Arms and Spirits High, Charismatic Catholics Mark 40 Years of Praise
By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service (www.catholicnews.com)
SECAUCUS, N.J. (CNS) – For most organizations, 40 wouldn't be a big anniversary calling for special celebrations. In the
Catholic charismatic renewal, however, 40 is taking on biblical importance.
As Bishop Sam G. Jacobs of Houma-Thibodaux, La., pointed out in a keynote address at a June 22-24
Conference of the Charismatic Renewal, the number 40 appears in the Bible nearly 200 times. For 40 years the Israelites wandered in search of the Promised Land; for 40 days Jesus prayed in the desert; Pentecost came
40 days after Jesus' resurrection, he said.
Bishop Jacobs was among several speakers over the weekend who raised the possibility that God might have a similarly dramatic action in
mind to mark 40 years of the Catholic charismatic renewal.
"We have a great challenge before us," he said. "These past 40 years have been a time of cleansing and a time of new
beginning; a time of preparation and a time of waiting upon the Lord ... a time of renewal and of stirring up frequently of the gifts given to us when hands were laid upon us and the Spirit invoked."
At one of many conferences around the world this year marking the anniversary, about 5,000 people from across the U.S. and Canada
gathered at the Meadowlands Exhibition Center to share what they prayed would be a continuing experience of Pentecost for themselves and others: asking to be on fire with the Holy Spirit.
Over the course of the weekend, laypeople, nuns and priests joined Bishop Jacobs in impassioned expressions of praise – arms and
voices raised, eyes closed, bodies swaying peacefully or trembling with tears:
- A pop and hip-hop band from a New York parish channeled adolescent energy on a track of sessions for youths, as young people gave
passionate witness about their experiences of God.
- Hispanic, Korean, Filipino and Haitian priests, laypeople and musicians reminded people of those cultural backgrounds at separate
tracks for ethnic groups how God has spoken to and through their people.
- Pedro Bayona, a one-time youth boxer, energetically paced two stages like the fighter he trained to be, jumping up and down, pumping
his fists in the air, calling his audiences in English and in Spanish to "open your hearts and get the fire burning. ... All you have to do is believe, to open your heart to Jesus."
- On a track for English speakers, a Pentecostal studies professor from the divinity school at Regent University gave a history lesson.
Rev. Vinson Synan of the Pentecostal Holiness Church traced the origins of Pentecostalism to the late 1800s in the United States, describing the overlap of that Protestant movement with its Catholic iteration
beginning in the 1960s.
Forty years ago, with the country in upheaval over the Vietnam War and the church grappling with the changes prescribed by the Second
Vatican Council, a dozen or so Catholic students and teachers at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh came away from a retreat saying their lives had been changed.
Msgr. Joseph Malagreca, a Brooklyn, N.Y, pastor who serves as diocesan coordinator of the charismatic renewal for Hispanics and Haitians,
explained to Catholic News Service that about half of the two dozen Duquesne retreatants felt a call in the middle of the night to go to the chapel. There they had an overwhelming spiritual experience that they came
to describe as having been "baptized in the Holy Spirit."
Their enthusiasm soon spread to other U.S. college campuses, parishes and around the world.
What was initially called Catholic Pentecostalism has evolved into a global Catholic charismatic renewal movement with an estimated 3
million members in the United States, according to the Council on Faith in Action, a Latino evangelical organization, and perhaps hundreds of millions worldwide, involved in a wide range of ethnic, national,
community-based and program-based organizations. Life in the Spirit seminars, covenant communities, parish missions, and healing or retreat ministries are among the tendrils of the far-reaching, loosely defined
A 2006 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life study of Pentecostal and charismatic movements in 10 countries found that in three nations
studied – Guatemala, Kenya and Brazil – more than half the population engages in religious worship that fits what Pew called the "renewalist" movement.
Pew defined charismatics as belonging to Catholic, Orthodox or mainline Protestant denominations but their religious practices include
such "gifts of the Holy Spirit" as speaking in tongues, divine healing and prophesying.
Even in countries with small Christian populations, including Nigeria and India, renewalists are a growing part of the population, at 26
percent and 5 percent, respectively, according to the Pew survey.
A subsequent Pew study of Hispanic religious practices reported that 54 percent of Hispanic Catholics were identified as charismatics on
the basis of what religious practices people said they have in their churches.
Among non-Hispanic U.S. Catholics, about 12 percent consider themselves charismatics, the survey found.
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Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops