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Black Pentecostals Visit Vatican

February 9, 2000

ROME (AP) _ African-American Pentecostals have added a new exclamation to their favorite, ``Praise the Lord.″ It is ``praise the pope.″

About 170 delegates from the Cleveland-based Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops are in Rome this week for a pilgrimage, they said, that emphasizes the moral values shared by Roman Catholicism and Pentecostalism _ a brand of Protestantism marked by joyous celebration.

Pope John Paul II welcomed the bishops to his general audience Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square.

``I am confident that your visit to Rome will help strengthen ecumenical relations between Catholics and Pentecostals,″ he told the bishops, who sat in the front row.

John Paul has made ecumenism, or efforts to bring Christians of all denominations together, a major theme of the 2000 Holy Year, which is expected to draw tens of millions of pilgrims to Rome.

One of the trip’s organizers, Bishop Carl H. Montgomery II, assistant presiding bishop of the United Pentecostal Churches of Christ, wondered aloud on the eve of the audience: ``Can we in this 21st century not dwell on the differences″ among Christians?

``I say this is the pope who can help bring this about,″ Montgomery said, and praised the pontiff as ``the most ecumenical of modern times.″

The pope’s frequent championship of the poor is also much appreciated among the Pentecostals.

The pilgrimage to Rome ``is our way of saying we recognize the Catholic Church as our historical grandparents,″ said Montgomery, whose flock is in Baltimore, where the first Roman Catholic diocese was established in the United States.

Pentecostalism, concentrated in inner cities, has experienced rapid growth in the 1990s, with Asian and Caribbean immigrants among the newest members.

The same spontaneity and exuberance that characterize those religious gatherings are also catching on in the Catholic fold, and the pope has given his blessing to an increasingly popular charismatic movement in the United States and elsewhere.

In some traditionally heavily Catholic parts of the world, such as Latin America, Catholics have been attracted by the kind of joyousness that marks gatherings by Pentecostals, followers of a movement that arose in the early 20th century and stresses tangible manifestations of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in unknown tongues and healing.

Montgomery said Pentecostals weren’t trying to convert others. ``I don’t think God is concerned with labels,″ the bishop said. The Spirit ``is an experience that transcends denominational barriers.″

The bishops plan to attend seminars at a pontifical college where U.S. seminarians study and participate Sunday in a service in a Catholic church in Rome where many U.S. expatriates worship.

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