The ICCRS story is one of great faith but also of brokenness. Its story of faith has been the bold achievement that the Renewal has received in benefits by the approval of the Church and the acceptance that it gained even in the early days of its commencement, but which is also a story of misunderstanding and distrust in brokenness as well.
ICCRS had its commencement as ICO (International Communications Office) which was nothing more than Ralph Martin’s desk in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ralph had been commissioned by the National Service Committee of the United State to take responsibility for the international contacts and inquiries that were being received. I myself met with Ralph in 1972 at the Notre Dame Conference. He invited me to Ann Arbor to stay with him and so began a long relationship of faith and fellowship.
First International Conference for Leaders in Rome, Italy
In October, 1973, the ICO sponsored the first International Conference for Leaders of the Renewal at the Franciscan Sisters at Grottaferrata, Italy. The reason why Grottaferrata was chosen was that it was just beyond the edge of the Rome diocese. There was nervousness about having a charismatic leaders conference in Rome.
At that conference I was one of the speakers giving a paper entitled “The Birth of the Renewal in a Country”. The 120 Catholic Delegates and 6 Protestant observers, including Canon Michael Harper, attended the Wednesday Audience. Of the total, 13 of us were received in a private Audience in the upstairs rooms adjoining the Audience Hall. There are many stories that could be told about us waiting to be received by Paul VI.
There was apprehension and excitement about what this would mean for us all. Paul VI graciously received us and to everyone’s surprise, even though it had not been mentioned in the General Audience, drew from his assistant’s brief case a prepared text for us, which has been published. He added personally to us he understood the difficulties that we would be undergoing at this time and promised to say Mass for us. He then appointed Archbishop Hamer, o.p. as a personal contact that we could use in order to reach him without having to go through other Vatican offices. As each of us was presented to him, he greeted us most warmly and seemed to appreciate and understand what we were all about. Paul VI was a man of great spiritual penetration into the people he would meet. You felt as if he read your soul deeply and prayerfully. It was for me a profound experience.
The 1975 International Conference in Rome, Italy
When we left the audience room, we were very overjoyed and rejoined the other delegates and on the way back to Grottaferrata we shared and prayed with excitement. From that day onwards we began to have a vision for the Notre Dame Conference held at the Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, U.S.A. which at that time was a major conference of the renewal throughout the world. We had a vision in response to the Holy Father’s invitation for the Church to come to Rome in pilgrimage for the Holy Year of 1975. There were extreme difficulties that opposed our coming, one situation after another seemed to go wrong including the architect who had set up the stands and meeting places for the conference centre being arrested. The Italian Government refused to recognise that there was an International Conference being sponsored in Rome. So there were hold-ups and much drama regarding the pensione where people were being housed, many delays with buses and transport. Yet at the last minute everything cleared and the conference proceeded with great success.
The conference was memorable for many reasons - the speakers, the continued support of Cardinal Leon Joseph Suenens, Bishop McKenney from Grand Rapids, Michigan, the fact that it was situated in the grounds of the Catacombs of Saint Callixtus. One cannot help feeling the euphoria still of the people there as we danced with joy on the lawns of the Monastery amid wild poppies that were in flower. It reminded one of the spirit of Francis and Clare in the beginning of the thirteenth century Renewal and the founding of the Franciscan Family.
During the conference on Pentecost Monday, the 13,000 delegates assembled in Saint Peter’s Basilica for the celebration of the Pentecost Mass. Cardinal Suenens was given the rare privilege of being able to be the principal Celebrant and the use of the Papal Altar for the occasion, a rare event in Rome. At the conclusion of the Eucharist as we waited for the Holy Father to arrive, there were many alleluias sung and prayers of praise to God. Finally, Paul VI arrived amid great acclamation. It had been told to us that he had been advised not to attend our meeting as it would only strengthen the Movements of the Charismatic Renewal throughout the world. However, he was touched by the prayerfulness and the atmosphere, the praise and worship of God that he could see within the Basilica. One of the first gestures he made on arrival was to take the hand of Cardinal Suenens and hold it high in an affirmation of the work and his guiding hand with Charismatic leaders throughout the world. He then addressed us, speaking of three points of discernment that we should use with regard to the Movements. The first of these guidelines was fidelity of the authentic doctrine of the faith, 1 Cor. 1-3; the second was that all spiritual gifts are to be received with gratitude for the common good, i.e. the total upbuilding of the church and society; and the third and most important of all was that above all these things hovers love. Only the love of charity, agape, makes a Christian perfect—it alone makes people pleasing to God.
This love not only pre-supposes a gift of the Spirit; it implies active presence of His person in the heart of the Christian. St Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22 that the fruit of the Spirit is love. Therefore, everyone should be of one heart and one soul, Acts 4:32. After the Holy Father completed his message, he said this Renewal ought to rejuvenate the world and give it back a spirituality, a soul, a religious thought; it ought to re-open the world’s closed lips to prayer and open its mouth to song, to joy, and to witnessing. As he spoke these words, his voice grew more and more vibrant as he cried out “Jesus is Lord! Alleluia!”.
As the Holy Father was leaving, there was great jubilation with people singing and dancing through the Basilica, and at that time of day streams of light were coming through the high windows of St. Peter’s. It was a most wonderful experience and it took me back to the vision of Canon Michael Harper in 1973, which he shared with the delegates at the conference at Grottaferrata, that while he was waiting for the thirteen members chosen for the Audience to return to the bus, he had gone into the Basilica and experienced a vision of the Holy Spirit coming down upon thousands of people assembled; and now only two years after this vision, it was actually happening before all our eyes. The Holy Spirit had quickened the heart of Paul VI to give his blessing to the Renewal. The challenge that lay before us that day was to take that recognition and the graces of the Charismatic Renewal to the world wide Church and to the world. The simple work of the Spirit that had began at Notre Dame was now a grace flowing for the whole Church. Ralph Martin’s desk in Ann Arbor had become a work of service, that would be soon be centred in Rome, that would affect the world wide Renewal.
From ICO to ICCRO
Since 1972 the ICO has facilitated the world-wide growth of the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church. It has done this in a number of ways, by publishing an international directory of prayer groups, by providing literature and tapes where needed, by publishing a newsletter and by organising a number of meetings of international leaders. The ICO was also responsible for organising the above successful International Conference in Rome on the occasion of the Holy Year that was attended by 13,000 people.
Originally situated in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the ICO was later located in Brussels, Belgium, where its Director Ralph Martin lived. Cardinal Suenens, who was asked by Paul VI to take a concern for the international development of the renewal, was episcopal advisor to the ICO.
In the autumn of 1977 a consultation of 110 people representing 60 countries was undertaken in order to seek guidance regarding the possible formation of an international committee. After consultation with Cardinal Suenens, it was decided to form such a committee to supervise the work of the ICO. This new Council would have the responsibilities:
To work with Cardinal Suenens in his capacity as Episcopal Adviser to the International Communications Office;
To provide through the International Communications Office those services which will contribute to the development of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal;
To review periodically all the services of the International Communications Office;
To determine the budget of the International Communications Office and take responsibility for its funding;
To oversee communications between the International Communications Office and the Holy See;
To plan any international events sponsored by the International Communication Office.
The following persons were members of the new Council for the International Communications Office to which Cardinal Suenens will also serve as Episcopal Adviser:
Fr. Marcel Bourland, Dijon, France
Thomas Flynn, Dublin, Ireland
Fr. Thomas Forrest, Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico
Victor Guitterez, Manila, Philippines
Ralph Martin, Brussels, Belgium
Fr. Diego Jaramillo, Bogota, Colombia
Fr. Fio Mascarenhas, Bombay, India
Kevin Ranaghan, South Bend, Indiana (USA)
Brian Smith, Brisbane, Australia.
Members of the Council have been chosen for a term of two years initially. The Council will choose its own chairman and will determine the frequency of its meetings, it’s working language and it’s working arrangements and agreements.
In 1978 the work of ICO’s International Communications Office took on a more ecclesial identity with the involvement of Cardinal Suenens and the formal appointment to ICO that would soon become the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Office.
ICCRO's early difficulties
However, despite the development of the ICCRO Council, there were often major obstacles in relationships, miscommunications that had to be overcome. While we may be zealous to obtain this goal, it has not always been successful.
It is often said that every time a new work emerges, the older work is threatened or opposes the new for various reasons.
In Rome many of the fears were realised and new tensions arose, particularly between some Council Officers, which led to a separation with Father Tom leaving the ICCRO office and the further establishment of Evangelisation 2000 separate from the Renewal where it had originally been conceived. One of the first things that the Council did in 1988 was to visit with Father Tom to seek reconciliation and future co-operation. I remember the day we called to see him. He thought his office staff was joking when they said ICCRO officers were here to greet him. Then I saw the look of absolute delight on his face when he came through the door to greet each one of us.
New tensions arose with ICCRO with regards to the Council of the Laity in ensuring that international conferences of an ecumenical nature be discussed with the Council, first seeking their co-operation and understanding of purpose and discussing whether they ought to be held. It was prior to the taking up of office by Father Ken that Bishop Paul Joseph Cordes, then Vice President of the Council of the Laity, had taken up his official position at the request of the Holy Father (May, 1984) to be responsible for the work of the movements, especially charismatic renewal and covenant communities. While there had been some apprehension and misunderstanding regarding the conference situations of 1988, Bishop Paul Cordes has proven to be a true friend and a caring pastor in his responsibilities for the renewal. The covenant communities are in great debt to him because in November, 1990, on the Feast of St Andrew, there was given to a grouping of Covenant Communities “A private association of the Christian faithful of pontifical right”. I myself was elected as first President and officially appointed by the Vatican to that post and I need to add that that has been possibly due to the tremendous co-operation and interest of the Holy See, particularly in the person of Bishop Cordes.
From ICCRO to ICCRS
With the appointment of Charles Whitehead as new chairman, I noted a new air of confidence in working with the Council for the Laity. Father Ken Metz and Charles together have done a lot of work that has brought into reality a solid working relationship between the ICCRO office and the Holy See. For this I congratulate them on a job well done.
With Father Ken Metz’ retirement, Sister Nancy Kellar took up the position as Director of the Office, and received many invitations for worldwide ministry of teaching. Today Sister Nancy operates from her New York Congregation with the full blessing of her Order and the great encouragement of ICCRS in appreciation of a ministry of teaching well done.
ICCRO became ICCRS at the time of the establishment of the Statutes for the ICCRS office. The emphasis was more on the “S” for service rather than a mere department or office of the Renewal. The Rome Office has seen many visitors over these years including Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, Religious and Lay People. There has been a flood of people from around the world who have expressed their appreciation to all those who have served in one way or another. Claude Lopez of Melbourne, Australia, has on a number of occasions come to the rescue of the ICCRS office, assisting in guiding its direction in very practical ways at conferences and in office management.
The Office in Rome has proven to be a great blessing for the Renewal for as well as being a Centre for people to visit, it has been an important communication between the Vatican Departments of the Roman Curia and the Leaders of Charismatic Renewal. Its work has led to greater understanding and co-operation in the ongoing work of renewing of the Church and of the bold proclamation of the Gospel throughout our world today.
When I look around me today at the new members and old as well, I can see us at the commencement of a whole new era of understanding and co-operation. It seems that the quarrels and tensions of the past have gone. These days of sharing together have been for me both a healing and vision of the life in the Spirit. I have every hope that this Council is in a new place of doing greater things for God as He will lead us to do.
This article cannot possibly list the number of extraordinary Priests, Bishops and lay people who have contributed to the success of this Office and in service to the world wide Charismatic Renewal. Their names would be well known to you all. I can only thank God that so many have responded with great generosity for the development of the Renewal and the upbuilding of the Church.
(Note: the subtitles are not part of the original article. They have been added to facilitate its reading)
A personal reflection
by former ICCRS President, Charles Whitehead