At the first Pentecost, everyone in Solomons Portico heard the praises of God in his own language. On Pentecost Sunday in 1998, an estimated 500,000 representatives of more than 50 movements in the Roman Catholic Church heard Pope John Paul II in their own languages through translators on FM radios as they stood for hours at the place where the apostle Peter is supposedly buried.
Among those who gathered at St. Peters Square in Rome in May were thousands of charismatic Catholics. For them, the event was the high point of 1998, designated by the pontiff as the Year of the Holy Spirit. Their enormous show of solidarity with the pope was one of the largest gatherings ever held at the basilica.
The event displayed just how much the charismatic movement has grown worldwide among Catholics.
The St. Peters celebration was a special moment for the members of 55 covenant communities that united under the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Communities and Fellowships at the request of Pope John Paul IIwho wanted to officially ask the charismatics to serve the Catholic Church.
The pope thanked and affirmed the fraternity for its evangelistic work throughout the world. "A survey of the 30 years of the history of the Catholic charismatic renewal shows that you have helped many people to rediscover the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, in the life of the Church and in the life of the worlda rediscovery which in many of them has led to a faith in Christ filled with joy and enthusiasm," the pope said.
Brian Smith, founder of Emmanual Covenant Community in Australia and world president of the Catholic Fraternity, called the Pentecost celebration an extraordinary moment.
"In the last 25 years, the Catholic charismatic renewal has moved from being seen as on the fringe of the Catholic Church right into the heart of the church. Now its moving outward in mission and service." Smith said.
"Rome recognizes the charismatic gifts, which distinctively abound in the charismatic renewal," he added. "We are marked in a special way by an ongoing expectation that the Holy Spirit is at work in us and in the Church, and by the proclamation of deep, personal relationship with the Lord as we allow Him to take control of our lives in every area."
The Catholic Fraternity was formed in 1990 among Catholic charismatic covenant communities whose leadrs had been meeting for several years. The communities, from five continents, are among hundreds of charismatic Catholic prayer groups, which came into existence all over the world beginning in the early 1970s.
Designated by the pope as "A Pontifical Association of Christs Faithful," the communities differ in organization and orientation from parish prayer groups, which are rooted in parish life and may or may not have the blessing of local priests or bishops. Most fraternity communities are larger, older and draw members from a wider geographic area than parish groups, which often do not have ties outside their areas.
Charismatic Catholic communities use varied approaches to evangelism:
At the Community of Gods Delight in Dallas, the mission of evangelism evolved from one Life in the Spirit seminar to a huge television outreach. Today, communicators from developing countries come to Dallas to learn how to produce TV programs to evangelize their native languages.
The Bukas Loob Sa Diyos (Open to the Spirit of God) Community in Makati City, Philippines, founded by 20 couples from the Marriage Encounter ministry, switched its emphasis from building marriages to building church communities.
In Montesson, France, the Foundations Du Monde Nouveau Community bases its evangelism ministry on Psalm 8, which focuses on the value of man. Youth 14-17 years old are enrolled in the School of Life, a two-year program guiding them through life choices through peer evangelizers who emphasize that "Jesus wants your happiness."
Prayer camps draw 8,000 to 30,000 each week to Sao Paulo, Brazils Comunidade Cancao Nova (A New Song) Community, where 70 percent of the members are youth. These and other covenant communities from Argentina to Ireland to Malaysia connect in Rome, with their common dedication to serve the Catholic Church worldwide.
Smith noted that the Catholic charismatic communitiesalong with Pope John Paul IIare dedicated to fostering unity with all Christians.
Although Catholic charismatics feel an obligation to maintain their Catholicism, he said, "We have an invitation to discover the riches of our faith and further the work of the kingdom by working within the Church and with other Christians, reaching out to the whole world."