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Pope Francis asks Waldensian Christians to forgive the Church

Pope Francis shakes hands with Pastor Eugenio Bernardini during the first ever visit of a pope to a Waldensian evangelical church (PA)

Pope Francis has asked Waldensian Christians to forgive the Catholic Church for historic persecution.

Earlier today Francis became the first pontiff in history to visit a Waldensian evangelical church, when he attended the Waldensian temple in Turin. The Pope is currently taking part in a two-day visit to the city in northern Italy.

The Waldensian church, which was founded in the 12th century, was rejected by the Catholic Church and its members were brutally persecuted during the Middle Ages.

“On the part of the Catholic Church, I ask your forgiveness, I ask it for the non-Christian and even inhuman attitudes and behaviour that we have showed you,” said Pope Francis.

He added: “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us!”

The Waldensians claim to currently have 45,000 followers, mostly in Italy, Argentina and Uruguay.

Prior to the Pope’s remarks, Pastor Eugenio Bernardini, the pastor of the Waldensian community in Turin, questioned why the church had been rejected by Rome. “What was the sin of the Waldensians,” he asked. “It was being a movement of popular evangelisation, carried out by lay people.”

In his remarks, Pope Francis said the principle benefit of ecumenism “is the rediscovery of the fraternity that unites all those who believe in Jesus Christ and are baptised in His Name.”

He added: “But the unity that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit does not mean uniformity. Brothers have in common the same origin, but they are not identical among themselves.”

After the visit to the Waldensian temple, Pope Francis met up with a number of members of his family.

Vatican Radio said that Francis “met with around 30 of his relatives – six cousins and their families – in the archbishop’s residence in Turin, and also celebrated Mass with them.”

On Sunday, in an unscheduled stop, the Pope visited the church of Santa Teresa where his paternal grandparents were married in 1907, and where, in 1908, his father Mario was baptised.

During his visit to Turin Pope Francis also visited the Turin Shroud and spoke to an audience of young people.