4 - 10 May 1981



Leaders from 94 countries at Rome Conference

The 523 delegates to the Fourth International Leaders’ Conference of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and some 80 guests were received in a special audience May 7 in the Lourdes Grotto of the Vatican Gardens by Pope John Paul II. There was a period of worship and song – with the Holy Father several times requesting more songs. His Holiness addressed the gathering.

“Your choice of Rome as the site of this conference is a special sign of your understanding of the importance of being rooted in that Catholic unity of faith and charity which finds its visible center in the See of Peter”, the Holy Father said.

(The complete text of the Pope’s address is reprinted in this newsletter from the official version printed in L’Osservatore Romano).

Following the Holy Father’s talk, Ralph Martin, representing the International Renewal, pledged loyalty and love to the Pope and said those in the Renewal would always be ready to stand in service to His Holiness. A number of gifts were presented to the Holy Father, including a videotape of the work being done by a charismatic group of El Paso, Texas, among the poor people of Juarez, Mexico.

“The Holy Spirit is part of the structure of the Church”, Leon Joseph Cardinal Suenens said in his talk at the Rome conference on “The Mystery of the Church and Leadership in the Renewal”. He said that the ordination ceremonies for deacons, priests and bishops call for the candidates to be anointed by the Holy Spirit and thus no one should try to separate the charismatic and the Institutional dimensions of the Church. The cardinal saw the Church as a single charismatic reality all together in the power of God.

Addressing bishops, priests and deacons who are not at the conference and who are not supportive of the Renewal, the cardinal pleaded: “Please recognize the visitation of the Lord – a grace given to the Church and the world today in the Renewal”. He asked the bishops not to see the Charismatic Renewal as a movement, but as “move of the Spirit. Where the Spirit is blowing, listen, “he said, calling charismatics “just normal Christians”.

Cardinal Suenens said that in the earlier years of his priestly ministry he would anoint a dying person with the last sacraments and then leave with a promise to pray for the person. Now he brings some members of a charismatic group with him and they pray with the dying person. That “brings the sacrament alive”, the cardinal said. He also cautioned bishops not to make their judgments on the Charismatic Renewal based only on certain individuals or groups who might not be acting properly. “Don’t judge (the Renewal) from the outside.”, he pleaded.

Cardinal Suenens then addressed conference participants supportive of the Renewal. He said they should recognize the charismatic side of bishops, priests and deacons who are appointed leaders of the Church in a sacramental way. If a bishop does not seem too favorable right away, those in the Renewal should give a witness by their upright lives and “continue to knock on the bishop’s door”. Persevering prayer will be answered, he said, adding: “Humility is the key to opening doors”.

The cardinal also encouraged the integration of the Renewal into the sacramental life of the Church and into the appropriate liturgical cycles. He endorsed the many efforts at praying for church unity especially during the feast of Pentecost.

During the conference it was announced that there is a new member of the Council of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Office. He is Osmanio Pereira de Oliveira, an attorney of Bel Horizonte, Brazil.

“I believe the time has now come to be moving towards the center of the Church”, Father Tom Forrest, C.Ss.R., said in his opening address at the May 4-9 leadership conference. In talking about both the holding of this conference in Rome and the moving of the charismatic renewal’s international office to that same city, Father Forrest said that the Charismatic Renewal should no longer be on the fringe, but rather, at the very heart of the Catholic Church. “We believe that God himself has been calling us to Rome”, he said.

The International Communication Office serving the Catholic Charismatic Renewal was founded in the early 1970’s by the National Service Committee of the United States. The first director was Ralph Martin of Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 1976, the ICO moved to Brussels in order to work more closely with Cardinal Suenens, who was given a special pastoral concern for the Charismatic Renewal by the last three Popes. Father Forrest was later named the director of the ICO and the chairman of the International Council of the ICO. Recently, Father Fio Mascarenhas, S.J., was named director of the ICO. Father Forrest remains chairman of the ICO Council and Mr. Martin remains on the 11-member council which represents all major areas of the world. The ICO has just moved to Via Ferruccio, 19, 00185, Rome, and it has changed its name to the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Office (ICCRO).

In his talk, Father Forrest said the Charismatic Renewal was in transition, now entering its second stage. In the first or infancy stage, “we were functioning unrealistically, God, by Himself, doing everything single-handedly, leaving everything easy for us. All we had to do was pray and the job was done”.

He compared this first stage to the beginnings of the ministry of St. Francis of Assisi when it seemed all was blessing from God with revelations and the experience of God’s love and the warm friendship of his first companions. Then St. Francis went into the second stage of his ministry, planned by God to bring him to maturity, a time of trials including dissension among the brothers, attacks from the outside, serious illness and the reality of extreme poverty. But St. Francis persevered, father Forrest said, and this led to the third stage when the Franciscan ideals spread across the world. This year, the Franciscan Spirit will be leading 8 million pilgrims to Assisi.

As the Charismatic Renewal enters the second stage, “we have to be stronger and much more humble”, Father Forrest said. “We don’t yet know all the answers. We are more conscious of our own weakness – and that is a good thing, teaching us that we have to rely more on God”. He said those in the Charismatic Renewal are not being called to the easy, but to the difficult and even to the heroic.

In the first stage, the Charismatic Renewal has remained greatly on the fringe of the Church, Father Forrest pointed out. A renewal movement almost has to begin there, he said, so it will not be tied down to rigid traditions of devotion and expression. The Charismatic Renewal performed many useful functions and was able to grow while remaining on the fringe. Now the ICCRO Council sees God indicating the time has come to move from the fringe to the center. Father Forrest’s belief is that a primary task of this Renewal is to activate each individual member of the Church. Though he stressed that there are other forces at work renewing the Church, he said that the Charismatic Renewal remains an important part of the renewing the entire Church. Father Forrest hoped that the move to the heart of the Church in Rome on the international level would be followed by moves of the Charismatic Renewal on the regional and local levels to the center of the parishes. He also expressed the need for clearer guidelines to be formulated to give direction to groups moving more in circles than forward.

Bishop Paul Cordes, vice-president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, also spoke at the May 4 opening session. He said he was happy that the conference was being held in Rome and that the ICCRO was being moved there because Rome is the heartbeat of the Church. He said it is encouraging that this move comes “at a time which has produced this (unacceptable) slogan: “the faith, yes; the Church, no”. He added that it is important to have a good balance between the freedom of the Spirit and the solidity of the Church.

The 523 conference delegates came from 94 countries and included 16 bishops and some 170 priests. The conference took place under the presidency of Cardinal Suenens, who gave the opening words of welcome in several languages.

On three afternoons of the conference, the main addresses focused on the qualities of a leader.

-Ralph Martin, speaking on “The Repentant Leader”, said that revisiting temptation is a key to holiness. “Don’t sin, and you won’t have to repent”. Leaders, he continued, “need to take seriously the seductions of the world. He said it is important to turn to God and to God’s word as soon as one realizes he is being tempted. One must also avoid the near occasions of sin. Leaders, he cautioned, especially face temptations in the areas of money, sex and power. If we do fall, he said, we should come to the Lord, seek forgiveness and receive it.

-Father Fio Mascarenhas, S.J., speaking on “The Converted Leader”, said Christians must be converted from the world to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Referring to the Epistle to the Romans, he said the world is still waiting in travail for the revelation of the sons of God. Christians must bear the cross, especially by suffering deprivation and shame. Even in the more affluent countries, Christians can daily bear the cross of shame. He told a story about St. Francis of Assisi asking a brother what the “greatest joy” was and then giving the unlikely answer that the greatest joy was in being beaten and rejected. Father Mascarenhas talked about the Beatitudes teaching us that we are to store up our treasures in Heaven.

-Developing the topic, “The Committed Leader”, Maria de Sangiovanni of the Dominican Republic said, “Commitment is not abstract. It is real, made by someone for something for a definite purpose”. God fulfills His commitments, she said, referring to the commitments God made to save His people from the slavery of Egypt and to send a Redeemer. Jesus revealed Himself as the model of commitment since He fulfilled the will of His Father. Leaders in the Renewal should review their commitments to God and to man, comparing the level of their commitment to what we know of Jesus’ total commitment to fulfill God’s will. All commitment must be based on love, she stressed.

Added notes about the meetings in Rome

The programme cover for the Fourth International Leaders Conference was decorated with the words “Praise the Lord” written in 45 different languages. During the conference the delegates were also taught to greet each other according to several of the different national customs including a finger snapping handshake from Ghana and the different ways of bowing in Japan, Korea and Thailand. For the meeting with the Holy Father as well as the closing liturgy with Cardinal Suenens, many came dressed in native customs. They included saris from India, batiks from Indonesia, two-foot-high head dresses from the West Indies, broad sashes from Malta, Velvet vests from Austria, Kimonos from Korea, sarongs from Thailand and a variety of costumes from Africa. All of this became a vivid symbol of the universality of the Body of Christ.

The five bishops who came as delegates from Canada came as the official representatives of the Episcopal Conference of that country. Bishop Romeo Alberti of Brazil was also the official representative of the Brazilian Bishops, the largest Episcopal Conference in the Church.

At the beginning of his talk the Pope began by reading the blessing of St. Paul found in 2 Cor 13:13 which ends with the words, “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”. To this the 600 delegates and guests spontaneously bellowed back, “And also with you”, to the Pope’s great surprise, so he paused here for (exactly) 36 seconds in his talk, several times beginning to say something but not quite finding the words. Finally he said, “this evening I come to teach you, but I also come to learn something about you”. In the part in his talk about cooperation with Bishops, his words that the Bishops “have the pastoral responsibility in God’s providence for shepherding the entire Body of Christ, including the Charismatic Renewal” were greeted with loud applause. About this clapping the Pope commented, “It is a good sign”, and then with a tiny smile he added, “You can say that the Pope himself is doing the same (right now)”. After giving his Apostolic blessing to the group and to their loved ones, the Pope’s words to them were, “You are a good people. Now I hope you will sing something for the conclusion”. When the song was finished he called for another one, and then another one, seeming not to want to go away even though it was known that he had a great deal more work to do that same night. Among the final spontaneous words to the group were: “Alleluia…when do you come again? …But when?... You must look for a good moment, another evening (to come again). You must look for it…This is something, thank You very much. God bless you. Continue to do that and to return to the Pope some time”. At his own request he was introduced to all Ecumenical guests just before he was driven away from the grotto to exuberant shouts of “Viva il Papa”.

Other meetings with the Pope:

The Fourth International Leaders’ Conference began on the night of Monday, May 4, 1981. On Tuesday 5th May, the Pope invited Cardinal Suenens, Fr. Fio Mascarenhas, Mr. Ralph Martin, Fr. Tom Forrest and Miss Veronica O’Brien (the special consultant to ICCRO) to lunch in his private apartments. The Pope also invited Bishop Paul Cordes, Vice-President of the Council of Laity, and Monsignor Justin Rigali of the Secretariat of State. With his two private secretaries also present, the 10 places at the small dinner table were exactly filled. Including the time for prayer in the Papal chapel both before and afterwards, the conversation at the luncheon was so alive and animated that the occasion lasted a full two hours. His Holiness asked many questions, doing more listening than speaking himself, the topic being the renewal of the Church, priestly renewal and the Charismatic Renewal in particular. The Pope also showed interest in the move of the International Office from Belgium to Rome, since the purpose of the move was to bring the Renewal closer to the heart of the Church and to be of greater service to it. Even after the visit to his private chapel, the Pope stayed talked informally a little longer with the privileged group, giving each a gift Rosary and inviting them to come again.

The Polish delegation at the conference received an invitation to attend His Holiness’s private morning mass on Saturday May 9. Gary Seromik, a Polish American and former editor of our international Newsletter, also attended. In talking to the group after the Mass, the Pope was especially impressed when they spoke to him about the Renewal leading to deeper Christian commitment. Saying to two of the priests in the group, “This is very important, we must talk more about it” he invited them to return that evening for supper! There he commented that he was impressed by the universality of the Renewal and that he saw in its desire of full integration into the Church and its continuous prayers for the persecuted Church, clear signs of the working of the Holy Spirit. Ice cream was served as dessert for the dinner, and at the end of the meal, the Pope himself summed up all the charismatic events of the week with these words, “All these were a deep joy for me and worthy of all the meetings and meals that we had, even of this ice cream!”

Taken from the ICCRS Newsletter May-June 1981.

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