For the first time in history, a pope will visit the Rome Olympic Stadium for an international charismatic renewal convocation, the Vatican has announced.
This Sunday, Pope Francis will attend and meet members of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement in its 37th National Assembly. The June 1-2 gathering is expected to draw some 50,000 people from over 50 countries.
The theme of the event, comprising prayer, testimonies, and dialogue, is “Repent! Believe! Receive the Holy Spirit!”. The Holy Father is expected to arrive at 5 p.m.
At a press conference to launch the event at Vatican Radio’s headquarters in Vatican City Wednesday afternoon, Archbishop Filippo Iannone, vicegerent of the diocese of Rome, Salvatore Martinez, president of Rinnovamento nello Spirito (RNS), the Italian branch of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and Guido Improta, an advisor on Rome’s mobility, transport and other logisitical details, discussed preparations.
Archbishop Iannone said it is a good forum for the faithful, who may not speak the same language, to experience the Spirit, and noted the importance of “welcome” and “mission”.. He said those gathered will learn to welcome their encounter with the Spirit and to live it out in their lives and communicate it to others.
Event organizer Salvatore Martinez said some other movements and ecclesial communities will participate and share the Spirit in this meeting as ecumenical delegations – Evangelicals and Pentecostals – are “really interested to see what is happening in the Catholic Church.”
The Catholic Charismatic Renewal is a popular international movement within the Catholic Church which centers on the Holy Spirit, and is often known for its outside-of-Mass worship, such as faith healings and speaking in tongues. Though attracting many followers, the movement has been met with some criticism by those who believe its worship focuses more on emotions and non-liturgical experiences than on communion with Christ in the Eucharist.
In an interview with ZENIT, Martinez said the Holy Father enthusiastically agreed to participate in this event. Noting a nearly 40-year history of this convocation, Martinez explained: “We had wanted to move the convocation to be in the center of Italy, in the center of Christianity. When I was speaking to the Pope in a private audience in September about our desire to transfer this convocation to Rome, the Pope said: ‘I’ll come.'”
Martinez said the event “brings no news. The word renewal means to restore, redefine, what is the physiological existence of the Church, the Gospel, faith.” He continued that “this is the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit again giving evidence publicly, as was done on the day of Pentecost.”
The call of this meeting — “Repent! Believe! Receive the Holy Spirit!” — is, therefore, appropriate for this meeting which desires “all believers and non-believers to ask, at an event like this: ‘What is happening, and what can we do?'” he said.
The speakers noted the significance of the meeting’s timing for two reasons: the first is that it begins exactly one week before Pentecost, and the second is their view, as noted Archbishop Iannone, that “in this time of crisis something like this could really help unify” divisions among people.
The archbishop said the diocese of Rome is “very happy to host the initiative,” believing it will bring “many fruits,” and recognising the fortuitous timing, falling so close to Pentecost.
The prelate observed that although people of different languages will be together, the Spirit will allow them to “talk the same language: that of faith,” thus, making this event a “Pentecostal experience.”
“If people who will participate in this meeting with the Pope can return to their homes renewed in the Spirit and full of hope, so they are able to confront the difficulties that life presents to us today, the event will be a success,” he told ZENIT.
Whether the problems are social, economic, work or family related, he said, he believes the event and the Pope’s presence will give people new hope.
To address the more technical issues, Guido Improta assured those present that those with special needs and disabilities will be accommodated. Giving an example, he said buses will be available to transport the handicapped.
He recognized that Rome is used to organizing large events “but every time is a new challenge.” Improta added that although this “is a major effort, we like to do so because Rome is also the city of the Pope.” Therefore, he said as organizers we should be up to facing these challenges in order “to accommodate the Pope and all those who want to come and share with him moments of reflection and prayer.”
On Sunday, June 1, the event will run from 10:30 am to 6:45 p.m. Presentations will be given by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, and Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Papal Household.
In the afternoon, Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, will celebrate a Mass moments before the arrival of the Holy Father at 5 p.m.
Elements to be included in the second day, running from 10 a.m. to 6:45 p.m, are charismatic prayer, as well as Salvatore Martinez speaking on Pope Francis as an outgoing missionary. A Mass presided by Cardinal Agostino Vallini, vicar of Rome, will follow.
Witnesses to the origins of RNS will also speak, as well as a first-hand witness to a miracle, Sister Briege McKenna, who was miraculously healed in Mass at age 24 and is known now for her charisma intercession for healing.
The presidents of the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Service also are expected to attend.