Italian pastors across many denominations continue to praise the Lord’s faithfulness in historically unifying them in prayer.
As the global pandemic known as COVID-19 continues its toll on the world's population both physically and economically, many are becoming more accustomed to social distancing orders.
Once familiarly attended weddings, childbirths, and funerals have become unfamiliar, empty, and isolated events. Small businesses and restaurants strive to keep their doors open, while families and singles continue to wrestle with living their new normal for the foreseeable future.
To say that we are living in unprecedented times for our modern history would be an understatement.
Italy, being one of the most impacted European countries in the union, has become well accustomed to this new normal. Accustomed also to the continued responses to this particular situation, which have been as varied as the population.
The cultural majority continues to seek unity under the slogan(s) “andrà tutto bene” meaning "everything will be alright”. Today however, cresting 25,000 deaths, and almost two full months in Lock-Down, the mantra has seemingly lost its initial appeal.
The magnitude of those numbers and the reality of true isolation have become a cruel reminder to the population that everything is not alright.
The religious majority in Rome continue to seek hope from the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. Images circulated of the lone Pope performing mass in an empty St. Peter’s Square while rain was coming down.
Hope for the faithful is said to be found in crying out to Mary the Mother of God, bringing her both pleas and petitions while seeking her protection during this time; or by receiving specially granted indulgences from the Roman Catholic Church.
These two responses highlight the majority view, while a unique minority voice continues to advocate for Evangelical Unity. More than a month after the first report from Evangelical Focus, and on the eve of their third meeting on May 2nd, Italian pastors across many denominations continue to praise the Lord’s faithfulness in historically unifying them in prayer.
“Pentecostals, Reformed, Wesleyans, Baptists, Congregationalists, and others met at the feet of the Lord, united by the Holy Spirit”, quoted Giacomo Ciccone, President of the Italian Evangelical Alliance, describing the uniqueness of their first gathering.
The unprecedented nature of such a gathering will once again unite Evangelical leaders, setting aside albeit important denominational distinctives, to pray for the Lord’s intercession during a tumultuous period.
The National Day of Prayer, has reached nearly 26,000 people, many Evangelical leaders are encouraged, and expectantly await their next meeting. The timely event comes amidst new realities that Evangelical Churches are currently faced with.
Samuele Pellerito, President of Elim Churches in Italy, describes the situation as “The most severe challenge of the last decades”. Giovanni di Francia, President of the Congregations of Pentecostal Churches says that “Since World War 2, we have never faced such a challenge”. A sentiment echoed by Daniel Fink, President of the Church of the Nazarene in Italy.
Given the magnitude of what Evangelical Churches are currently facing in Italy, the importance of interdenominational unity found in a National Day of Prayer cannot be understated.
Gaetano Montante, President of the Assemblies of God in Italy responded by saying "The Church of the Lord redeemed by the blood of Christ overcomes denominational limitations and it gathers together in prayer to the Father”.
While Enrico Calanchi, on behalf of the Evangelical Reformed Baptist Churches in Italy stated that “This is a historical opportunity for Italian Churches to live out and show true unity in Christ”.
Paolo Minder, President of the Union of Biblical Christian Churches expresses the same opinion when he calls it “A great opportunity to stand together and to give a strong witness of unity to the world”.
The task at first glance would seem insurmountable, given the dynamics of denominational church history, but in actuality the leaders came together almost instantaneously sharing words of encouragement for such an initiative.
Emanuele Campo, President of the Italian Christian Pentecostal Church said, “Our unity in Christ is beyond our denominational boundaries”.
This gathering of leaders united in prayer highlights a significant Biblical truth that was simply stated by Yanming Liang, the representative for Chinese Evangelicals, “Unity encourages the people of God.” While Emanuele Frediani, President of the Apostolic Church in Italy states that “In prayer we appreciate unity.”
Churches have reflected on how the Lord is using this time for growth. Danut Iacob, President of the Romanian Pentecostal Churches in Italy says, “This is the period to strengthen our personal relationship with God”.
The overarching sentiment amongst evangelicals, is that the church truly is being encouraged in their faith. evangelicals have been encouraged to grow deeper in spiritual disciplines, encouraged to reach out to their neighbors, and encouraged to live out the gospel.
Tim Keller in his book Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering says that “Adversity moves people toward God rather than away.” The church in Italy has seen new believers baptized, and lives transformed by the Gospel.
Evangelical churches in Italy will once again unite in bold testimony on May 2, praying together, and proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. The words of Jeremiah 29:11-12 to the Israelites in exile ring true today.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you”.
Most of Italy will remember this particular point in history with Unprecedented Uncertainty, while Italian Evangelical Churches in Italy will remember it for Unprecedented Unity. Together with these believers we can affirm that our hope remains solidified not in ecumenical unity, humanistic mantras, or religious spiritualism, but bold faith in the saving grace of Jesus Christ our Lord.