Over the past decade the Rt. Rev. Tony Palmer, a former director of Kenneth Copeland Ministries’ South African office and co-founder of The Ark Community, an international and interdenominational community of Christians based in the United Kingdom, has been extensively involved with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR).
In 2003, Palmer was invited by the Catholic Church to move to Europe and minister to Catholics within the CCR worldwide, as a non-Roman Catholic minister. As a result of this calling, Palmer has traveled to many countries around the world and participated in numerous meetings with leaders within the charismatic renewal.
It was during a mission to Argentina five years ago that Palmer met and soon became close friends with Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I.
“We had called on him to ask permission to minister in churches within his diocese for renewal,” Palmer recalled recently of that first meeting. “Immediately, Cardinal Bergoglio shared his heart and appreciation for what we were doing, and fully embraced us and the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us—not only to Catholic people, but to all Christian denominations.”
On March 13, Cardinal Bergoglio became the first non-European pope in more than 1,000 years when he was elected to replace the outgoing Pope Benedict XVI, who abdicated on February 28. The 76-year-old Bergoglio, who has now taken on the name Pope Francis, after the humble Catholic friar St. Francis of Assisi, will be installed at the Vatican on March 19.
“It is quite surreal for me to see my friend, spiritual father and prayer partner as the Pope,” Palmer said this past weekend while on a ministry trip to Italy. “We have a good pope who is pro-unity and pro-renewal of the Holy Spirit. He believes that all Christians are one!”
Like the leader whose name he chose to draw from, Pope Francis is himself considered humble and is described as a conservative with “great compassion.”
In a speech he delivered to his cardinals two days after being elected, Pope Francis showed signs of his humility, compassion and his reverence of the Holy Spirit when he told them: “Someone said to me: the Cardinals are the priests of the Holy Father. That community, that friendship, that closeness will do us all good. And our acquaintance and mutual openness have helped us to be docile to the action of the Holy Spirit. He, the Paraclete, is the ultimate source of every initiative and manifestation of faith….The Paraclete creates all the differences among the Churches, almost as if He were an Apostle of Babel. But on the other hand, it is He who creates unity from these differences, not in ‘equality,’ but in harmony….The Paraclete, who gives different charisms to each of us, unites us in this community of the Church, that worships the Father, the Son, and Him, the Holy Spirit.”
From the inception of The Ark Community, KCM has maintained a strong partnership with Palmer through prayer and by supporting his mission work. It was through Palmer’s assistance that Kenneth and Gloria Copeland were able to minister to the Roman Catholic Church in Italy for the first time ever in 2006. They have since returned there to minister.
In light of the historic change taking place in the Catholic Church, we asked Palmer for his insight into the election of the new Pope, and what effect he feels this might have on the Body of Christ overall. Here is some of what he had to say:
BVOV: How do you believe this election will affect the Church, the Body of believers?
PALMER: It will greatly influence what’s already happening. Things began to change between 1962 and 1965, when Pope John XXIII opened up the Second Vatican Council by invoking the Holy Spirit and asking God for a “new Pentecost.” He asked that God would: “Renew Your wonders in our time….” God answered, and in 1967 a small group of faithful Catholics met in Pittsburgh, Pa., and called upon their Pentecostal friends to lay hands on them so they (as Roman Catholics) may receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Pope John Paul II watched as this small group grew into a “movement” and expanded across the Atlantic and into many other countries. In 46 years, this group of Catholics has grown to over 180 million spirit-filled, born-again, faithful Catholic Christians. Pope Benedict XVI followed in Pope John Paul’s footsteps and publicly supported and encouraged those involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Now, as evidenced by the choice of his name, Pope Francis wants to honor Saint Francis of Assisi, who was a Charismatic Catholic who founded an order of devout Christians professing to live the Gospel and nothing else! Pope Francis is openly committing himself and the Church to emulate the spirituality of Saint Francis and his followers, which is to follow Jesus wholeheartedly and establish the Kingdom of God through living the Franciscan motto, which Saint Francis is famous for saying: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.” This is the central passion that drives Pope Francis. He always tells me that we all need to live like Jesus. It’s all about Jesus! Pope Francis is openly supportive of the work of the Holy Spirit and the Charismatic renewal, and in his choosing of Saint Francis’ name, he promises to continue to support what the Holy Spirit has begun.
BVOV: What is uniquely different and meaningful about Pope Francis and his appointment?
PALMER: An important attribute that Pope Francis brings to the Papacy is his honest and sincere openness to the unity of all Christians. He is a man of God who understands the unity of the Church in its diversity. He constantly shows his public fraternal brotherhood toward all Christians. For example, when he was introduced during a large Christian meeting in Buenos Aires where over 5,000 evangelical protestant leaders were in attendance, Pope Francis (then Cardinal Bergoglio) knelt down in front of the evangelical pastors and asked them to lay hands on him and bless him! Every year, as Cardinal, he would join his evangelical brothers (pastors) for their annual weeklong retreat—not as a guest speaker to teach, but as one of them. During our times together, we have spoken about our shared pain of the division of Christians, and together we have shared both tears and prayers for her healing—the one Bride of Christ.
BVOV: Why should we, as believers, be excited?
PALMER: I believe there exists enough evidence to cause every open-minded and open-eyed Christian to rejoice in the fact that a good man has been chosen to be pope—the spokesperson for western Christianity. He is a man after Jesus’ heart and a man full of the Spirit of God—open and humble enough to forgive and embrace brothers and sisters from all Christian denominations, allowing and assisting wounds of division to be healed. The time of “spiritual apartheid” is coming to an end, and I believe Pope Francis will be one of the proponents of its demise. We have a worldwide charismatic movement of the renewal of the Holy Spirit within the Catholic Church, officially and publicly supported by the last three popes, as well as the current pope. We now live in a post-Protestant era with a pope who openly embraces his brothers and sisters of all Christian denominations to the point of publicly kneeling for the laying on of hands and prayer by evangelical leaders. God is continuing what He began when Pope John XXIII prayed for a “new Pentecost” back in 1962. He has heard the prayers and tasted the tears of the faithful who, over the years, have joined our Master and Captain in His High Priestly prayer in John 17:21: “Father make them one so that the world will believe that You sent Me.” Diversity is divine, but division is diabolic. It’s time to celebrate diversity in the bond of unity. We are one Bride, one Body in one Baptism.