11 December 1979
The International Council of the International Communication Office, together with Cardinal L.J. Suenens of Belgium, met with Pope John Paul II for an hour and a half on December 11 in order to dialogue about the nature and growth of the worldwide Catholic Charismatic Renewal. During the informal meeting. Which Council members described afterwards as “intimate and deeply-moving”, a forty minute videotape on the Charismatic Renewal, specially prepared by Bobbie Cavnar and The Community of God’s Delight in Dallas, Texas, USA, was viewed by the Holy Father.
This meeting with the Holy Father climaxed a four-day meeting of the members of International Council. They meet every nine months to oversee the work of the International Communication office and to study the renewal as it develops around the world. Although the initial plan was to hold this meeting in the Philippines, the site was changed to Rome after Cardinal Suenens arranged a special meeting of the International Council with Pope John Paul II. The ten members of the International Council who participated with Cardinal Suenens in the meeting with the Pope were Fr. Tom Forrest, director of the ICO in Brussels, Belgium; Hervé Marie Catta of Paris, France; Tom Flynn of Dublin, Ireland; Vic Gutierrez of Manila, Philippines; Fr. Diego Jaramillo of Bogotà, Colombia; Fr. Fio Mascarenhas of Bombay, India; Ralph Martin of Brussels, Belgium; Andy Ngcobo of Soweto, South Africa: Kevin Ranaghan of South Bend, USA; and Brian Smith of Brisbane, Australia. The Most Rev. Alfonso Uribe of Sonsón-Rionegro, Colombia, Cardinal Suenens’ episcopal companion at the meeting, and Miss Veronica O’Brien of Brussels, Belgium, special consultant to the International Communication office, were also present. Prior to the meeting, the staff of the ICO and a few special guests were presented to the Holy Father.
The meeting began at precisely 6:00 p.m. with the presentation of the videotape in a small room of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. The film, addresses directly to the Holy Father and narrated by Fr. John Bertolucci of Little Falls, USA, gave a broad overview of the Charismatic Renewal. Among other things, it consisted of film clips of charismatic conferences at Notre Dame, Kansas city, Dallas, Dublin, and Rome, explanations and illustrations of the role of prophecy, healing, and testimonies in charismatic prayer meetings, and a presentation of liturgical celebrations at both small and large charismatic gatherings. In addition, the film portrayed the work of the Charismatic Renewal among the poor in Juárez, Mexico, depicted the annual conferences held for priests, sisters, and youth at Steubenville, Ohio, and highlighted the unifying work of the renewal among Catholics and Protestants in Belfast, Ireland. Special emphasis was put on the role of music in the Charismatic Renewal, with the music ministries of The Word of God in Ann Arbor, USA and The Community of God’s Delight in Dallas, USA providing background music throughout the film.
According to those present, the Holy Father displayed a deep interest throughout the film, tapping his foot to the music and even humming along with several of the songs. As soon as the fill ended, the Pope stood and turned to the group, saying, “Thank you very much. It (the film) was an expression of faith”. Referring to the music, the gestures, and the talks shown in the film, he called this kind of living expression of faith a revolution, and then added that though faith is often seen as intellectual, and sometimes also a matter of the heart, the expressive dimension of faith waS missing, and usually inhibited. But now he could see that it was coming forth. He could see it, he said, in his own country of Poland, not so expressively as in the film, but still the same thing- “something like another edition of the same book”. When presented a copy of the videotape for this personal use, the Pope replied, “I will show this to others here”.
Following the film and a personal introduction of each member of the International Council, the Pope himself invited the group to rearrange the chairs in a small circle, and sat down with them for an informal conversation. At the beginning of this period of discussion, several members of the International Council presented the Holy Father with written reports on various aspects of the Charismatic Renewal, giving a brief oral résumé of what was contained in each report.
- Bishop Alfonso Uribe’s report described how the Charismatic renewal was bringing about a renewal in his entire diocese.
- Fr. Diego Jaramillo presented a report on the ECCLA VI meetings held in Lima, Peru last year and explained how leaders of the Charismatic Renewal in Latina America were attempting to harmonize the direction of the renewal with the pastoral directives drawn up by their bishops at Puebla and reaffirmed by Pope John Paul II during his visit there.
- Kevin Ranaghan spoke about the work of the Charismatic Renewal in evangelization, emphasizing the success that the Life in the Spirit Seminar has had in bringing hundreds of thousands of people to Christ, and the promise that modern mass-media, especially television, holds for reaching millions of others.
- Hervé Marie Catta also gave a report on evangelization in which he described the special work of the Charismatic Renewal in evangelizing people in the streets of Paris and throughout France, and mentioned special efforts to bring gypsies, Muslims, and intellectual to Christ.
- Fr. Tom Forrest explained how the Charismatic renewal was serving the special needs of today’s priests, and how priests around the world were responding in large numbers.
- Finally, Ralph Martin spoke about the development of Christian communities in the Charismatic renewal, and their attempt to be centers of support and authentic Christian living amidst the anti-Christian pressures of today’s world.
Ralph Martin ended his report to the Pope with a declaration of loyalty, support, and appreciation made in the name of all members of the International Council and the regions of the world they represented. “There is no way to capture with words the power of Ralph’s anointing as he spoke”, Fr. Forrest observed afterwards. Brian Smith said that “the moment was like a spiritual explosion”, so much so that most of the Council members later said they were moved to tears. Ralph said:
“The second part of my report, Holy Father, is to say that we really hear in you the voice of Jesus Christ. When we hear you speak to bishops as they come visit you and we hear you tell them that the first thing in their lives in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and guarding the truth and deposit of the faith, we really sense in you, in a special way, the work of the Holy Spirit. Holy Father, we want to say that we really hear in you the voice of Christ. We rejoice, Holy Father, like the disciples rejoiced on the way to Emmaus, when we hear you talking to theologians and telling them not to destroy the faith but to build it up. When we hear you telling them that scientific methods are not enough, but that faith, loyalty, and commitment to Jesus Christ and to the Magisterium are necessary, our hearts burn in us and we rejoice like the disciples on the way of Emmaus. There has been so much disunity and so much uncertainty. Today, Holy Father, there are some in the Church who are hostile to certitude about the faith. But when we hear you talk about proclaiming the Gospel, about preaching the authority of the Word of God, and destroying the doubt and the uncertainty that is sapping the strength of the Church today, Holy Father, we profoundly rejoice. As you call us to seek Jesus, we pledge ourselves. We are fully united to you. We give you our resources to you. We feel ourselves able, on the grassroots level, to bring the people to what you are calling them to do, and to help them know Jesus Christ. We offer ourselves t you. We offer ourselves to you, Holy Father. And ask you to let us know what we can do to help you, to support you, to work with you. We are at your disposal. We have resources, we have people, we have communities. We have people who are willing to die for the faith, and we are offering it all to you, Holy Father”.
Responding to these words, Pope John Paul II told the members of the group:
“This is my first meeting with you, so I cannot answer as yet about this request. Let me first explain my own charismatic way. I have always been in this renewal in the Holy Spirit. My own way is very interesting. When I was a schoolboy, about 12 or 13 years old. I sometimes had difficulties in my studies, in particular with mathematics. My father gave me a prayer book, opening it to a page and saying to me: “You have here the prayer to the Holy Spirit. You must say this prayer every day of your life”. I am still obedient to this command my father gave me, and have been so now for nearly 50 years, which is not a little time. This was my own spiritual initiation, so I can understand all these different charisms. They are all part of the richness of the Lord. I am convinced that this movement is a sign of His action. The world needs so much this action of the Holy Spirit, and needs so many instruments of this action. The situation in the world is so very dangerous, very dangerous. Materialism is opposed to the true dimension of human power, all these different kinds of materialism. Materialism is a negation of the spiritual, and this is why we need His action. Now I see this presence f the Holy Spirit. Through his action, He comes to the human spirit and we begin again to live, to find ourselves, our identity, our whole humanity. So I am convinced that this movement is a very important component of this entire renewal, this spiritual renewal of the Church”.
After about ten more minutes of dialogue , Cardinal Suenens asked whether it would be possible to have a period of prayer together. “We would like to pray in our own way, and this means aloud, spontaneously, and in full liberty”, Cardinal Suenens said. To this request, the Holy Father responded “Fine, I will join you gladly…in my own way”. One member of the group asked the Holy Father if it would be all right to use a guitar that he had brought along, and the Pope replied, “Oh yes, the guitar is a very important element of this spiritual renewal”. The group began their period of prayer together by singing the “Eightfold Alleluia”. The prayer quickly moved into a time of praise, mostly in tongues, that was described by one person as “full-bodied, gentle, and deeply, prayerful”. Different members of the group prayed various prayers of petition. The prayer time ended with all members of the group singing the “Magnificat” together.
As the meeting drew to an end, all the members of the group knelt down to receive the Holy Father’s blessing. Fr. Tom Forrest requested his blessing with the following words:
“We want to say as we kneel before you, Holy Father, that for us here on earth you are our father. We are weak, we are sinful, but we know that as a father you understand us. We feel that God has said some things to us, and that because we are weak and because we are sinful, He wants to use us. We kneel here to say that we wish to be of service of God. And that means that here on earth we would like to be your servants. We want you to know that we will serve in whatever way the service is needed. We want you to know that we wish to give our lives for the Church, so that the Church can be strong again. We also want you to know that we love you, that our love is very deep, that our love doesn’t have expression enough in simply saying that we love you. We would like to have an opportunity of proving that love. We want to be called upon in any way, at any time. We want to die for Christ because we know that this is the only way to live. We want you to bless us and the people we love so much. We carry their names with us, and we ask your blessing upon them. But also, with the greatest and deepest humility, we wish to call God’s blessing down upon you. We realize how difficult your task is, how enormous the needs are that you have upon your heart. And we guarantee that we will never cease praying for you. We will ask millions of people all over the world to pray, to pray that the Church might be renewed, that the world might be made well, that the world might know Jesus Christ. We ask you to bless us and the names that we carry of those whom we love so much.”.
The Holy Father then gave the traditional blessing in Latin, prefacing it with the words, “Blessed be God, blessed be all of you”. When asked whether he had any special prayer intention that those in the Charismatic Renewal might pray for, he said, “Pray for the people who cannot express themselves, for those who are persecuted, for those who cannot express their belief in Christ. You have to hold them in your hearts”.
At the end of the meeting, the Holy Father warmly embraced each of those present, speaking a special word to each. “I hope you will come to me again”, he said as he left the room. His last words were in Italian: “Lodato sia Gesù Cristo!” (“Praised be Jesus Christ).
The experience for everyone present was deeply moving. All were impressed by the warmth and accessibility of the Pope. “It was more like visiting a kind father than visiting the Pope himself”, Brian Smith commented. Bishop Uribe noted, “He kissed me on both cheeks. Not even my mother use to do that”. Analyzing more deeply what had just happened, the Bishop added: “The job of the Holy Spirit is to unite persons, starting with the Persons of the Blessed Trinity. He unites us to God and also to each other. Tonight we saw Him uniting us with our Holy Father, the Pope, doing this not through some kind of protocol, but much more deeply through His own great power”.
Taken from the ICO Newsletter, January-February 1980