A year on from his inauguration, Pope Francis is showing signs of being the most charismatic Pope we’ve seen yet. What impact is he having on the UK’s Catholic charismatic movement?
Let’s give each other a spiritual hug and let God complete the work that he’s begun. This is a miracle; the miracle of unity... He will complete this miracle.’ Not perhaps the sort of words that you’d expect from the Pope. But then again, who would have predicted that the Pontiff would film an informal video message on a friend’s iPhone for broadcast to the attendees of an American Pentecostal leaders’ conference?
‘We have to encounter one another as brothers,’ Pope Francis also said in the short film. Referring to the Old Testament reunion of Joseph with his brothers, he continued: ‘We have to cry together as Joseph did. These tears will unite us. The tears of love.’
The film was shown in February 2014 at a gathering of leaders brought together by Kenneth Copeland, who has been criticised for his prosperity theology. Pope Francis made the film with his Anglican friend, bishop Anthony Palmer, who formerly worked alongside Copeland, but since 2003 has worked among Catholics in Italy.
After watching the Pope on screen, the entire conference prayed for him in tongues, and Copeland filmed a live message of blessing [on Palmer’s iPhone again] to send back to the Holy Father. You can watch the entire stereotype-smashing event on YouTube.
WHENEVER WE PRAY TOGETHER, POPE FRANCIS SAYS, ‘LAY YOUR HANDS ON ME AND PRAY FOR ME’
I couldn’t believe it…Talk about breaking taboo,’ said Kristina Cooper, editor of the UK’s Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) magazine Good News, of the event. Michelle Moran, chair of CCR England and Wales, explains that the Pope wasn’t necessarily aligning himself with Copeland’s theological or doctrinal stances, however. Rather, it was a ‘spontaneous personal gesture’ that had a profound effect. ‘I know of lapsed Catholics who joined the Pentecostals, who when they saw that were weeping – they were so moved by it,’ Moran says.
A Surprising Pope
It’s not the first time Pope Francis has surprised us since his inauguration just over a year ago. He’s opted to live in a simple apartment with almost no personal staff, swapped a limousine for a bus and chosen a papal name that links him to a saint known for his dedication to poverty, reform and a love of the natural world. He’s been photographed kissing a man with a rare skin disorder and embracing another with a severely disfigured face. He’s blessed a rally of 35,000 Harley-Davidson riders, hired an intern with Down’s syndrome for Vatican Radio and regularly tweets his 3.8 million followers with thoughtful, encouraging words (@pontifex).
In June he will break the mould again, becoming the first Pontiff to attend an international conference for charismatic Catholics. He will give an address at Renewal in the Spirit, the 37th international gathering of Catholic charismatics. The conference will take place in Rome and 50,000 people are expected to attend.
The Pope’s daily homily is often what some may call a ‘fervorino’, a spontaneous reflection, inspired by the Holy Spirit. His numerous, radical changes to operations within the Vatican can only have been spiritled. The Argentinian charismatic evangelist Luis Palau is among the Pope’s friends. Palau has said: ‘Whenever we pray together, he [Pope Francis] says, “Lay your hands on me and pray for me, that God will keep me as [his] servant.” He is respectful of all sides of Christianity.’
But would Pope Francis go a step further – and describe himself as a ‘charismatic’? Does he officially align himself with a strand of Catholicism that doesn’t fit a traditional understanding of the denomination – the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement (CCR)?
Established in the late 1960s, the CCR is made up of committed Catholics who have been baptised in the Holy Spirit. Palmer says that charismatic renewal comes when we simply ‘experience the presence of God’.
Pope Francis admits that he had initial reservations about the movement, but then radically changed his stance. During a series of interviews with journalists on a plane from Rio after the World Youth Day celebrations last year, he was asked his opinion of the CCR. ‘Back at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, I had no time for them. Once, speaking about them, I said: “These people confuse a liturgical celebration with samba lessons!” I actually said that. Now I regret it. I learned. It is also true that the movement, with good leaders, has made great progress. Now I think that this movement does much good for the Church, overall… I have always supported them, after I was converted, after I saw the good they were doing.’
He continued: ‘I believe that the movements are necessary. The movements are a grace of the Spirit. “But how can you control a movement which is so free?” The Church is free, too! The Holy Spirit does what he wants. He is the one who creates harmony, but I do believe that the movements are a grace, those movements which have the spirit of the Church.’
Charles Whitehead, former president of International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services (ICCRS) said to Premier Christianity: ‘The Pope remains an active, committed supporter of the movement and he speaks well and positively of it.’ Whitehead believes that this will help the movement to grow in some places.
Pope Francis isn’t the first Pontiff to back the CCR – the movement was acknowledged and endorsed by Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI. But Whitehead believes that, compared to the former leaders of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis is more outgoing in his support of the CCR. ‘He actually puts it into practice,’ Whitehead says.
Kristina Cooper, who has edited Good News for 28 years, says she believes Pope Francis would personally align himself with the CCR movement. ‘But one has to be careful – you can’t claim him in a parochial way,’ she says. ‘He is a true charismatic. He is also very Marian and very traditional. In other contexts, he is liberal. He breaks every stereotype. In that sense, he is truly Catholic.’
Catholic Charismatic Renewal In The UK
If you’ve assumed that every Catholic in the UK expresses and enjoys their faith in quiet, understated, traditional ways: think again. The CCR in the UK is seeing high numbers turn out for conferences as well as conversions and healings. And with a Pope showing unprecedented support for the movement, is this branch of Catholicism set to see more dramatic growth?
Taking a closer look at the UK’s CCR movement throws up a challenge – defining the movement is far from easy. This is partly because in this country (as elsewhere across the globe) it has evolved since its launch. Cooper says that the first generation of those involved in the UK’s CCR often took part in charismatic prayer groups in local parishes. These have now diminished, and the expressions of the CCR are more diverse.
The testimonies of those I’ve spoken to among the leadership of the movement in the UK all include some sort of powerful touch by the Holy Spirit and belief in the charisms.
Growth In Britain
The word from the leaders of the movement is that some Catholic parishes are coming more alive, particularly in terms of mission. ‘People are beginning to grasp a sense of the need to evangelise both on a parish level and in their everyday lives. One of the fruits of the CCR is that people are taking seriously the call of the gospel,’ Moran says. So where is this growth and fruitfulness most evident?
In Birmingham, Father Soji, a Keralan Indian who moved to the UK four years ago, runs a family-friendly Catholic Bible convention every other Saturday. Around 3,000 people (largely British Indians) travel from Catholic parishes across the UK attend each one – around 800 of these are children and young people. ‘We began with about 70 people,’ says Soji, who hopes that the day will refresh and equip Catholics as they go back to their own parishes. ‘The Lord did some miracles and wonders, and that’s why the ministry grew.’
The programme includes traditional sacramental worship such as the Rosary, Holy Mass, and a Eucharistic Procession, as well as healing prayer. The majority of the day – on which many of the adults in attendance choose to fast – is conducted in two streams, English and Malayalam, the language of Kerala. ‘Every second Saturday, people come and give their testimonies of healing and deliverance. We see deliverance from alcohol and drug addictions,’ says Soji, whose vision for the next stage of the ministry is to develop a school of evangelisation for teenagers (sehion.net).
Damian Stayne, leader of the Surrey-based Cor et Lumen Christi community (meaning the heart and light of Christ), is also seeing regular dramatic healings and deliverances – both in the UK and internationally. Cor et Lumen Christi holds miracle healing services across the UK as well as around 20 UK training and evangelistic conferences annually – each ranging in size from between 100 and 1,000 people.
Stayne reports seeing a steady increase in anointing over the last five to six years, followed by a sudden rise in numbers of miracles and healings last year. ‘Last Lent, I gave something up. It was just playing Xbox and watching movies with my son,’ he says. ‘Immediately I saw a dramatic increase in the number of healings. Before that, I would see 100 instantaneous physical healings at a healing service for 1,000…but from then, the numbers doubled. Just like that. The only thing I had changed was to make this act of obedience, and give something up.’
The community also runs a significant ministry to Polish Catholics, offering five conferences a year for Poles. ‘We’ve had people go home after the conference, pack their bags and then move out from living with a boyfriend that same day,’ Stayne says. A small number of homeless people attend each conference; many of them are healed of smoking, drinking or drug addictions.
The movement in the UK is ‘in a time of transition,’ Stayne says. ‘The prayer group movement is much smaller now, but there are some ministries that are having quite considerable impact in some communities... My hope for the renewal is that the Catholic Church will understand that the outpouring of the Spirit is for everybody.’ (coretlumenchristi.org)
Baptism In The Spirit
"BAPTISM IN THE SPIRIT REMAINS THE KEY UNITING FACTOR"
The openness among some UK Catholics to learn more about and receive a baptism in the Holy Spirit – in the charismatic sense – is evident. James Wilkinson travels around Catholic parishes in south-east England running Life in the Spirit – a seven session course of seminars covering topics such as God’s love, salvation and preparing for a baptism in the spirit. A former lawyer, Wilkinson took early retirement to begin the ministry ten years ago, and has run the series around 30 times since. ‘The seminars are aimed at existing Christians, helping them come into a deeper relationship with the Lord Jesus through the Holy Spirit,’ he explains.
Conferences such as the UK’s CCR movement’s New Dawn and Celebrate which is now in its 20th year, equip Catholics of all ages to take their own renewal experiences out into the parish. Celebrate is attended by 1,500 people during its Easter week; 11 mini conferences also take place over weekends throughout the year.
A New Moment of Grace?
Pope Francis has been named Time magazine’s 2013 person of the year, featured on the covers of Rolling Stone magazine and The New Yorker and was described by Sir Elton John as ‘a miracle of humility’. After just a year, his influence is undisputedly running broad and deep – but is it fuelling any growth or change in the UK’s CCR movement?
‘We have felt very affirmed and encouraged that someone in such a position is on our wavelength,’ said Cooper. Moran describes his impact on lapsed Catholics as ‘massive’. Maria Rodrigues, a Catholic presenter on Premier Christian Radio, says, ‘I believe Pope Francis will have a direct impact on the outworking of Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the UK. When a Pope so actively supports a group by agreeing to attend a conference run by them (Renewal in the Spirit, Rome, Summer 2014), such a visible endorsement and affirmation cannot help but have a ripple effect of encouraging greater boldness among those affiliated with the group.’
In the March/April edition of Good News magazine, Stayne wrote that we are ‘in a new season in the Christian Churches and the Catholic Charismatic Renewal’. He believes that the CCR movement, both in the UK and worldwide, is experiencing a particular ‘moment of grace’, and that God is using the movement to ‘change the Spiritual temperature’ of the Church. ‘The Pope is part of the picture,’ Stayne says. ‘It is the time, and because of this, the Pope was given to the Church. This is a work of the Holy Spirit. The Pope is a significant piece of the picture that God has put into place for the renewal to come into a new phase.’
A Pope For Unity
Speaking at the Copeland leaders’ conference before the Pope’s message was broadcast, Palmer described Jesus as a Catholic, charismatic, Pentecostal and evangelical. ‘Jesus is sacramental. He instituted the sacraments. He did the things that were required of him in the synagogue. He believed in sign and symbol and used it all the time in his parables. He was also evangelical – he said that you have to be born again. He was also the contemplative. He was also the charismatic. How much of Jesus do you want? One denomination of Jesus? Jump in, get it all.’
Palmer’s words – like the Pope’s – challenge us to lay aside the boundary lines of denominational differences, recognise that Christians from across the denominations seek renewal in the same spirit, and choose unity. Maybe when we do, we’ll gain a clearer picture of the Christ we all share.
WHAT IS THE CATHOLIC CHARISMATIC RENEWAL MOVEMENT?
The seeds of a new movement within the Catholic Church were planted in 1967 at a retreat for college students at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (USA). After spending much of the weekend in prayer, the students experienced the powerful, transforming presence of God – a baptism in the Holy Spirit. Accounts of the weekend soon spread across the campus and into other universities, and fresh encounters with the Holy Spirit began to take place in Catholic churches and institutions. The first Catholic charismatic conference was held in Indiana in the mid 1970s and was attended by more than 30,000 people. Baptism in the Spirit remains the key uniting factor of CCR. It is not a single unified worldwide movement, and has no founder or initiation courses. No formal membership is required. ‘One of the characteristics of the Charismatic Renewal is the enormous variety of expressions and ministries, all inspired by the Holy Spirit and carried out in his power, which have a home under its umbrella,’ writes Charles Whitehead. He describes CCR as a collection of groups who feel they are ‘part of a big charismatic family’. ‘Our simple desire is to help others to have their Christian lives renewed in the same way that ours have been renewed,’ he says. The movement is now present in more than 200 countries. An estimated 120 million people would identify themselves as charismatic Catholics.