Pope Francis greeted tens of thousands of members of the charismatic movement last Friday, July 3, who were in Rome for their 38th annual Convocation. They gathered in St Peter’s Square for an evening of prayer, spirituality, and evangelization. Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and Israeli singer Noa were among the singers who performed. The most amazing and moving part of the evening may have been the singing of the world’s best known hymn: “Amazing Grace.”
This global gathering event had a distinctly ecumenical character. The theme was: “Ways of Unity and Peace – Voices of Prayer for the Martyrs of Today and for a Spiritual Ecumenism.” No theme is closer to my own heart so I took notice of this event and rejoiced. When I watched the singing of the great hymn I was melted to tears of joy. I watched Pope Francis and prayed for him with renewed determination to do all I can to support him as my brother in Christ.
Representatives from the churches of many denominations and ecclesial communities were present for this great meeting with Pope Francis, all openly testifying to “the power of ecumenical prayer and the need for a new fraternity among Christians.” In his prayer at the beginning of the Audience, Pope Francis prayed that God the Father might send the Holy Spirit, Who will guide us to unity. It is the Holy Spirit, said Francis, who gives the various charisms’ within the Church, who works through the variety of gifts in the Church, and who grants us real unity. Pope Francis asked that Jesus, who prayed for unity in His Church, might help us to walk along the path of “unity, or of reconciled diversity.” I cannot pray and express my passion more clearly then this.
The pope’s address included what have been called “off-the-cuff” remarks that reminded the members of the Renewal of the Holy Spirit of the words of Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens, who called the charismatic renewal a “stream of grace.” Suenens, who is featured in my book, Your Church Is Too Small, was one of the great leaders at Vatican II. The current of grace, said Pope Francis, must always flow into the ocean of God, the love of God, and must not be turned in on itself. This is really the theme of the book I am writing at this very time in my life.
Pope Francis also spoke about “unity in diversity,” another favorite theme God has given to me. He noted that unity is not uniformity but reflects the confluence of all the different parts that go to make it up.
He warned of the temptation of leaders – or rather, servants – to imagine that they are indispensable, a temptation that can lead to authoritarianism or personalism, which “does not allow the renewed communities to live in the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit, Pope Francis exclaimed, is the only indispensable actor in the renewal, just as Jesus is the one Lord. At the same time he spoke of good founders who lead the communities they found, caring for them and leading them to spiritual maturity.
The pope also gave thanks for the “current of grace” which has borne much fruit. He encouraged those who have had the experience of the renewal “to go forward, [and] share it with the [whole] Church,” a service he called very important. He encouraged those who gathered to especially “form bonds of trust and cooperation with the Bishops, who have the pastoral responsibility of guiding the Body of Christ, including the charismatic renewal.”
Finally, Pope Francis emphasized the ecumenical dimension of the charismatic movement, rooting it in our common baptism. Unity among Christians, he said, must begin with prayer. This is the key to my mind. When we pray together we will learn to love one another and when we love one (cf. John 13:34-35) we will see the love and power of the Holy Trinity released in our lives and churches. As in the past Pope Francis spoke of modern-day martyrs: “The blood of the martyrs of today makes us one!”
Pope Francis gave the gathered crowd the example of a Catholic priest and a Lutheran minister who were both executed by the Nazis as followers of Jesus. He also spoke of the 23 Coptic Christians who, just a few months ago, were murdered in Libya. And he rightly noted that Pope Paul VI, in canonizing the Ugandan martyrs, made reference to the Anglican catechists who shed their blood with their Catholic brothers. “Excuse me, don’t be scandalized, they are our martyrs,” he said.
Pope Francis concluded his remarks by reminding those in the square of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the charismatic movement, which will be marked in St Peters on Pentecost in 2017. This jubilee, he said, quoting Pope Paul VI, will be an opportunity for the church “to give thanks to the Holy Spirit for this current of grace which is for the church and for the [whole] world; and to celebrate the marvelous works the Holy Spirit has done in the course of these 50 years, changing the lives of millions of Christians.”
Watch the video and pray. I promise that if you love grace and unity you will join me in my tears of joy!!!