by Ryan Thurman
Our John 17 meeting with Pope Francis was truly an exceptional experience. After 30 plus hours of traveling we arrived in Rome Wednesday evening. We were exhausted but excited. We walked around for an hour or so to get some exercise and then got some rest. The next morning Ryan left early and caught a taxi to the Villa Aurelia where the rest of the pilgrims (there were about a dozen of us from the John 17 team and then a handful of Christian leaders and pastors from Phoenix and then a dozen or so from around the U.S.) were staying and we had a rich time of prayer and worship led by David Gungor. Joe Tosini and Mike Herron then shared a short history of the John 17 movement. The rest of the day was set aside for the different leaders to be able to connect and fellowship and also we had a wonderful tour of the Sistine Chapel together.
Friday there was a lunch together and then a meeting with Giovanni Traettino, who shared the history of his close friendship with Pope Francis. We then went together to Pope Francis residence in the Vatican where we spent over two hours together with Pope Franics. My friend Bishop Eduardo, who is part of the John 17 team and has spent time with Pope Francis helped us understand the uniqueness of Pope Francis and our specific visit with him. Because he wanted this to be a meeting of friends, he told his personal body guards not to be present, as well as his personal secretary, nor his Master of Ceremonies. Also historically Popes would receive questions from a group in advance and then have a very thorough written response that would be read to the group.
Pope Francis fielded our difficult questions off the cuff and responded from his heart. We asked Pope Francis about key issues such as the uniqueness of Christ, the priesthood of all believers, the challenges of pluralism and how we can begin to build bridges and pray and together in our own cities with Christians from traditions outside our of our own. A new friend, Joshua Butler, who was part of our group, wrote a very thorough description of our meeting. You can read it here
Pope Francis challenged us to live out our Christian Faith in our daily lives: by living out the Beatitudes and following Jesus and the First and the Greatest Commandment is to love our God with ALL of our heart, with ALL of our Soul, With ALL of our Mind and with ALL of our strength. And to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. On several occasions, he made the point that what he was sharing was his thoughts and asked us what we think
As our time came to a close, we held hands to pray for one another. Then we gathered to pray for him and he for us. Pope Francis greeted each one of us personally and gave us his book, “On Love in the Family.” and then allowed us to take a photo with him. Again Bishop Eduardo told us that this is exceptional, even when Catholic Bishops get the chance to meet with Pope Francis they often only get a group photo with him.
My respect and fondness for Pope Francis grew exponentially. He exudes humility, love and courage. His commitment to follow Jesus with integrity leaving our comfort zones and going out to the lost, the jaded, the poor, and the forgotten with the love of Christ. He continues to reach out to Christians outside of the Catholic church with love, respect and honor even though many of those same Christians show great contempt and disrespect to him and Catholicism in general.
I am deeply grateful to work with the John 17 team and the growing friendship that we share together went deeper through this experience. It was a great to be with Giovanni and his Son Luigi and for the first time meet Giovanni’s wife Franca, she is a beautiful person and I now see why Pope Francis thinks so highly of her. There were many quality people with us and I was not able to connect with all of them in depth but did really appreciate my interactions with Ricardo Stewart and Tyler Johnson from Redemption church in Phoenix.
Noleen and I being together was an amazing gift and to have the kids with us to experience the Vatican and Sistine Chapel and to interact with the group was very meaningful for them. A lot had to happen to allow us to have this rich experience and God in his kindness provided it all, the finances, the health, and not least Jodi Dowell, a colleague to come be with our kids for half of the day on Friday so Noleen and I could both be with Pope Francis and the amazing dinner afterwards with friends.
Noleen I have walked closely with George and Hanna as they have served in Germany. It was a treasure to have our children here with us and see first hand where Hanna lived as a child and to see the remembrance stones for her parents and the cemetery where they erected gravestones for her parents. Learn more about the ministry of George and Hanna Miley on their site eifelfellowship.com
We arrived late last night after an epic 11 hour drive that should of only been 6 hours. We began meetings today. More about this later. Until then you can learn about Wittenberg 2017 by clicking the link www.wittenberg2017.us
Below is a pdf of our schedule so you can learn more about what we will be doing this week in Wittenberg
Bonus Photos Below