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Legatus Magazine

Sabrina Arena Ferrisi | author
Dec 01, 2015
Filed under Featured

Bridging the Gap

Pastor Rick Warren, who will speak at the 2016 Legatus Summit, holds “rock star” status among evangelicals — and he has great admiration for the Roman Catholic Church.

Rick Warren is known as “America’s Pastor” because of his engaging communication style and his massive cultural and political influence, both fueled by his bestselling books, including The Purpose Driven Life. What may be less familiar is how many initiatives Warren and his Saddleback mega-church in Lake Forest, Calif., have undertaken with the Catholic Church.  (Warren joins a host of other well-known speakers at the Annual Legatus Summit, Jan. 28-30,
in Orlando.)

Catholic connection

During the past year alone, Warren has spoken at three important Catholic meetings.

“Pope Francis asked me to speak at the Vatican’s colloquium last November on the complementarity of men and women,” Warren told Legatus magazine. “In March, I was a speaker at the largest Catholic religious education conference in the U.S., held by the archdiocese of Los Angeles.”

During Pope Francis’ visit in September, Warren was at the White House reception for the pontiff. He also attended the canonization of Junípero Serra at Catholic University of America.


Rick Warren meets with Pope Francis at a Vatican conference on the family in November 2014 (Braven Carver, SBC)

“Serra is dear to my heart and that of my wife Kay’s,” he said. “This is the man who basically brought the Church to California.”

Warren and his team from Saddleback — America’s eighth largest church — were the only non-Catholics invited to a dinner in D.C. for American bishops after the canonization. In Philadelphia, Warren spoke to a capacity crowd at the World Meeting of Families, sharing the stage with Boston’s Cardinal Seán O’Malley.

Mental illness

Back on the West Coast, Warren has worked with Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange, Calif., on several initiatives. Their best-know endeavor was a set of conferences on mental health co-sponsored by Saddleback Church and the Diocese of Orange in March 2014 and October 2015. The events were a response to the suicide of Warren’s son Matthew in 2013.

“Immediately after the passing of Warren’s son, Bishop Vann reached out and prayed with the Warren family,” said Ryan Lilyengren, Bishop Vann’s communications director. “We were very happy to partner with them for these two conferences.”

Warren’s goal is to remove the stigma of mental illness.

“It is not a sin to be sick,” he explained. “Mental illness is no different than any other disease. If my heart is sick, I take a pill. There is no shame in that. If you have a mental illness and take a pill for that, why is there shame? The church can do much to remove the stigma.”

Though Warren and his wife prayed for a miracle and hoped to at least find the right medication to manage Matthew’s depression, their son took his life five days after Easter in 2013. Warren stopped preaching for four months and stayed at home to listen to God.

Rick Warren and Bishop Kevin Vann pose together at Saddleback Church on Feb. 24, 2014 (AP Photo/Nick Ut )

Rick Warren and Bishop Kevin Vann pose
together at Saddleback Church on Feb. 24,
2014 (AP Photo/Nick Ut )

“What I have come to realize is that in God’s garden of grace, even broken trees can bear fruit,” he said. “None of us have a mind and body that works perfectly. We all suffer from some kind of physical or mental problem. There are 60 million adults who struggle with mental health issues in the U.S. Most suffer in silence. Churches and businesses must speak up about this. There can be no stigma.”

Another outburst of grace from the pain of Matthew’s suicide is a new book on hope that Warren is writing.

“I plan to speak about the power of hope at Legatus’ Summit,” he said. “My new book is called The Hope You Need. It is on the Lord’s Prayer. It will be released in 2016. For 35 years, I have preached on the Lord’s Prayer. This is a profoundly deep prayer. In it, there are 10 antidotes to hopelessness.”

Working together

What many find astounding is Warren’s willingness to embrace Catholics as his brothers and sisters in the faith. While many Protestant leaders espouse and teach anti-Catholicism, Warren rejects this idea.

“We have much more in common than anything else,” said Warren. “As the world becomes more secular, we have to remember that we — evangelicals and Catholics — hold the sanctity of life, sex and marriage in common. We have serious disagreements to be sure, but that does not mean we can’t love each other.

“If we only stayed around people who totally agreed with us on everything, we could never be married or have friends. Do we all believe in the Holy Trinity? Yes. That Jesus was the Son of God who died and rose from the dead? Yes. In heaven and hell? Yes. In the bible? Yes. That salvation is through Jesus Christ? Yes. Then we are on the same team. We can have unity without uniformity.”

Warren worked closely with the Diocese of Orange this past year to fight the bill that legalized assisted suicide in California. Since the bill’s passage in October, Warren has worked with the diocese on a referendum to repeal the law. Warren has also spoken to the diocese’s priests on the New Evangelization.

The close relationship between Warren and the diocese is somewhat unique in the U.S.

“Bishop Vann has been incredibly pleased with the wonderful relationship between the diocese and evangelicals from Saddleback,” Lilyengren said. “We may have our differences, but the love of God is the most important thing.”

Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Many Catholics would be surprised to know that Archbishop Fulton Sheen has had a major influence on Warren’s life.

“Fulton Sheen was a great, godly man,” Warren said. “He was the forerunner of many priests today in using the media. I have watched every episode [of his television program Life Is Worth Living] ever made and read all his books.”

Warren said he often watches EWTN, and he apparently prays the Divine Mercy Chaplet with his wife every day. He counts Pope St. John Paul II and Blessed Mother Teresa as his heroes. He has read the works of Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Thomas à Kempis and the Desert Fathers.

“What I love about Dr. Rick Warren is that he truly does love the Catholic Church,” said Kathleen Eaton-Bravo, a member of Legatus’ Orange Coast Chapter and founder of Obria Medical Clinics. “Coming from one of the biggest evangelical churches in the U.S., this is a miracle in itself. There is a ‘fear factor’ among evangelicals, but Rick makes sure that anti-Catholicism stays out of Saddleback Church. We have reached out to all the evangelical churches in our area, but the only one who has embraced us is Saddleback.”

Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley and Rick Warren take the stage at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia on Sept. 25 (Gregory L. Tracy photo)

Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley and Rick Warren take the stage at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia on Sept. 25 (Gregory L. Tracy photo)

On the issue of religious freedom, Warren has often stood up for the Catholic Church.

“Religious freedom makes the U.S. unique,” he said. “It is our first freedom and most important freedom. It comes before freedom of the press, speech, assembly, the right to bear arms. If I don’t have the freedom to believe and practice my religion, then I don’t need all the other freedoms.”

Warren has also stood with the Catholic Church against same-sex “marriage.”

“I would remind people that the Church has never been on the right side of history,” he said. “For 2,000 years, one culture after another has crumbled. But the Church still stands. If Jesus comes in 1,000 years, there may not be a U.S., but there will be the Church. If five people on the Supreme Court think that they can change the definition of marriage for billions of people, they are deluded.”

Ultimately, Warren’s friendship with the Catholic Church is a welcome sign of hope and unity in a world of discord and division.

“I think the mission God has given to Rick is to bring evangelicals and Catholics together through his powerful voice,” said Eaton-Bravo. “God has called him to be a unifier. Pope Francis looks to Rick Warren as an opportunity to bring Christians together as never before.”

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.

Your invitation to the 2016 Summit

The clock is ticking down to Legatus’ 2016 Summit — and excitement is building toward the Jan. 28-30 event at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, in Orlando, Fla. Because a capacity crowd of more than 500 participants is anticipated, organizers suggest registering for the Summit as early as possible.

“The schedule is full of speakers that will entertain, educate and enrich our spiritual lives,” said Laura Sacha, Legatus’ conference director. “Hosted by Legatus’ Lincoln Chapter, the Summit’s theme — No More Comfortable Catholicism — is timely because Legatus is on the front lines of the New Evangelization.”

The Summit’s roster of speakers and special guests is impressive:

• Tony B, singer/performer

• Dr. William Donohue, the Catholic League

• Dr. Robert P. George, Princeton University

• Dr. Ray Guarendi, clinical psychologist

• Anne Hendershott, Franciscan University of Steubenville

• Bishop Sam Jacobs, national chaplain

• Ali Landry, actress/master of ceremonies

• Patrick Lencioni, author

• Dr. Ralph Martin, Renewal Ministries

• Bishop John Noonan, Bishop of Orlando

• Fr. Frank Pavone, Priests for Life

• Joseph Pearce, Aquinas College

• Cardinal George Pell, Vatican

• Lloyd Reeb, author

• Sal Salvo, financial expert

• Fr. Mike Schmitz, Diocese of Duluth

• Pastor Rick Warren, Saddleback Church

Thomas Aquinas College hosts a discussion seminar about the meaning and importance of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ first encyclical, and the annual Legatus golf outing takes place at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Orlando, Grande Lakes.

For more details, visit sign at the top of this page or call (866) 534-2887.


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