Charismatic Renewal: A Current of Grace Touching Hundreds of Millions

Interview With Director of Vatican-based Office

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MADRID, Spain, JULY 7, 2003 ( «A grace for the whole Church,» is the way the director of the Vatican-based office of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services (ICRSS) describes the charismatic renewal.

Defined by John Paul II as «an eloquent manifestation of the always young vitality of the Church» and «a vigorous expression of the Spirit,» the renewal had its origin on Feb. 18, 1967, when 30 students and professors of Duquesne University, in Pennsylvania, went on spiritual retreat to reflect in-depth on the force of the Spirit within the early Church.

The call had an amazing response. The experience of the «effusion or baptism of the Spirit» was repeated at Notre Dame University, in Indiana, and in Michigan. Groups multiplied. The charismatic renewal spread rapidly throughout the world and in all Christian confessions. In the Catholic Church alone, more than 120 million faithful experienced the «baptism in the Spirit,» according to ICRSS estimates.

Oreste Pesare, ICRSS director, gave this interview in the framework of the recent National Assembly of Charismatic Renewal, held in Spain.

Q: How does this ecclesial institution live and develop?

Pesare: CR [charismatic renewal] is an experience of the Holy Spirit; therefore, everyone can have it. Far from being circumscribed to a small group of people, it belongs to the whole Church. All are called to relive the experience of the Holy Spirit that we received in baptism. It is for every state in life. …

It is interesting to note that this is the largest movement, including at the ecumenical level. Considering all Protestant, evangelical, and Pentecostal churches’ brethren, and a few of the Orthodox Church, Christians who have had this charismatic experience number about 600 million in the world, an extraordinary figure.

Q: CR has a certain organization, although it lacks well-defined structures. What role does ICRSS play?

Pesare: The Holy Father says that next to the column of the institution of the Church there is another column, which is the charismatic column. In fact, the whole history of the Church speaks to us of this power of the Spirit, whose novelties have come in charismatic form. From Paul VI to John Paul II there has always been great openness toward the CR. To safeguard the charismatic quality of this spiritual movement, they wanted a service to be organized in this renewal.

ICRSS is the organization that is at the disposition of all charismatic institutions worldwide — organizations, associations, communities, schools of evangelization, ministries of the Word, ministries of healing. It must be kept in mind that CR is not like the other movements in the Church, as it does not have a founder and it lacks a structure that is the same for all. We feel that our founder and our guide is the Holy Spirit through the pastors that God has given us in the Church.

Another aspect of service is ICRSS’ relation with the institutional Church, the ability to express in the language of the Church the charismatic experience that the Holy Spirit is inspiring in the world.

For example: at the end of 2001, ICRSS and the Pontifical Council for the Laity organized a seminar in Rome on the Prayer of Healing, and theologians were invited, both of the CR as well as those not involved in it, and including the early leaders of CR. Some 120 of us discussed this gift for the whole Church. This type of reflection is useful both for the CR as well as the whole Church.

Q: It is said that the CR members are dedicated to prayer and praise. Are these aspects translated into a concrete commitment before the Church and society?

Pesare: As I have pointed out, CR is not like the other movements. It is a spiritual current whose specific appeal is to change people’s hearts, to take them back to the presence of God.

Whoever is profoundly united to God cannot but give his life to the world. It is the way Jesus gave his life to the world. The experience with the Holy Spirit leads to the heart of the Christian experience and makes one live that conversion of heart. It is what changes the heart of stone and gives a heart of flesh that loves, and when one loves, one serves. This is why the Church is the greatest experience of service in the world. It makes us very happy when people say that we are the group that wants to pray, because herein lies the secret to change one’s life.

The Church needs saints, people who have had the experience of the Holy Spirit, who have changed their lives profoundly, who are transforming their minds and hearts and are being converted into another Jesus. These people will transform the world.

Q: More than 120 million Catholics have been through the CR experience. How does ICRSS address the topic of formation?

Pesare: This has been a very important aspect in recent years. The time has arrived for these People of God to grow, also, in formation. It is an aspect whose need is addressed by the Pope in his documents for the CR worldwide.

Certainly, prayer or trust in the Holy Spirit is not enough. Rather, as St. Peter says in his Letter, we must always be prepared to give the reason for our faith. Given that the CR is a very varied current, there are numerous ways of acquiring that formation, among which the magisterium of the Church is the most important source.

Moreover, what must be preserved is what Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the Papal Household preacher, expresses when speaking about his testimony: «Above all, I have studied the life of Jesus: his childhood, his life, what the Church fathers said about him; I knew a thousand things about the person of Jesus, but I did not know Jesus the person.»

It is not enough to study to know the figure of Jesus. Formation, yes — but as support of an experience. The experience of the Spirit is what must be preserved as the most important.

For approximately one year, we have been organizing within the ICRSS a Theological Commission, which came into being when the archbishop of Malines-Brussels, Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens, was alive. From this commission came the famous Malines documents that defined the lines for the whole of the CR. Through these seminars on the Prayer of Healing, which we organized with the Vatican, ICRSS has restarted a more specific formation on the most important topics for the CR.

This commission will meet for the first time in September. It is made up of half a dozen theologians from different parts of the world. They are experts in their field and have lived the CR experience. Among them we can mention Bishop Albert-Marie de Monléon, OP, of Meaux, France, spiritual father of the Catholic Fraternity of Covenant Communities and consultor of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and an ICRSS member, Bishop Joseph Angelo Grech of Sandhurst, Australia, who presides over this commission.

The Holy Spirit is pointing out to us yet another novelty: the establishment of an international school of formation for the CR leaders from all over the world, which, naturally, will work very united to this commission.

In addition, ICRSS has always organized formation retreats for leaders. The next one will take place in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, and will focus on the topic of holiness, starting with John Paul II’s apostolic letter «Novo Millennio Ineunte.» The meeting will be directed by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the Papal Household preacher.

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