Streaming into Rome from the four corners of the globe this week are thousands of people with high expectations of what they call “a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit” at this weekend’s Pentecost celebration.
Normally that wouldn’t be news. But this year the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) is celebrating its fiftieth Jubilee, and therefore especially hopes for “special graces”.
Some 30,000 people from 130 countries are in town for four days of high-octane praise and adoration prayers and liturgies, as well as workshops, testimonies, healings, and not a few invocations of the Holy Spirit. There will also be 600 priests and 50 bishops present.
The May 31 – June 4 jubilee is being organized by the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services and the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships.
The events culminate in a vigil in the Circus Maximus with Pope Francis on Saturday evening, and Pentecost Mass in St Peter’s Square on Sunday. On the vigil of Pentecost the Pope will address participants during an ecumenical prayer vigil.
The program includes meetings, symposia and workshops in locations across Rome, including testimony by some of the witness of the early years of the charismatic renewal.
Other smaller events throughout will include Eucharistic adoration, concerts, conferences, and street evangelization. Mass on Friday will be said by Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.
Salvatore Martinez, president of Italy’s Catholic charismatic association, told journalists May 30 that the Golden Jubilee is a sign of communion, unity, and charity.
“The Pope urges us to be protagonists of history, and to make these charisms a dynamism of love for men of our time,” he said. “Spiritual ecumenism will be the culminating moment, the heart of this spiritual celebration.”
The Jubilee marks 50 years since the so-called “Duquesne weekend,” when a group of professors and students from the university of Duquesne 15 miles north of Pittsburgh had a series of ecstatic experiences following a three-day retreat focussed on the Acts of the Apostles, including praying in tongues and healings.
According to New Orleans-based author and speaker Patti Gallagher Mansfield, one of those present at the Duquesne weekend, this “baptism in the Spirit” is understood as a three-fold phenomenon: A release of the graces of baptism and confirmation which lie dormant because of people’s lack of faith and “expectation”; a new coming of the Spirit to equip the Church for a new mission; and a special eschatological grace to unite Christians of different denominations.
At the request of Pope Francis, who points to the ecumenical birth of the CCR, there will be around 5,000 evangelicals and Pentecostals who form part of CCR communities worldwide present at this week’s celebrations.
Duquesne was the moment when what had been an exclusively Pentecostal phenomenon – accepted with difficulty by Protestant churches – began to enter the Catholic bloodstream, spreading rapidly in spite of opposition. It reached Brazil, the country which has today the strongest charismatic presence (2 million people in 20,000 prayer groups) just two years later.
The Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) today claims more than 120 million members in 235 countries, although given that the definition of a charismatic is one who has received a “baptism in the Spirit” leading to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, keeping tabs on numbers is not an exact science.
However you measure it, the CCR is numerically the most significant of all the so-called “new movements” – although that term can mislead. The CCR isn’t a movement in the usual sense: It has no human founder – charismatics say its founder is the Holy Spirit itself – and rather than a single entity it is a global patchwork of loosely affiliated communities and prayer groups of charismatic inspiration.
As its early advocates, above all the then Archbishop of Brussels, Cardinal Leo Jozef Suenens, would insist, the Renewal wasn’t so much a movement that you joined, as a movement that joined the Church.
Among those speaking at events over the next days are some of the early pioneers such as Gallagher Mansfield and Ralph Martin who will be looking back on the road traveled, and marveling at what has been achieved.
But behind the scenes, it’s also clear that this week’s gathering is an opportunity for Pope Francis to help the CCR to reform – to encourage what might be called a “renewal of the Renewal.” In this effort, he certainly has credentials.
Even though previous popes have also strongly supported the charismatics, no pope has ever been as close to the CCR as Francis.
Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, went from being one of the opponents of the Renewal in the 1970s – the then Argentine provincial disliked what he saw as its samba-like prayer and its spiritual elitism, and forbade the Jesuits to have anything to do with it – to strongly endorsing it as cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires.
Just a few months before the 2013 conclave, Francis was named the spiritual assistant, or chaplain, to the CCR by the Argentine bishops’ conference.
At a meeting with charismatics in June 2014, he recalled how he would celebrate Mass in the cathedral for the Argentine CCR, and would have “a few moments of adoration in tongues” following the consecration.
Looking over Pope Francis’s addresses to Renewal groups since his election (one in 2014, two in 2015) it is clear he wants to see the CCR return to the original vision of the three famous “Malines documents,” which were drawn up by Cardinal Suenens and the Brazilian bishop Helder Camera, leading exponent of a “poor Church, for the poor.”
Francis in 2014 used the titles of these documents to remind the Renewal that its path was “evangelization, spiritual ecumenism, caring for the poor and needy, and welcoming the marginalized.” To mark the latter priority, at Saturday’s Vigil, special places have been reserved for some of Rome’s homeless.
The other part of Francis’s invitation, to be at the forefront of Christian unity, will also be clear on Saturday, when Francis will share the stage with Cantalamessa and Pastor Giovanni Traettino, a Pentecostal whom the pope privately visited in 2014 in Caserta to apologize for the Catholic Church’s past mistreatment of evangelicals.
“You Charismatics have a special grace to pray and work for Christian unity, so that the current of grace may pass through all Christian Churches,” he said in his July 2015 address.
Francis insists that it is the same Holy Spirit that blows through all the Churches impacted by the Renewal, creating unity in diversity, or rather, unity through diversity. (Neither division nor uniformity, in Francis’s reading, are of the Spirit).
As Michelle Moran, British president of one of the two bodies representing the Renewal in the Vatican noted yesterday in a briefing for journalists, “We are able to say together that Jesus is Lord, and we can say that only because of the Holy Spirit.”
The choice of the Circus Maximus – where on Saturday some 300 evangelical and Pentecostal leaders will take their seats at the Vigil – reflects that priority: First because it is a neutral alternative to St. Peter’s Square, secondly because, as a historic place of martyrdom, it offers the chance for Francis to refer to the “ecumenism of blood” of today’s Christian martyrs.