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"A Visit to the Vatican Meeting Pope Francis – Can the Church Come into Unity Across Denominational Lines?"

by Don and Ann Finley with Julie A. Smith
Jul 3, 2016

Steve ShultzIntro From Julie A. Smith:

When I found out that my very own pastors, Don and Ann Finley (of Life Church in Salem, OR), were invited, along with 60 other pastors, to meet the Pope in Rome, I was ecstatic for them because I knew God was doing a new thing. Some other leaders who were also invited on this same trip to meet the Pope were Mike Bickle, Dutch Sheets, Kris Vallotton, Stacy Campbell, Che Ahn and many more.

Ann Finley grew up Catholic and left the Catholic church later in life, so she has a fresh perspective and a personal testimony. I sat down with the Finley's after they returned from the Vatican for a personal interview. As I listened to them, I was amazed at how God brought healing and a vast perspective of His heart for unity in the Church.

Now, I know there is much skepticism and criticism when it comes to the Catholic Church with different theologies and viewpoints, therefore I wanted to share this personal story of my pastors and their meeting with the Pope. Our church is Pentecostal, Spirit-filled, has a supernatural school, and believes in all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so I love the fact that the Lord wants to do something big and bring an awakening to the Church—the entire Church.

Julie A. Smith, Managing Editor
The Elijah List


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Julie: How were you guys invited?

Don Finley: Mike Herron is the founder of our church (Life Church of Salem). Mike has been pursuing unity for years, and has been crossing over between Catholic and Protestant ministry opportunities, having some amazing connections. About two years ago, he met Pope Francis in Giovanni Traettino's Church (Pentecostal Pastor in Italy) when he visited there. When Mike was here in January, speaking at our church he said, "I really feel like the Lord is telling me that you guys are supposed to come with us." So I said, "Wow. Okay, we'd love to be a part of it." It's because of Mike Herron's connection. He works with the John 17 Project, Joe Tosini's ministry (, which is about bringing the whole Body of Christ together as one. (Photo of Mike Herron with Pope Francis)

Ann Finley: I grew up Catholic, and Mike said, "Ann Mary Elizabeth (maiden name), you need to go there, be there, to be able to meet the Pope."

Julie: I want you to share your personal revelation and testimony from the trip. What testimony do you want to share? And what is the Lord telling you through this?

Ann: I just thought the Lord encouraged me to "take note." In other words, "Listen to what I'm saying and what I'm doing." To me it was a big deal, because I grew up Catholic, and the possibility to meet the Pope is an amazing opportunity, not just because he's the Pope, but because of what it meant to my family growing up. There was even conflict between my mom with Don (husband), when he asked me to marry him–our family background was not in the same stream (he was Pentecostal and my family was Catholic).

I was pretty amazed at how God used this trip. I grew up Catholic and now, here I am married to a Protestant, and it was because I'm married to a Protestant and because of our connections, I got to go see the Pope. How does that happen? I just said, "God, this is so big."

All of my immediate family has left the Catholic Church but my parents were Catholic until they passed away. I believe they both knew the Lord before they died. I think my mom was watching from Heaven and saw that I actually got to see the Pope.

I said to the Lord, "Okay God, You want to do something really big here in my heart, and I don't even know what that is." So when I first got there, I met a woman who was sharing, who was an assistant to the Pope, and she reminded me of my mom. She was cheering my whole story (my family story). I was just bawling. I just lost it. Mike Herron felt like this trip for me was going to bring healing. I said, "God, I don't know what this is, but You're healing my heart. Heal it." (Photo of Don and Ann Finley meeting the Pope)

The revelation that came to me was just how big God is and His love. How it doesn't have to look like this box or this box, but it's everyone together. I really thought there was a healing in my heart, and from my family being negative about me leaving the Catholic Church.

Julie: We've seen a lot of people get stirred up about the Catholic religion. There's a lot of negativity and criticism. I really feel like the Lord wants to bring a bridge for unity. We know that. We saw that at AzusaNow, as some Catholic priests were invited on stage during the event. I'm telling you, out of this interview, you're going to get a lot of feedback, both positive and negative—because of the subject of the Catholic Church. 

What can you offer to bring some resolution about the controversy of the Catholic Church? What can we do to bridge—what do you think the Lord wants to do that would offer some hope, some resolution to this? I know that's a loaded question but what can you offer out of your testimony to encourage others dealing with some issues with the Catholic Church?

Don: Well, I grew up a Pentecostal boy, and of course in my opinion—I mean, we had tracks that said Babylon was the great harlot (chuckles). Then I met Ann, and having the experience of rejection through her (Catholic) parents...and through love and my encountering with them, I really discovered that they had faith, and that it wasn't what I thought. Just knowing them and being relational with them, I think I was confident that they knew the Lord before any of their kids did.

For me, unity has always been a huge passion, but I just think that the dissonance is a disease of the soul that is fueled by fear and pride. It's just something that people are afraid of, so they have to judge others. Some are more committed to an eschatological belief about it at times. Some make that a higher priority than they will the first commandment which is—to love. You can embrace something obscure that is only based upon an interpretation rather than the clear teaching and commandment of Christ to love.

So ever since I went (to meet the Pope), I have this deep sense of change stirring within me that I don't know if I can ever be the same after this encounter or this experience. Really, if the Catholic Church is part of the Body of Christ, which I believe it is now, then we're a whole lot bigger family than we thought. (Photo of meeting the Pope via the Finley's)

So I wrote some thoughts down: I feel a fresh commission to seek relational unity on a broader scale now—to go after people that I don't necessarily agree with. Because a lot of it isn't about agreement, it is about "the choice to love," and I think the Church for so long has had their first goal being agreement. "I can only relate with you or love you if I agree with you." That's just a recipe for disaster. That's why we have so much cynicism.

There's so much divisiveness, so much divided people, families torn apart, congregations torn apart, denominations more than we can count, and that's the result of it. One of the things that Mike Herron was saying, as he was talking to one of the cardinals on his first meeting with the Pope, the cardinal said to Mike, "Give me your doctrine for division."

"Give me your doctrine for division." I think that says it so well. Sure, I can grab a Scripture here or a Scripture there, but you can't, from the New Testament, honestly with effective hermeneutics, develop a doctrine for division. You just have opinion and there's all kinds of things that have led people to this... "I'm right and you're wrong." So I think we have to, once again, just do what Jesus did and "choose love before my need to be right."

Julie: This reminds me—about five years or so ago, I asked the Lord about all the different denominations. I said, "Why are there so many denominations? What do You look at?" He responded immediately and said, "I don't look at denominations. I look at the heart." 

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Julie: You guys can really bring healing out of your testimony and coming out of the Catholic Church. So is there something you can offer to people that you think would help them?

Don: If I were to give a challenge, I would say, "Consider the position that the Pharisees had when the very thing that they had been seeking after and praying for all their lives showed up, they didn't recognize that it was God that was there." Jesus Himself, in the flesh, was with them and they couldn't see it because of their strong position. We're right at the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's tearing away from the Catholic Church...and here we have 500 years of division and hatred. Is it possible that God is doing something that could unite us? That could bring us together as one? Consider the possibilities.

Ann: It's what you said, Julie. It's really a matter of the heart. One of the things that the Lord impressed upon me while we were there was having a sense of the disciples that were on the road to Emmaus. They looked at each other and were like, "Didn't your heart burn within you when you were with this person, or you sensed this?" That's the way I felt. My heart was burning within me, in a good way, because of the love and because of the unity that was trying to be expressed.

Don: That's another cool that when Pope Francis visited Giovanni's church a couple of years ago (Italian Pentecostal minister), his message was so powerful. Because the Pope's message to him was, "I'm coming to you today and I feel like I'm one of Jacob's sons going to Egypt, but we thought we were just coming to get food, but they discovered their brother, and they repented for what they'd done to him." So when the Pope was there, he says, "I'm coming to you today asking for your forgiveness, repenting for the persecution we, the Catholic Church, have brought against you as a people. Please forgive us." So in the face of that kind of humility and humbling of themselves, how can you say no? How can you reject that kind of humility that so reflects the nature of our Kingdom—the Kingdom of God?

Then Giovanni did the same thing to the Catholics—he started it years before. He also repented and asked for forgiveness. So God can do anything. Like Pope Francis said while we were there, "Jesus does surprising things." (Photo of Mike Herron and Giovanni Traettino via the Finley's)

Julie: I want you to tell me a little bit about your meeting with the Pope. Can you summarize that and tell me about your meeting with him? Also, give me some of the quotes he said.

The Pope said, "Agreeing on theology will be difficult but we can still walk together, and the unity of Christians comes by walking."

There was a question about, "Is Christ the only way?" Because there are some people who are accusing him of being Universalist. He confirmed Christ is the only Lord and Savior, and Jesus is the only way to salvation, but that Jesus will do surprising things. So he confirmed that.

He said, "I don't have a crystal ball. However, it's time to build bridges. Too many people are building walls." Then everybody laughed. He also said, "Unity is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and we need to be open to this gift."

Julie: So you walked away with an open heart and a new perspective of what God is doing. I know we talked about unity, yes, but tell me something that you walked away from and thought, "Wow, I never thought of that before."

Ann: Having grown up Catholic and then having left the Catholic Church, I think I walked away (from meeting the Pope) with much more love and respect for the Catholic Church, the bigness of God in the Catholic Church, in the Protestant Church, in wherever He is. Because when I first got saved, I thought, "How could anybody still be in the Catholic Church once you get born again?" I didn't understand that. But this has opened my eyes to see. It had been coming for years and years. This is historical. It was huge. A trip of a lifetime.

Don: For me, I'm trying to think of a right word, because I don't want the word to repel anybody. But I had a sense of "partnership", like we're in this together, that they're passionate about unity, because I've been passionate about unity for years. Now, I always thought unity was with my peeps [chuckles], the people that I knew. But now, I have a sense of partnership with a much broader—bigger family. We have a whole lot bigger family. I feel like whatever I can do to see this happen, I want to do it. It doesn't mean we all agree, because we can sit and argue until we're blue in the face about some of the different theological beliefs, but we can be different and still be partners in the faith, in one Body. I mean, he quoted a Scripture in our conversation: "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5). (Photo of Christian leaders meeting the Pope via the Finley's)

Julie: As I'm talking to you guys, I feel like the Lord wants to bring an awakening in the Catholic Church, and a healing within the Body of Christ, and you were planting a seed. The whole time that I was praying about your trip I sensed, "This is a seed. This is a seed for an awakening." What did the Lord speak to you about this trip, even prophetically?

Don: I felt like it's an awakening in us. There's an awakening that starts with us too, opening our eyes to see.

Ann: I just felt like this is the beginning of a much bigger picture, and to not despise a small beginning, seemingly small, and yet this was huge, really, for me. I feel that we need to be open to pursuing—taking steps toward walking it out. Unity comes through walking together.

Julie: Well, I just looked up some stats while you guys were talking—Catholics compromise about 50% of Christians worldwide. There are over 2 billion Christians and over 1 billion of those Christians are Catholic. So is God trying to bring unity to the Church when half of Christianity in the world are Catholic?

Don and Ann: Yes...yes.

Ann: I think Pope Francis is bringing a lot of change to the Catholic Church. I think a lot of Catholics are behind it and want it, but there are a lot of people that don't. So he's right in the middle of that. He needs prayers. He asked for prayer. He needs protection. He needs wisdom. (Photo of the Vatican via Finley's)

Conclusion from Julie: There is no doubt that theologies are very different across denominational lines. For years, we, as Christians, have focused on what we don't have in common much more than what we DO have in common. This has created a great divide in the Church. More than ever, God is calling Christians to unity...many prophetic voices have echoed this. It is, after all, Jesus' prayer to the Father for us before He went to the Cross. My pastors mentioned being a "bride builder" in the Body. Will we be a bridge builder for unity across the many denominational lines?

I hope this interview with my pastors and their personal testimony helps shed some light and answers some of your questions about the Catholic Church and denominational lines.

I leave this with Jesus' prayer to the Father for us, just before He went to the Cross: "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You 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. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are One—I in them and You in Me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me." John 17:20-23

Source: The Elijah List


Author Info:

Don and Ann Finley, Senior Pastors
Life Church, Salem, OR


Don and Ann Finley are the senior pastors of Life Church in Salem, OR, and have been the senior pastors since 1995. Don and Ann both attended Portland Bible College and have Theology degrees. Like Joshua, Don and Ann have a passion to lead people into real life. They believe that God's plan for us is that we might have life as He does—abundant life. His promises are our inheritance! We get to experience them not only in Heaven, but also right here, right now in this broken world, as His kingdom is established in the earth.

Life Church is currently remodeling a building for a supernatural life school and have a vision of it being an international school for people to experience God's supernatural life and be sent out into the world. Life Church also offers many wholeness ministries including SOZO, healing rooms, Life Change Workshop and offers a 3-year Supernatural school called LSSM. Don and Ann have been married for 32 years and have two full-grown daughters.

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