TLDR: The Church grows at the speed of relationships. When I decided to do a Bible study at a local nursing home, I was completely unaware that their chaplain was one of the founders of the John 17 Movement. Soon, I was asked to join the movement, and I received a curious invitation to meet the Pope.
Approximately fourteen months ago, I joined John 17 at The Village At Gleannloch Farms, where I have done a monthly Bible Study since early 2021. John 17 seeks “to help create environments around tables where each of us can receive the needed nourishment relationships provide.” To understand this desire for unity, we must first read the Bible chapter on which this movement is founded. “I pray that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21). This verse comes from Jesus’ longest recorded prayer in the Bible, which is found in John, chapter 17. While at the last supper Jesus spent with his friends, after the meal had been consumed, Jesus elevated his eyes to the Father and prayed for his disciples. The prayer asks that they may have eternal life, “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent… They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word… they have received your words and know in truth that I came from you… I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours… protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one… I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth… I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word that they may all be one.”
The unity of the disciples was of utmost concern for Jesus, but this prayer goes beyond his disciples to cover the entire Church. Jesus prays fervently for the unity of those who will come to believe in him through the ministry of those original disciples. And the unity of the Church has a purpose: that the world might come to know Jesus Christ and might come to believe that he is the one sent by God for the salvation of the world. The unity of the Church is the most powerful evangelistic tool in the Church’s toolkit. Yet, the Church is now more polarized and divided than at any point in history. This disunity along ideological, theological, cultural, and political lines has compromised our Christian witness to the world. If there is one thing that all Christian denominations have in common, it is our mistrust and antipathy for each other. In fact, many denominations spend considerable resources of time and money trying to decide which of their neighbors will be condemned when the Parousia finally comes. John 17 is one of the least obeyed prayers in Christianity, and this disunity hurts us all and grieves God’s Holy Spirit.
Inspired by this prayer, Joseph Tosini, a Protestant Pastor, was awakened with a strong desire to drop to his knees and pray for the newly elected Roman Catholic Pope in 2013. To say that Pope Francis and Tosini come from two different worlds would be to understate the matter. Yet, Joe felt a strong urge to pray for the new Pope. He couldn’t explain his urge, but pray he did. In fact, when his wife was woken up by his prayers, he invited her to join him. They didn’t know it then, but that prayer session for a man they had never met, who now carried a title many in his denomination called “The Antichrist,” would spark an international movement. Pastor Joe shared with his friend Giovanni Traettino, a Protestant minister from Italy, about his dream and prayer session. He learned then that Traettino had become good friends with Pope Francis while he was still Archbishop of Buenos Aires. This resulted in a greeting by the Pope featured in two nights of prayer and fellowship between Protestant pastors and Catholic bishops. It was then that Tosini, his friend of over 35 years, Michael Herron, and Auxiliary Catholic Bishop of Phoenix, Eduardo Nevares, created the “John 17 – All be one” movement. “This ecumenical movement is more relational than theological and focuses on, as Pope Francis said, discovering in those from other Christian denominations ‘brothers and sisters … as children of the same Father.’”
John 17 is not another program of the Church, it is not a new theology, a new denomination, or a new official office in the Vatican. It is a tool to be used by any church interested in making the prayer of Jesus in John 17 a reality for the benefit of the Church and the glory of God. The tool proposed for this work of unity is brilliant in its simplicity. First, since the prayer was made around a dining room table, the movement encourages the creation of tables where people of various denominations (many of them pastors) come to share a meal. There is no real agenda to this meal, other than the building of relationships. “At the table Christian unity is promoted through the building of relationships and friendships with each other over a simple meal, a cup of coffee, or a gelato, with prayer and sharing.” Second, the table avoids arguments about theology, politics, or issues related to culture wars. A ministry of the ear, as the Pope calls it, in which we listen with curiosity to the other, is more important than any theological or ideological positioning. Third, the table always ends with prayer for each other and the Church.
Approximately three months ago, Mike Herron, current chaplain of The Village at Gleannloch Farms, and the convener of our John 17 Table, invited my wife and I to the movement’s Winter conference, which always takes place in Vatican City. In fact, his exact words were, “Do you want to come meet the Pope?” I remember thinking, “Sure, and after that, we can go have tea with King Charles. Perhaps we can see if Madonna is free for ice cream or a late-night cocktail.” But, of course, I said, “Yes! I would love that!” Several weeks later, both my wife and I received our official invitations from the Vatican and realized that Mike, one of the founders of John 17, was in fact serious about his invitation. To say that this last week has changed my life in significant ways would not be an exaggeration. Stay tuned to the blogs for the next two weeks to see how.
May our Lord continue to bless you,
 Ibid, John 17: All be one