GIBSONIA, Pa. — The Catholic Charismatic Renewal began the celebration of its golden anniversary at the retreat house where the movement started 50 years ago. During the Feb. 17-19 weekend, 120 leaders of Charismatic Renewal from 17 countries gathered at The Ark and The Dove, Inc., near Pittsburgh. Thousands more around the world tuned in to the live-streamed event.
It was on the same February dates in 1967 that a small group of students from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh had gathered at The Ark and The Dove for a weekend retreat on the Bible’s teachings about the Holy Spirit.
To their surprise, there came an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on them — an experience that came to be known as “baptism in the Holy Spirit.”
Since that “Duquesne Weekend,” the Catholic Charismatic Renewal estimates on the low side that more than 120 million Catholics worldwide have experienced this baptism in the Holy Spirit.
“That retreat was a launching point of the Renewal,” said Johnny Bertucci, chairman of the Renewal’s National Service Committee.
Providentially, the National Service Committee, together with charismatic groups from around the world, purchased The Ark and The Dove retreat house in December 2015 as the jubilee was peeping over the horizon. The historic site is recognized by many as the birthplace of the global Catholic charismatic movement. “The affinity the people have for this place is mind-boggling,” Bertucci said.
“Most people coming have some story [about] how their life was changed by the Renewal. Their encounter with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are usually profound stories.”
Years before it became The Ark and The Dove (TheArkandtheDoveWorldwide.org), the large facility was built by Bell Telephone as a respite for female workers.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh bought it in 1964, and sisters ran it as The Ark and The Dove Retreat Center. Later, the diocese renamed it the Cardinal Wright Center for spiritual renewal for clergy.
In 2000, the Sisters of Divine Providence purchased it, renaming it Providence Villa.
The day after Bertucci was elected chairman of the national service committee, the nuns called to tell the Renewal the property was for sale — for $1.3 million.
Several other groups wanted the property, and the Renewal had no money to buy it. But the nuns gave the group more time than expected to raise the money.
“Basically, an anonymous donor loaned us the money,” Bertucci said. “When we bought the property, we renamed it to what it was in 1967.”
Franciscan Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Papal Household, said in a release at the time of the purchase, “How happy we would be if we could purchase the Jerusalem Cenacle where the first Pentecost took place! Let us at least purchase the humble place where the ‘new Pentecost’ in Catholic Church began, and help to keep the flame burning till it reaches the whole Church.”
Alan Schreck, theology professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville and author of numerous books, has written A Mighty Current of Grace, a history of the Renewal in the Catholic Church coming out in May.
He “became involved in this current of grace in 1970, when [he was] an undergraduate student at Notre Dame.” In graduate school, he specialized in Church history, specifically history of spiritual renewals in the Church.
That interest sprang from his own personal involvement in the Renewal, where he remains active in charismatic prayer groups.
What does Schreck see as the Renewal’s most important fruits?
“In my new book, I put it in two words: ‘changed lives.’ An estimated 120-150 million Catholics were touched by this current of grace,” he said. “This grace results in a deeper commitment to Christ and his Church, a coming alive in the faith.”
It changes the lives of the individuals through a deeper personal encounter with God.
People participate in the sacraments more fully, read Scripture, become more active in the Church, parishes and prayer groups, and join religious communities or enter the priesthood, he explained.
“It all started by encountering God in a new way.”
An expert on the Second Vatican Council, Schreck finds a second major fruit of the Renewal relates to that council. “St. John XXIII prayed for the Council to be like a new Pentecost,” he said. “The Renewal, not coincidentally, began two years after the close of the Council. I see that grace as an answer to prayer to God for new grace, a new power and new life infused in the life of the people.”
Schreck explained how Vatican II taught extensively about the charisms, the variety of spiritual gifts St. Paul points out are given to build up the Church.
“The Council Fathers said, ‘Yes, the Church has a charismatic dimension.’ Most Catholics had not really understood or experienced these New Testament charisms. But two years after the Council, Catholics experienced a fuller range of the charisms” that included the more readily accepted gifts of prophecy and healing, while speaking in tongues caused some controversy.
“I see this as great wisdom of God,” he said.
At that Duquesne weekend retreat, Patti Gallagher Mansfield, then a student at Duquesne University, received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. “That night, in my flesh, I felt the presence of God was there. And I began to tremble a bit,” she recounted in a video on The Ark and The Dove website.
After praying a prayer of unconditional surrender to God, she said, “The next moment I found myself flat on my face. I was prostrate. My hands above my head ... and I felt this immersion in the love of God.”
To make sure what happened to her was part of the authentic teachings of the Church, she searched documents of Vatican II, reading what they said on the Holy Spirit and charisms. She found “in Lumen Gentium [paragraph] 12 there was nothing but encouragement.”
At the “highest levels, very early on, we were enabled; the documents of Vatican II welcomed us.”
Mansfield said since that weekend the call on her life has been for evangelization. From 1969 until today, she and her husband, Al, have headed the Catholic Charismatic Renewal office in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
She has written extensively of her experience, including her latest book, As by a New Pentecost: The Dramatic Beginning of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Golden Jubilee Edition.
Heart of the Renewal
“At the heart of the Charismatic Renewal, the grace is being baptized in the Holy Spirit,” Mansfield emphasized, noting that all four Gospels talk about being baptized in the Holy Spirit. She called this grace “an enormous gift to the Catholic Church because it has brought to life the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, which typically are received in childhood.”
Schreck clarified what that means. “The predominate interpretation” of baptism in the Holy Spirit is that it “is a renewal of the graces given in baptism and confirmation.”
He believes the movement was perfectly timed.
Ten years earlier, and “the bishops might not have known what to make of it,” Schreck said, “but the Council just taught about the charisms, welcomed and used freely, but with the discernment of the pastors. As a result, this movement became rather quickly accepted by the magisterium.”
By 1975, Schreck joined 10,000 in Rome as Blessed Paul VI celebrated a Mass where he blessed the movement. “It’s not a typical movement; there is no human founder of this,” Schreck said.
“There was an initial experience of this grace, but no human being really started this as a movement. It’s rather unique.”
To show the Renewal is thoroughly Catholic, Mansfield described its strong Eucharistic and Marian aspect. “Loving Our Lady, sharing her with others and being consecrated to Jesus through Mary has been part and parcel of my being in the Charismatic Renewal,” she said. “She is the spouse of the Holy Spirit. If you’re seeking to be in union with the Holy Spirit, you have to be in union with Mary.”
Growth Here and There
While the Charismatic Renewal spread rapidly in the United States for years, today that growth is more international, especially in Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia.
Schreck thinks the Renewal’s growth in the U.S. slowed because of the way it has been interpreted.
By and large, the bishops and leaders in the Church see it as a devotion, he said, and “not a current of grace for the whole Church” or “as having a potential to renewal of the whole Church.”
For him, one of the great Renewal fruits is to help people have a boldness to witness to their faith. Therefore, it can be a tremendous resource and great help with New Evangelization. In countries where the Renewal is growing, Schreck pointed out, bishops and priests see it as awakening and enlivening the whole Church.
Recent popes seemed to have envisioned this revitalizing potential of the Charismatic Renewal.
“The emergence of the Renewal following the Second Vatican Council was a particular gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. … At this moment in the Church’s history, the Charismatic Renewal can play a significant role in promoting the much-needed defense of Christian life in societies,” St. John Paul II said in 1992. In May 1987, John Paul II told an audience, “The Charismatic Renewal is an eloquent manifestation of the continued youthful vitality of the Church today, a bold statement of what ‘the Spirit is saying to the Churches’ (Revelation 2:7) as we approach the close of the Second Millennium.”
In his Pentecost 2008 Regina Caeli, Benedict XVI said, “[L]et us rediscover, dear brothers and sisters, the beauty of being baptized in the Holy Spirit; let us recover awareness of our baptism and our confirmation, ever timely sources of grace.”
“The Charismatic Renewal is a great force meant to serve the preaching of the Gospel in the joy of the Holy Spirit,” Pope Francis told Charismatic Renewal participants at a convention in Rome in June 2014, adding, “I expect that you share with all in the Church the grace of baptism in the Holy Spirit.”
Pentecost in Rome
Pope Francis then offered a specific invitation: “I expect all of you, charismatics from around the world, to celebrate your great jubilee with the Pope at Pentecost 2017 in St. Peter’s Square.” So, from May 31 to June 4, members of the Renewal from around the world will gather in Rome to celebrate the 50th anniversary.
According to the website organized by international leaders of the Renewal, CCRGoldenJubilee2017.org, the occasion will be marked with a youth festival, workshops, an ecumenical forum, adoration, Masses and many opportunities for praise and worship. Participants will attend the regular Wednesday papal audience. And then the celebration will culminate in a vigil with Pope Francis at the Circus Maximus on the eve of Pentecost and the Pope’s Pentecost Mass in St. Peter’s Square the following day.
“At the historic meeting in the Olympic stadium in Rome in June 2014, the Holy Father invited the Charismatic family — there were 52,000 in the stadium — to celebrate the Golden Jubilee with him in Rome at Pentecost. Since then, he has invited numerous charismatic ecumenical leaders across the various denominations to also join in the celebration,” Michelle Moran, president of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal, told the Register.
“Although we are celebrating 50 years of Catholic Charismatic Renewal, it is important to remember that we are part of an ecumenical current of grace. So the worldwide charismatic family will gather on this significant day to celebrate all the blessings we have seen and to pray together.”
Thus, the Renewal’s 50th anniversary brings “unity” as a major goal.
“We see it as a directive from Pope Francis himself,” Bertucci explained.
“He has asked the Renewal and the Church to become more unified.”
In line with that directive, Bertucci said the Pope has asked that the event in Rome have an ecumenical emphasis. “Because the Renewal was birthed out of an ecumenical spirit, he wants this event to be an ecumenical event,” explained Bertucci.
Taking his cue from the Holy Father, Bertucci envisions the historic birthplace of the Renewal in the Church, the “Home of Baptism in the Holy Spirit” in the house 15 miles north of Pittsburgh, contributing to the call for unity.
“We hope in some small way The Ark and The Dove can play a part in bringing about ecumenical unity,” said Bertucci. To foster this unity, a member of the center’s board of directors will be a Charismatic from a Protestant ministry.
“The house itself looks like a home, so we say it’s a home, and it’s everybody’s home,” Bertucci emphasized of the movement’s home base.
“If you’re connected to the Renewal, it is a home. When people walk through the door, the first thing we say is, ‘Welcome home.’”
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.