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30 May - 5 June 1984
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638 leaders of charismatic prayer groups and communities from 108 countries came to Rome for the Fifth International Leaders Conference (April 30 – May 5). Visible was a true cross-section of the Catholic Church, cardinals, bishops, and priests, religious and laity, among whom could be seen surgeons and doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, businessmen, laborers and even farmers, policemen, housewives, catechists, youth, etc. All came seeking grace and wisdom to be at the heart of the Church.
The Conference got off a wonderful start with a special audience given by Pope John Paul II. Calling the Conference “of decisive importance”, the Pope said, “With all my heart I welcome you to Rome in the joy of the Risen Christ”, and went on to tell us that “real openness to the Holy spirit is your strength and your special treasure”, but that is “is also a fragile treasure, and one which you must take special care of”. He interpreted this Conference, with its special focus on the sacraments, “as a decision to return to the sources”, and insisted that our lives “as baptized and confirmed Christians can be ceaselessly renewed at the sacramental heart of your local Churches”. The Holy Father concluded by encouraging us to let Mary “be in a special way your Mother and the Model of Renewal in the Church”. He then delighted a large number of our delegated by moving up and down the main aisle of the Paul VI Audience Hall, thus enabling many to see him at very close quarters, and to even touch or shake hands with him. At the end, the following representatives from the six continents were presented to the Pope: Sr. Nancy Kellar and Mrs. Sally Lynch (USA), Sr. Rousseau (Canada), Maria Lucia Vianna and Helio Faria (Brasil), Kum On (Kiribati), Joseph Chee (Malaysia), Trude and Piet Derkson (Holland), Pepe Prado (Mexico), Dr. Pius (Uganda), and ICCRO Council members Ermete Ferrari (Italy), Nana Ndana (Zaire), Fio Mascarenhas (India).
This surprise morning audience (only about 350 delegates succeeded in attending it) was followed unfortunately by some trying experiences for many, over 600 delegates, tried all together that afternoon to register and get rooms at the Domus Pacis convention center, However charismatic joy and love was seen to prevail, and the Inaugural Eucharist began at 6:00 p.m., led by Cardinal Pironio, newly appointed head of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. This humble and very talented bishop from the Vatican gave a most encouraging and touching homily on the importance of holy and apostolic lay people in today’s world, and of the desire of the Church to remain perennially open to the initiatives of the Holy Spirit among them.
The opening talk of the Conference focused on the Holy Spirit and his action at the heart of the Church, and emphasized also the sacraments, the word of God, and “glorying in the Cross” as key elements of being at the Church’s very heart. Given by Indian Jesuit Father Fio Mascarenhas, he talk encouraged all to recognize with new wonder and awe a central fact of the Good News – that ordinary, weak and imperfect though “charismatics” be, they have been given, through the merits of Jesus Christ, the gift of the “spirit of sonship” (Rom. 8/15)., transforming them from strangers and aliens into fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s Family – hence situating them indisputably at the heart of the Church. He went on to stress, however, the dangers of a “theology of immediacy” or a tendency to credulity seen among “charismatics”, and pointed to the urgent need for programmes of authentic Scripture study at both leadership and grass-roots level.
A highlight of the Conference for many was the visit of Mother Theresa of Calcutta. In a short, but anointed talk, this “saintly apostle” witnessed about befriending the poor as well as “the new poor”: whoever greatly lacked being loved, regardless of their high or low social backgrounds. She encouraged us to get involved in the fight against abortion, and in all out prayer and work to let the five fingers of our hands happily remind us about the 5 words of Jesus: “You did it to me”.
Evaluation forms filled in by the delegates on the last day confirm that all the talks were greatly appreciated. Though sometimes found lengthy, they were sufficiently theological yet very practical and pastorally oriented – and they succeeded in helping many delegates rediscover the powerful and rich heritage of the Church. Speakers included Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM (Cap) of Italy, Fr. John Bertolucci (USA), Mons. Johann Koller (Vienna), Mrs. Martine Catta (Paris), Mrs. Guillermina Villalba (Mexixo), Mr. Paul Aguas (Philippines), and Scripture scholars Fr. Herb Schneider SJ, J. Wijngaards MHM, and Fr. S. Carillo Alday MspS.
A speaker who drew special praise was Cardinal Suenens. Almost 80 years of age, but still strong, cheerful, and active, he shared his convictions and dreams about Charismatic renewal: 1) that the name be clarified and changed to “Catholic Pentecostal Renewal”, in the sense that all aspects of Catholic life be touched by the vivifying graces of Pentecost. 2) that we be rooted in the sacramental life of the Church (this is what Paul VI asked us in 1975, and John Paul II in 1981 as well as again at this Conference). The Cardinal stated his conviction that the Charismatic Renewal would be strong or weak according to the place given to the sacrament, especially to the Eucharist, and even to the daily Eucharist. 3) that we be very much part of the life of the local church, for it is in the local church that the community of Christ’s followers is built up. 4) that we be rooted in the apostolic faith of the Church, holding to that which is guaranteed by the apostles and their successors, and not going by private revelations, apparitions, visions and prophecies. 5) that we be rooted in the apostolic life of the Church, sharing our charismatic gifts with all, for the sake of the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Delegates also expressed their special pleasure about the variety of prayer experience during the Conference: the daily Holy Hour, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Eucharist /concelebrated by about 130 priests and bishops), as well as time for personal prayer and ministry. The rich prayer life of the Church, now made more lively and fruitful through deep childlike faith and the use of charismatic gifts, was an eye-opener for many. It was a great joy to pray with “Mr. Pentecost” David du Plessis, Anglican Archbishop Bill Burnett, Dr. Bittlinger of the World Council of Churches, and other ecumenical guests. The opportunities too for fellowship with people from the far ends of the earth (with such variety of colors and cultures!) as well as the stirring testimonies of God’s comforting and powerful deeds in many countries was wonderful evidence of the worldwide vitality of the Charismatic Renewal.
Of decisive importance then, the Conference truly was! Strengthened, enlightened and hopeful, delegates left with a sense of pride and joy that they belonged to the Church, that Gods had placed them at its very heart, and that it was their role to help make it truly a sacrament of unity and of loving service for the whole of needy humanity.
Taken from the ICCRS Newsletter May-June 1984.
ICCRO has written to national coordinators in every country regarding the International Leaders’ Conference to be held in Rome, from April 30th to May 5th, 1984, with the theme “At the Heart of the Church”. The Conference intends to develop some wonderful possibilities of integrating the sacraments and charisms in everyday life.
To facilitate the finalizing of quotas regarding the 700 delegates possible, responses from these national bodies must reach ICCRO no later than September 30th, 1983.
It is also possible to organize a “charismatic pilgrimage” from May 6th to 13th for delegates who would like to go to the Holy Land. Requests from National Service bodies only must reach ICCRO by October 15th, 1983, to enable us to reserve accommodations in time.
Finally, there is a need for travel funds for delegates from Third World countries. Places like Ethiopia, Ghana and Uganda in Africa, Bangladesh and Sri-Lanka in Asia, Poland in the Communist bloc, and Colombia and El Salvador in Latin America will have barely one delegate each at the Conference unless help from other parts of the Body of Christ makes it possible for more very good but needy leaders to attend. Please consider this in prayer, and send your offering to ICCRO soon. (Travel formalities like passports can take several months in some areas).
Taken from the ICCRS Newsletter July-August 1983.