Just two days to go until the start of the National Convention of Renewal in the Spirit, and all attention is on the afternoon of Sunday, June 1, when Pope Francis will pass through the gates of Rome's Olympic Stadium to meet with more than 50,000 members of the movement, gathered from all over Italy.
Among those also attending will be the Preacher of the Papal Household, Father Raniero Cantalamessa OFM Cap., and Cardinals Angelo Comastri, Stanislaw Rylko and Agostino Vallini.
In this interview with ZENIT, Salvatore Martinez, national president of Renewal in the Spirit, talks about his emotion over the Holy Father’s participation and his expectations for what will be a memorable moment of encounter for the participants.
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ZENIT: How was the idea born to bring the Convocation of Renewal in the Spirit to Rome and to invite the Pope?
Martinez: This is our 37th Convocation, therefore we have behind us a history of 36 Convocations, but we have felt profoundly, already for some years, the need to transfer here to Rome, in the heart of Christianity, this great event of the faith that every year is held at Rimini with thousands upon thousands of people.
However, we were also in need of encouragement, because it isn’t easy to transfer a convocation after so many years and with such a complex organization. The help was given in fact by Pope Francis when, last September 9, I spoke with him in a private audience about this desire to bring the Convocation to the center of Italy, so that the centrality of the Renewal in the Church could be perceived. And the Pope didn’t hesitate to say : “I’m coming!”
So I was able to give this news on Christmas Eve and, in a short space of time, in less than 45 days, the stadium was already full of bookings - a sign that people were waiting for this moment for some time, a sign that in the heart of our friends and groups of the Renewal the possibility was expected to have a great celebration of faith in Rome. The fact that this can be done with Pope Francis convinced us even more. There was a great competition to occupy the available posts and the Olympic Stadium is a very big stadium: more than 50,000 people, it is a city that will move ….
The Olympic Stadium will witness true citizens of the Spirit, not fans against one another, no verbal disputes, but a great time of listening, of prayer and of spiritual experience. Therefore, we are very grateful to the Holy Father for the gift he has given us, which helps us to be even more in the heart of the Church, to be a presence that sheds joy.
ZENIT: Will the people who are unable to come to Rome have the possibility to follow the Convocation through the media?
Martinez: We will have the live broadcast of Radio Maria, which will follow both days of the Convocation. There will also be the live broadcast on Telepace, also for the two days. TV2000 will follow wholly the meeting with the Holy Father; RAI [Italian Radio and Television] will broadcast live from 5:45 pm to 6:30 pm on Sunday, and CTV will launch the satellite signal in many continents. Famiglia Cristiana will offer the possibility of following the Convocation in streaming, also with reflections that will be confirmed inside the Stadium. Hence, there will be excellent media coverage, not considering the connections that many television stations have requested from their countries. Therefore, the whole will be able to be followed both on radio and TV.
ZENIT: What hopes do you place in this event?
Martinez: My hope is that the Renewal [Movement] will be renewed. If we renew ourselves, the Church is also renewed. If the Church renews herself, we realize that two thousand years are as a day. Sometimes, when we look back there are many elements that can create sufferings and the Pope often stresses this. Pope Benedict XVI observed it in his own body and in his own choice. It’s not easy to believe but it is good and makes one happy. This is the message that Renewal can give the world: if the living Jesus is rediscovered, things don’t become “easier,” rather we can in fact say that, in certain cases, the Gospel complicates them because it is very exacting. However, one is happy to believe, to be together with others and share, and one is happy even in the moment of trial because one knows that Jesus is alive and Jesus doesn’t abandon one. Now there will be people who will come for the first time to have an experience of faith. So many people will come to accompany their children, people who are in need of help, people who are in need of healing, of hope. Therefore, I expect that the great and little miracles that repeat themselves every year at the Convocation will be repeated by the Holy Spirit and, if possible, that they are more numerous for the 50,000 who will become pilgrims on June 1 and 2.
ZENIT: Do you think many people will arrive even before the Pope’s arrival?
Martinez: Certainly, it’s not an audience of the Pope. People are coming for the 37th Convocation of the Renewal [Movement] which has its program and is a program of the great occasions, with reporters and testimonies from the whole world, in particular from the United States, where the Renewal was born in 1967. They are much loved persons, with strong charismatic gifts. The Pope, then, will close the Day of June 1 but we have a very rich program of events, which people look forward to with longing. People will certainly come because the Pope will be among us, but they will also come to live their Convocation, as has in fact happened for 36 years.
ZENIT: Many high profile figures are attending. Other than the Pope, who in your opinion who are the persons most awaited?
Martinez: The most loved undoubtedly is Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Papal Household preacher for more than 34 years, who has been somewhat the ambassador of the Renewal [Movement] in the world over all these years. He is one of ours, he has always been present at our Convocations and also this year he will not be lacking in this absolute first. Each of our guests, nevertheless, is truly of great importance and prestige.