General Synod President Dan Gillett meets with Pope Francis

Date Posted: 
Thursday, December 22, 2016

As part of the pope’s weekly audience with the public, General Synod president Dan Gillett met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday, Dec. 7. The meeting was arranged by Duncan Hanson, supervisor of RCA mission in Europe, the Middle East, and India, as part of a trip to Italy to discuss ecumenical partnerships.

Gillett told the pope that in 2017 he intends to commemorate, rather than celebrate, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and to apologize for any unhelpful ways RCA members have treated their Catholic brothers and sisters.

“We’ll use this commemoration to learn from each other, serve together, and hopefully have a season of reconciliation,” said Gillett. “Many within the Reformed Church are of the same attitude and spirit: let’s have a commemoration of the Reformation, but make it ecumenical and include our Catholic brothers and sisters.”

Gillett also echoed the sentiments of the priest who showed them around the Vatican: “We may not solve our theological differences, but we can serve the poor and the marginalized together.”

In response, Pope Francis embraced Gillett and asked him to keep the pope in his prayers, which Gillett did the following Sunday with his congregation at First Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan, where he serves as lead pastor.

Following their meeting with the pope, Gillett and Hanson met with the Vatican’s ecumenical office to discuss ecumenical relations between the RCA, the Catholic Church, and the Waldensian Church, an early Protestant denomination that is also an RCA mission partner.

This papal audience was part of a larger trip for Gillett and Hanson to meet with Waldensian moderator Eugenio Bernardini, RCA missionaries JJ and Tim TenClay, and RCA mission partner Paolo Naso. During his time in Italy, Gillett preached at a Waldensian church in Palermo, Sicily, near La Noce Diaconal Center where JJ works. He also met with a senior government official in Sicily to highlight the partnership between the Waldensians and the city of Palermo.

“While the embrace of the pope was real,” said Gillett, “I hope it’s also a symbol that we can, as a thousand churches in an awful lot of different ways, find a way to do that in each of our settings—to embrace each other.”