The Pope’s presence at a charismatic event in Rome’s Olympic stadium on Sunday was a Papal first and a widely anticipated event.
Fifty-two thousand people from 55 countries gathered for the 37th Annual National Convocation of “Renewal in the Spirit”. They welcomed Pope Francis’ entry with loud applause and sang in Spanish “Vive Jesus, el Senor,” a hymn the Pope said he enjoyed greatly when he celebrated Mass in the cathedral of Buenos Aires with members of this movement.
Inaugurating the two-day event, which featured participation and addresses by senior Vatican officials and world leaders of the Renewal, Francis called upon the Renewal participants to “remember that the Church was born to go forth that morning of Pentecost, so go forth onto the streets and evangelize, proclaim the Gospel.”
“Do not cage the Holy Spirit!,” he said. “Evangelization, spiritual ecumenism, attention to the poor and needy, and welcome to the marginalized,” is where their future efforts should be concentrated, he said.
Earlier, he surprisingly extended an invitation to the charismatics of the world to celebrate their 2017 Jubilee at the Vatican. He spent the next few minutes listening and responding to questions from those representing priests, young people, families, and the suffering.
Reflecting and responding to each, he added light-heartedly that the organizers were negligent by not including one group: the grandparents and elderly.
He told priests to remain close to Christ and to their faithful and warned young people not to keep their youth “locked away in a safe,” but rather to “bet on great things.” He reminded families of their roles as a domestic church and said the sick “imitate Jesus” in the difficult moments of life.
To the forgotten elderly, he stressed that they are the “wisdom and memory of the Church.”
In his discourse, he again reminded faithful to carry a pocket-size Gospel in their pocket or bag.
Addressing the movement, he prayed that God might grant to all the “holy intoxication of the Spirit, that enables us to speak many languages, the languages of charity, always close to those brothers and sisters who need us. Teach us not to fight between ourselves over a little more power.”
Allow God to be God, he said. “Never lose the freedom that the Holy Spirit gives us,” and guard against “the danger of ‘excessive organization.’’
He recognized the need for organization, but urged them not to “lose the grace of letting God be God!”
He also warned them of the danger of becoming “controllers” of God’s grace, administrators who decide who may or may not receive the prayer of effusion or baptism in the Spirit. “If any of you do this, I beg you, do not anymore. You are dispensers of God’s grace, not controllers!”
Instructing on how to do so, he said “seek unity in renewal because unity comes from the Holy Spirit,” and “flee” from internal struggle and division, which instead come from the Devil.
Prior to the Pope’s presence, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, opened the event and spoke about repentance and conversion.
Through a story, he explained how God awaits us, saying “inside the desperation, Jesus was waiting, because Jesus lives also in the desperation” which reveals to us that the “love and pardon of God never abandons.”
Patti Gallagher Mansfield, a leader of the movement in the U.S., led a prayer, for priests, young people, and the family.
She recalled a quote: “The Devil smiles when we make our plans and laughs when we become too busy, but..” she stressed: “the Devil trembles when we pray, especially when we pray together.”
Recalling how the Lord said that when two or three gather and prayer to Him, He is in their midst, she said that given the more than 50,000 present, “Jesus is here with us!”
Her prayer for young people began by recalling the words St. John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis have said about their importance. She turned to Francis’ call to the young people at the most recent World Youth Day in Brazil to “go and make disciples of all the nations! Jesus Christ is counting on you, the Church is counting on you, the Pope is counting on you.”
But she added that despite this call of welcome, the Pope has noted there is a condition for one to receive the Spirit: one must be holy. This requires one to follow God’s commandment to “not have strange gods before Him,” including money, power, prestige, sex, pleasure, entertainment, technology, and people. One must ask, she said, underlining her point, “whether they reach for their Bible as much as they do for their iPhone.”
The Preacher of the Papal Household, Franciscan Father Raniero Cantalamessa, reminded those gathered that Christians experience two types of resurrections: “There is the resurrection of the body, which takes place in the last day. But, remember there is also the resurrection of the heart, which can happen daily.”
At Sunday’s Mass, led by Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, spoke of how the gathering was a “feast of hope,” noting that celebrating the mystery of the Ascension “gives us a glimpse of who we are and our final destiny.”
A priest from China told ZENIT that he was struck by how this type of prayer differs from traditional prayer. “I am very passionate about this type of prayer and there has been a renewal in my parish in China,” he said. “I am here out of my desire to want to carry this type of prayer to China.”
Some pilgrims from southern Italy said that, to them, the event is all about “the love we have for Jesus and the love of the Holy Spirit, which fills our hearts.”
The two-day convocation, which concludes today, will include various testimonies and addresses by speakers such as Ralph Martin, president of the Renewal Ministries in the US; Salvatore Martinez, president of Italy’s Renewal in the Spirit and event organizer; and Sister Briege McKenna, first-hand witness to a miracle. The Mass was presided by Cardinal Agostino Vallini, vicar of Rome.