AUSTRALIAN Catholics swept up in the grace of the Holy Spirit through the Catholic Charismatic Renewal finished a “joy filled” five-day pilgrimage to Rome for the movement’s 50th anniversary last week.
Pope Francis welcomed more than 30,000 Catholics and a further 300 Evangelicals and Protestants to Rome to celebrate 50 years since the beginning of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.
The celebrations were held between May 31 and June 4 in Rome, concluding with a Pentecost Sunday Mass at Circus Maximus.
The number of Australians in Rome, who met on May 31 at a special gathering at Basilica San Anastasia, was estimated between 400 and 500 according to the Australian Charismatic Renewal’s Facebook page.
Representatives included priests, sisters and brothers from the Missionaries of God’s Love, members of the Disciples of Jesus international community, and Brisbane’s own Emmanuel Community.
Pope Francis welcomed those pilgrims travelling to Rome for the Charismatic Renewal celebrations during his general audience on May 31, which was translated by former Brisbane priest Fr Anthony Ekpo, who is now a papal secretary.
He also called for Mary’s intercession ahead of Pentecost, the “birthday of the Church”.
On the eve of Pentecost, the Holy Father joined an ecumenical vigil with nearly 50,000 Christians from more than 125 countries for praise and worship at Circus Maximus.
Among them was Patti Mansfield, a Catholic woman who was one of the university students present at the prayer meeting in 1967 where the renewal was born.
Pope Francis told the crowd at Circus Maximus that the renewal was a “current of grace” that was not born Catholic, but ecumenical.
On Pentecost Sunday, he told a congregation of nearly 50,000 people that the Holy Spirit “generated diversity” but always to bring about unity.
It is Christians who focus on differences rather than similarities that block this unity desired by the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis said.
“This happens when we want to separate, when we take sides and form parties, when we adopt rigid and airtight positions, when we become locked into our own ideas and ways of doing things, perhaps even thinking that we are better than others,” he said.
The Pope said this divisive mentality often led to Christians taking the “left” or “right” side “before being on the side of Jesus”.
Forgiveness for sins cannot be excluded from the gift of the Holy Spirit, and Pope Francis reminded the congregation that forgiveness was the first gift given to the disciples at Pentecost.
“Here we see the beginning of the Church, the glue that holds us together, the cement that binds the bricks of the house: forgiveness,” he said.
Former Emmanuel Community Brisbane moderator Shayne Bennett was among the 30,000 Catholic pilgrims who travelled to Rome to be with Pope Francis on Pentecost Sunday.
Despite more than 45 years in the Renewal, including being a leader in the network of international charismatic communities titled Catholic Fraternities, Mr Bennett said he personally did not like being labelled a “charismatic”.
Instead, the 62-year-old channelled the Pope in saying the term “charismatic” did not belong to one particular group in the Church.
“As Pope John Paul II stated, ‘the charismatic dimension of the Church is co-essential with the hierarchical nature of the Church’,” Mr Bennett said. “We are all ‘charismatic’ as a result of our baptism.
“The role of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is to stir up that gift, to build up faith and expectation that the activity of God’s Spirit is present and active in our lives.”
Mr Bennett said Pope Francis’ engagement with members of the Charismatic Renewal, including a private gathering between Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians during the Rome celebrations, was a sign of “great sympathy” for the movement.
“This level of involvement signals a great sympathy for the work of the Renewal which (Pope Francis) describes as a ‘current of grace’ for the whole Church, echoing the words of Cardinal Leo Suenens, one of the moderators of the Second Vatican Council,” Mr Bennett said.
Fellow Emmanuel Community Brisbane member Kym Keady was also in Rome, and said the invitation to Protestant Christians showed ecumenism was “at the centre of God’s heart”.
“By now this shouldn’t be a surprise (instead) it should be common,” Mrs Keady said.
“Christ prayed for unity in the garden of Gethsemane and we have so much more in common than not with our Protestant brothers and sisters.”
Mrs Keady and her husband Pat Keady were invited to MC an ecumenical gathering of three international communities, including members from Catholic groups.
Mrs Keady said the Charismatic Renewal could not be considered a movement in the Church, but referred to Pope Francis’ recent definition.
“Pope Francis clarified it as ‘a current of grace’ that is actually intended by the Lord for the whole Church,” she said.
“It was so good to be led by him in this prophetic time and to be guided by his heart for unity in the Church and ecumenism.”