General Cox met His Holiness Pope Francis at the Vatican on Friday 12 December 2014.
Address from His Holiness Pope Francis to the delegation of Salvation Army leaders:
I extend a warm welcome to you, the leadership of The Salvation Army, well known to me for its evangelising and charitable mission. Your visit is the happy outcome of more frequent and fruitful contacts in recent years between The Salvation Army and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, including a series of theological conversations aimed at fostering a better understanding of one another, mutual respect and regular collaboration. I earnestly hope that Catholics and Salvationists will continue to offer a common witness to Christ and to the Gospel in a world so much in need of experiencing God’s boundless mercy.
Catholics and Salvationists, together with other Christians, recognise that those in need have a special place in God’s heart, so much so that the Lord Jesus Christ himself became poor for our sake (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9). As a result, Catholics and Salvationists often meet in the same peripheries of society. It is my hope that our shared faith in Jesus Christ the Saviour, the one mediator between God and man (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5), will become evermore the firm foundation of friendship and cooperation between us.
'The Church which "goes forth" is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelising community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative; he has loved us first (cf. 1 John 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads, and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy' (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 24).
I pray that in today’s world all of Christ’s disciples will make their contribution with the same conviction and dynamism that The Salvation Army demonstrates in its devoted and highly appreciated service. The differences between Catholics and Salvationists regarding theological and ecclesiological questions need not impede the witness of our shared love of God and love of neighbour, a love which is capable of inspiring a concerted commitment to restoring the dignity of those who live on the margins of society.
Dear friends, I pray to God for the work of The Salvation Army. May many people in difficulty continue to rely on your efforts, which enable Christ’s light to shine in the darkest recesses of their lives. May you and your fellow Salvationists be filled with the Holy Spirit’s gifts of wisdom, understanding, fortitude and peace, and so witness to the Lord’s Kingdom in our suffering world. And I ask that you also pray for me.
Address from General André Cox to His Holiness Pope Francis
It is a very great honour to be able to meet with you personally. On behalf of Salvationists living in 126 countries I bring messages of cordial greeting, but more importantly offer assurance of prayer support for the tremendous responsibilities that God has entrusted to you.
Through many of your public utterances, alongside the actions you are taking to address various matters within the Catholic Church, we clearly recognise your Christlikeness as you seek faithfully to be a true minister of the Gospel. This example of holiness transcends denominational boundaries and we are grateful to God for every evidence of his Spirit abiding in your life.
Your commitment in the fight against poverty, injustice and corruption is something that resonates strongly in the hearts of Salvationists. Speaking entirely personally, this aligns completely with my own deeply held convictions. Like you, Salvationists firmly believe that the Church, being the body of Christ, must reflect the mind of Christ. As such, we should be a welcoming community that in practical ways exerts a redemptive presence within God’s good, though fallen, creation.
As Salvationists, we are keenly aware that our places of Christian worship are not retreats from the world for a select few. Rather, they are bridgeheads of God’s Kingdom into the world – Jesus-centred, grace-filled communities serving others selflessly. Our churches are places in which Christ’s disciples can be resourced, empowered and enabled to fulfil the Great Commission – in word and in deed. Paul, in writing to the Philippians, helpfully testifies: 'What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage; that I may gain Christ.'
Catholics and Salvationists are united in affirming the dignity and value of each human life, recognising that all are created in the image of God. We readily acknowledge how our shared desire to be faithful to God’s calling upon our lives binds us in common endeavour. We share concern about and action against ongoing societal evils such as slavery; human trafficking; addiction; and stigmatisation of those who are HIV-positive. Countless Catholic priests and Salvation Army officers live and minister side by side, together serving some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people. Our complementarity stems from faith-filled action that, for Catholics and Salvationists, is motivated by an obedience to Jesus Christ for the greater glory of God.
Alongside the instances of Salvationists and Catholics working closely together, I wonder whether there may also be opportunities on occasion for us to speak with a united voice. One such example of a shared message is our recently published book, Conversations with the Catholic Church. It is my pleasure and privilege this morning to present you with a copy. Not only is this a record of most enriching and fruitful dialogue between 2007 and 2012, I believe this publication positions us perfectly to take our discussions further. It is my hope and prayer that we will not only walk alongside each other, edifying though that is, but will walk together as credible witnesses to the truth that Jesus is Lord.
Thank you very much indeed for so graciously meeting with me today. I consider this a most precious privilege.
Photographs © L'Osservatore Romano
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