By Emilie Ng
PRAYING “without holding back” with 1000 priests for five days convinced Brisbane Catholic Charismatic Renewal liaison priest Fr Francis Onwunali the Church is still alive.
Fr Onwunali represented Queensland at the third World Retreat of Priests in Rome, organised by the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services (ICCRS).
Catholic Charismatic Renewal Brisbane sponsored Fr Onwunali to attend the five-day retreat held at St John Lateran Basilica, Rome, from July 10 to 14.
The program featured various speakers, including president for the Pontifical Council for the Laity Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, pontifical household preacher Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamaessa, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace Cardinal Peter Turkson and Pope Francis.
“It was a time of excitement,” Fr Onwunali said.
“There were 1000 priests from 90 nations of the world, worshipping God without holding back.
“It gives you a sense, or a confirmation, or the conviction that the Church is still alive.
“To see that number of priests worshipping from their hearts, and they say (in Scripture) anyone who is to worship will worship in spirit and in truth.
“So it came to life, that part of the scripture.”
The Kenmore parish priest sat two metres from the Holy Father, who gave a meditation of the third day of the retreat, to the delight of all the priests.
“Someone jokingly described that the priests were behaving like children, because everyone wanted to get a glimpse of the Holy Father,” Fr Onwunali said.
He said the Holy Father spoke to the priests “as a brother priest” and he sensed the Pope’s “urgency” for the Church to be transformed.
“He wants things to be going, the power of the Holy Spirit at work in transforming people’s life, starting from the priest,” Fr Onwunali said.
The Pope’s recognition of Catholic Charismatic Renewal across the world encouraged Fr Onwunali, who has been in the Renewal since his ordination 17 years ago.
Fr Onwunali was chaplain to the Renewal in his home diocese in Umuahia, Nigeria, and is now a spiritual director for the movement in Brisbane.
Fr Onwunali said Pope Francis, in speaking to the priests about the Charismatic Renewal, said he saw the movement as “part and parcel of the Church in moving forwards towards renewal of every aspect of the Church’s life”.
While the Holy Father admitted to having believed many misconceptions about the Renewal in his early days as a priest, he “realised that he was making a mistake”.
Fr Onwunali said the Holy Father also encouraged priests to organise Life in the Spirit seminars, a popular series of talks and testimonies used in Catholic Charismatic groups, “so that people will receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit”.
“And when he’s talking about the Baptism of the Spirit, he’s talking about a renewal of life,” Fr Onwunali said.
“Often times when we talk of baptism in the spirit people think of speaking in tongues; that is not what it is.
“It’s renewal of the entire person.
“And that is what life in the spirit is all about.
“Other things that come with it are added gifts that God gives, but the most important thing is that the person is renewed, as a person, a new creation, in Christ Jesus.”