BY LOU BALDWIN
At the Last Supper St. John tells us, Jesus promised His followers the Father would give them another Advocate, the Spirit of truth. That promise was fulfilled at Pentecost.
On June 1-3, approximately 2,500 Catholic women and men from around the country who accept this promise with their whole minds, body and soul, as the Gospel truth it most assuredly is, gathered at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia for a joy-filled conference and celebration of the Spirit.
With the theme “Let us pray with one heart together with Mary in the Upper Room,” the conference, which is held every five years, brought together four distinct branches of Catholic Charismatics in the United States — English speakers, Hispanics, Filipinos and Haitians — with both general sessions and separate sessions for the four tracks as well as a fifth that targeted youth.
Auxiliary Bishop John J. McIntyre, who was the principal celebrant at the opening Mass, focused on the Sacred Heart in his homily.
“It is a reality that marks the core of Christ’s being,” he said. “His heart into which each of us is drawn, so that more and more, each day after day, each passing year, like His; rooted in charity and full of that light which He has unleashed upon the world; a light that is stronger than sin and death and hell itself.”
Prominent among the concelebrants was Archbishop Stefan Soroka, Metropolitan of the Archeparchy of Philadelphia for Byzantine Ukrainian Catholics.
“This is my first time at this and I was really impressed by it,” he said. “It was really beautiful to see the light and joy on people’s faces. It was life-giving.”
The conference, which was sponsored by the National Service Committee of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, also marked the 45th anniversary of the American foundation of the movement at Duquesne University in 1967.
Msgr. Ralph Chieffo, pastor of St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Media, has been active with the Charismatics ever since the movement was introduced to Philadelphia by Redemptorist Brother Pancratius Boudreau during his seminary years.
“We came down to the city and lost our battery but caught the Holy Spirit,” he said. “I saw the vibrancy of the college students, and I saw how early Christian communities really developed.
“Msgr. Vincent Walsh started a priests’ group, and I’ve also seen how many of the men became deacons and entered lay ministries. We need to know the Lord is still in charge.”
Norman Kerner of Immaculate Conception Parish in Levittown is one of those Charismatics who has been led to deeper participation in the Church.
“I’m in my fourth year of the deacon program,” he said. “I’ve been in the Charismatics for about 10 years; my wife has been in it about 18 years. We’ve been touched by the Holy Spirit and it promotes love for people, helping people.”
Kerner was cheerfully and capably blowing on a huge shofar (ram’s horn), something one usually sees at Jewish gatherings.
“It traces back to the days of Elijah,” he explained. “It brings joy to people’s hearts when you blow it.”
Cookie Colon, who came from Reading for the gathering, said through the Charismatic movement, she “fell in love with the Holy Ghost.”
Florinda Dela Paz was part of a large contingent from Queens, N.Y. “I started in 1996, and I’ve learned a lot of things I didn’t know before,” she said.
Helene LaRosa of St. Ignatius Parish in Yardley has been part of the movement for eight or nine years, but others in her parish as long as 20 years. “The Holy Spirit and the grace of God keeps me coming and also all these wonderful people,” she said.
Msgr. Joseph McLoone, who is the Archbishop’s Delegate to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, is impressed “by the simple faith of the people and their desire to serve the Church with all of their gifts,” he said, “especially asking the Holy Spirit to help them use their gifts wisely. It is amazing to see their fervor, their joy for the Lord and their love for the Church.”