Baptist Church serving in a very troubled part of the town. The preaching of the Gospel was also complemented by helping the poor, clothing and feeding people. 

I studied Classics at the liceo-ginnasio "Vittorio Emanuele II" (formerly the oldest Jesuit college of Sicily founded in 1549) and my RE teacher was Fr Giuseppe Puglisi, who, later on, would be  murdered by the Mafia and beatified by Pope Francis in 2013.  I am probably the only Protestant who had a 'Saint' as a teacher.

To be a Christian has not been always easy in my homeland, particularly in the days of the Second Mafia War, but the Lord was merciful and upheld us. This little piece is meant to be a kind of introduction about myself and my background.  I wish to be able to contribute more to encourage you to pray for the work of the Gospel in my two beloved countries: Italy and Great Britain.











Saturday, 1 July 2017

"Pray for me" - A reflection by Leonardo de Chirico

“Pray for Me”

July 1st, 2017

In our fragmented and violent world, peaceful and respectful relationships between people of different religions can be crucially important. Such relationships can help us avoid tragedies of religious extremism, such as terrorists attacking their neighbors or political authorities mistreating religious minorities. Pope Francis is working hard to establish and maintain friendly relationships with peoples of all religions, Muslims in particular. In his 2013 programmatic document, he wrote that “interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christians as well as other religious communities” (The Joy of the Gospel, 250). His relentless encouragement for mutual listening and even cooperation is a clear indication that this is one of the top priorities of the pontificate.

More than Friendships


But there is another side of the coin. Based on Pope Francis’ words and his inter-faith activities and dealings, it is evident that something more is at stake than an attempt at fostering peace and freedom in our world. In a video released in 2016, the Pope appeared with several religious leaders. One after another, each leader affirmed his or her beliefs in a celebration of religious pluralism and fraternity. At the end of the video the Pope concluded by arguing that “there is only one certainty we have for all: we are all children of God”. The message could have hardly been clearer. “We are all children of God” sounded like an endorsement for a pluralistic religion whereby all different theologies and worldviews are legitimate and truthful ways to live out one’s own faith, with the Pope of the Roman Church ultimately endorsing their validity.

For those Christians who are committed to the words of Jesus as the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6) and the words of the apostles according to whom there is no other name (i.e. Jesus Christ) by which men can be saved (Acts 4:12), Pope Francis’ statement that “we are all children of God” was puzzling and perplexing to say the least.

“Pray for Me”

A new and surprising instance of the Pope’s inter-faith theology came more recently. While meeting a delegation of Muslim leaders from Great Britain (April 5th, 2017), and after praising the value of listening to one another as “brothers and sisters”, Francis ended his brief speech by saying: “When we listen and talk to each other, we are already on the path. I thank you for taking this path and ask almighty and merciful God to bless you. And I ask you to pray for me.” The official text of the Pope’s greeting is in Italian and was published in the daily Vatican bulletin.

“Pray for me”. The audience of this prayer request was a group of Muslim leaders, worshippers of Allah, bound to the authority of the Koran, denying the Triune nature of God and the divinity of Jesus Christ, following a work-based religion. The Pope went beyond diplomatic politeness or even the cordial, inter-religious tone of the conversation. He addressed these Muslims by asking for their prayers, using language that is ordinarily used among fellow Christians.


Massive Implications

The theological implications of this prayer request are massive. Let’s briefly point to some of the most obvious ones. “Pray for me” is an expression of deep fellowship among fellow believers. Pope Francis often asks people to pray for him, but the general context in which this request normally takes place is when he gathers with those who share his faith. This time it happened in the context of an inter-religious meeting. This request shows that when the Pope talked about all religious people being “children of God” he did not simply mean members of the human family. He meant those belonging to the same spiritual family, all part of the same people of God. Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, etc. are all “children of God” to him. Biblically speaking, however, does the “children of God” include all religious people, in spite of their beliefs and allegiances?

“Pray for me” also implies that when Muslims pray they pray to the same God of the Bible. This is the conviction held by the Pope from the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), according to which Muslims “profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, who will judge humanity on the last day” (Lumen Gentium, 16). With his request, however, the Pope goes even further, inferring that the God of the Bible is not only worshipped by Muslims, but He even responds to their petitions as if they were His children. Does not the Scripture teach that our confidence in prayer lies in Jesus being the High Priest and in whose name we can boldly approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:14-16)?

Asking Muslims to pray for you goes way beyond the good intention of cultivating friendly and peaceful relationships. It is a theological statement that impinges on basic biblical doctrines such as the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, the authority of Scripture, and salvation in Jesus Christ alone. In other words, the very biblical Gospel is at stake. The Pope’s dismaying request has significantly distorted it.


Saturday, 1 April 2017

What Happened to the Non Negotiable Principles in the Roman Catholic Church?

Vatican Files - Prof. Leonardo De Chirico - April 1st, 2017


Since the beginnings of modern bioethics in the 1970s, the Roman Catholic Church has taken the hard line of defending human life from conception to natural death, protecting the concept of marriage between a man and a woman, and guarding the limits of scientific research within the parameters of human dignity. Not only did the Catholic Church strongly argue for traditional moral convictions over secular redefinitions of life and reproductive “rights”, but it also put such issues at the forefront of its action in the public arena. Those days are over. With Pope Francis we are witnessing a shift in the posture of the Catholic Church as far as public debates on bioethics are concerned.



A recent study by Luca Lo Sapio (Bioetica cattolica e bioetica laica nell’era di papa Francesco, Catholic Bioethics and Secular Bioethics in Pope Francis’ Era) documents the transition we are witnessing in the attempt by Pope Francis to invest the public voice of his church away from bioethical controversies, which clash with secular culture, and toward a number of social issues (e.g. immigration, poverty, the environment), which seem to resonate with the secular world.



What Happened to the Non-Negotiable Principles?



The differences  between John Paul II and Benedict XVI, on the one hand, and Pope Francis, on the other, are becoming apparent. When dealing with bioethics, the two former Popes often spoke of “non-negotiable principles” in staunchly defending the Catholic positions on life issues. Moreover, they wanted these principles to be at the heart of the Church’s agenda in the modern world no matter how much controversy they generated in public opinion.



The official teaching of the Church on bioethical issues supported the strong stance taken by these Popes. Encyclicals like Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth, 1993) and Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life, 1995), exhortations like Familiaris Consortio (The Family, 1981), documents like Donum Vitae (The Gift of Life, 1987) and Dignitatis Personae (The Dignity of a Person, 2008) all univocally pointed to the clear-cut teaching of the Church in dealing with abortion, euthanasia, genetic engineering and the like, and showed the willingness of the Church to relentlessly advocate for it.



Francis’ Detente Strategy



The outcome of such a posture was an ongoing and intense “culture war” against secular bioethics. The Roman Catholic Church has been considered a “militant” army fighting for the sacredness of life on the battlefield of bioethics. With Pope Francis, Rome has significantly changed strategy. The over-arching narrative of the relationship with the world has been modified. One of his preferred metaphors for the Church is that of a “field hospital for the wounded”. The time of “culture wars” against the West is over and the task of the Church is to convey forgiveness and mercy. The secular world is not to be fought against but cared for. From being the bulwark of the defense of life, the Church is now a place where the wounds can be healed.



How does this narrative work in his pontificate in relation to bioethics? Lo Sapio convincingly argues that Francis has little interest for “doctrinal bioethics” and is more concerned with concrete and individual life situations. His approach is existentialist, rather than theological (or content/truth-driven). He wants to be close to people, even at the cost of appearing to be less faithful to principles. He focuses on the primacy of conscience rather than the prescriptive nature of law. He wants to be a warm and welcoming pastor and has reservations over the dangers of being a cerebral and judgmental theologian. The center of gravity of his pontificate is forgiveness and mercy rather than truth and deontological ethics. His preference goes with the messiness of life rather than the neatness of systems. Rather than talking about embryos and stem cells, Francis often speaks of poor children, displaced people, and abandoned old people. Rather than condemning wrong actions, he looks for ways to go alongside people, notwithstanding the morality or immorality of their lives.



Francis is not outspokenly changing the traditional Roman Catholic positions on bioethics. The official teaching is still there. What he is doing is decentralizing its role, de-emphasizing its importance, and displacing its centrality. His overall strategy looks for ways to engage the secular West on grounds that are more palatable to it, while leaving the controversial issues to the side. Where this strategy will lead the Roman Church is difficult to know. Certainly, all those who looked to Rome for clarity, vigor, and proactive actions on bioethical issues may find it necessary to look elsewhere. Pope Francis has little time for them.