As reported by Kathy Schiffler on Patheos (May 30, 2014), two Americans, Dr. Ralph Martin, founder of Renewal Ministries, and Patti Mansfield, popular Catholic author and speaker, joined the Holy Father and 52,000 Charismatic Catholics from more than 50 countries on Sunday afternoon, June 1, at the Olympic Stadium of Rome. On that day, Pope Francis -- the first pontiff to ever visit a sports stadium in Rome -- participated in the 37th National Assembly of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement. The June 1-2 conference had the theme of “Convert! Believe! Receive the Holy Spirit!”
The assembly reportedly had numerous representatives of other Christian "denominations" present in a spirit of ecumenical good will.
According to Catholic News Service, the pope reported that in the early years of the charismatic renewal in Buenos Aires, he "did not have much love for charismatics" and compared them to "a samba school." On June 1st, however, he declared that the Holy Spirit had begun the charismatic renewal as "a current of grace in the church and for the church." He also reportedly pleaded with charismatic groups "not to try to organize everything or create a bureaucracy that attempts to tame the Holy Spirit."
In an interview with Boston Globe, Ralph Martin, one of the featured speakers and a longtime leader in charismatic circles who today teaches at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in the Archdiocese of Detroit, sat down in Rome with John L. Allen, Jr., preceding the rally to discuss the significance of the event the the pope's involvement:
Globe: What’s this weekend in Rome about?Meanwhile, on the other side of the world a Malayalam Catholic charismatic prayer group has staged another spirit-filled performance illustrating the beauty of diversity in charismatic inculturation:
Martin: The charismatic renewal is very strong in Italy, and they have an annual meeting. They usually have it in Rimini but this year they decided to do it in Rome, and when they explained it to Pope Francis he said, “I’m coming!” He volunteered to come. He’s going to be spending a fair amount of time with us, and more than 50,000 people signed up within a couple weeks.
The hope is that papal calls for a New Pentecost, which go back to St. John XXIII, and papal calls for a New Evangelization, which go back to Vatican II and especially to St. John Paul II, can come together. Pope Francis’ vision is to bring together the reality of a New Pentecost with the urgency of a New Evangelization.
Globe: Do you expect him to engage in charismatic practices such as speaking in tongues or healings?
Martin: Let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised. We don’t know what he’s going to do. We know he wants to enter the stadium walking, he wants to participate in the worship that’s going on, and we also know that he wants to say something to us. Beyond that, we’ll just have to see.
Globe: What was the pope’s relationship with the charismatic movement in Argentina?
Martin: He’s said publicly that initially he didn’t know what to think, and he wondered if it was superficial emotion, but as he got to know [charismatics] he changed his mind. [Note: In a press conference during his return flight from Brazil in July, Francis said he used to think that charismatics “confused the holy liturgy with a school of samba,” but that he was “converted when I got to know them better and saw the good they do.”]
My hope for the weekend is that all Catholics will become more open to the presence and reality of the Holy Spirit, because I think we really need it.
Globe: What do charismatic Catholics make of Pope Francis? They tend to be fairly conservative theologically, yet they must like his free-wheeling style.
Martin: It’s pretty much what a lot of committed Catholics are making of him. They’re thrilled, they’re refreshed, they think it’s a breath of fresh air. Charismatics have seen pictures of Pope Francis when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires praying and asking Protestant pastors to pray for him. His friendship towards the charismatic renewal is there.
At the same time, they’re scratching their heads sometimes wondering, “What did he mean by that?” Is he pro-life? What does he mean, “Who am I to judge?” They think he’s fantastic, but they also wonder how some of these pieces fit.
Globe: Francis is going to be holding his prayer meeting with the Palestinian and Israeli presidents on June 8, which also happens to be the Feast of Pentecost. Do you think there’s anything significant about that?
Martin: Whenever people open their hearts to God in some way, the Lord wants to do something good. Even if it just got scheduled randomly for that day, I’m sure [Pope Francis] sees significance in that.
Globe: What do you hope the impact of this weekend will be?
Martin: I think there are a lot of closet charismatics out there. A lot of [clergy] personally have had their vocations saved because of their experience of Christ and the Holy Spirit through the renewal, but they discovered it wasn’t cool [to say so out loud] because it was considered fringe. They got the message from the environment not to talk about it very much. I think the time has come for the closet charismatics to come out. I think the pope’s presence might encourage it, along with a growing realization that an action of God may be the only thing that can save the Church today.