VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis has become the first pope to visit a Pentecostal church, pressing his outreach to evangelicals who represent Catholicism's greatest competition for Christian souls around the globe.
Francis flew by helicopter Monday to visit the under-construction Pentecostal Church of Reconciliation in the southern city of Caserta. He met privately with a Pentecostal preacher who is an old friend, Giovanni Traettino.
Speaking to some 350 Pentecostal faithful in the church, Francis apologized for Catholic persecution of Pentecostals during Italy's fascist regime and stressed that there was unity in diversity within Christianity.
He acknowledged the remarkable nature of his visit, saying: "Someone will be surprised: 'The pope went to visit the evangelicals?' But he went to see his brothers."
Francis has met unofficially with several Pentecostal and evangelical preachers recently.