Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug 4, 2014 / 19:03 pm
As a steadily growing movement in the Catholic Church, the Charismatic Renewal includes an estimated 160 million of the world's roughly 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
While many of the Charismatic Renewal's members are scattered in individual parishes across the estimated 238 countries in which the movement exists, one group – formed in Brazil – is helping to bring them together.
Founded in July 1982, the Shalom Catholic Community celebrated its 30th anniversary just two months after being confirmed as a private international Catholic faith association by the Vatican in 2012. With over 110 Community Centers in 20 countries and 30,000 active members, Shalom is one of the world's largest individual Charismatic Renewal movements.
And despite the movement's impressive growth, its founders and leading community members say Shalom's evangelization efforts are just getting started.
In 1980, at only 20 years-old, Moyses Azevedo received the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to represent youth from the Archdiocese of Fortaleza during Pope John Paul II's visit to the city.
Invited by Cardinal Aloísio Lorscheider, then-Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Fortaleza, Azevedo was asked to give a gift to the Holy Father during the Offertory part of Mass – to be held in Fortaleza's Estadio Castelao (Giant Castle Stadium).
Honored to be selected, Azevedo was surprised when told he'd be selecting the pontiff's gift.
"(Cardinal Lorschieder) told me, 'you're the one that should choose,'" Azevedo said, in his native Portuguese.
"What can a 20-year-old kid give to the Pope?"
Advised just 10 days before the Pope's visit on July 9, Azevedo wrote a letter to Pope John Paul II, dedicating his life to the evangelization of Catholic youth. Though there was no dialogue between the two, Azevedo says the encounter itself with the Holy Father inspired him to put his plan in action.
"I'm convinced that in that moment I received a special grace," he said, "of how to evangelize youth that didn't know about Christ or the Church."
Exactly two years later, on July 9, 1982, Azevedo and friend Maria Emmir opened Shalom Catholic Evangelization Center in Fortaleza – a pizzeria where Catholic youth could seek spiritual advice, help and comfort. Just 22 at the time, Azevedo admits being surprised by the success of the first Evangelization Center's opening night.
"That night the house was crowded with many young people," he wrote of the experience. "These youth that attended the first night after brought their families, then came the poor. There was a real crowd!"
Though neither Azevedo nor Emmir could recall the exact number of youth present on the night of July 9, fellow community member Cassiano Azevedo (no relation) estimates that roughly 100 people attended Shalom's opening night.
Growth and Expansion
As its community grew, Azevedo and Emmir began incorporating regular daily Shalom prayer and evangelization groups, and inviting youth and families from Fortaleza to join. Just three years later, in 1985, Shalom established its two main communities: Covenant Communities and Life Communities, which involved consecrating members into lives of Charismatic Catholic evangelization.
According to Shalom's website, the Covenant Community was formed for members desiring to follow Jesus Christ while 'living amidst family and professional activities.' Its members were called to be "lights for the world and salt for the earth" while operating in the secular world.
Covenant Community members now meet twice a week in Shalom Community Centers, where they pray and celebrate the Word of God, the Magisterium of the Church and the Shalom Charisma – which involves praying in tongues.
"It's important because it opens our eyes to others and our hearts to the Holy Spirit," said Cassiano Azevedo, 50, of speaking in tongues. "It gives us the strength to bring love and hope."
Shalom's Life Community called for "for a total dedication to God and to the service in his vineyard." Members were challenged to relinquish worldly ambitions in exchange for a model of the first Christian Communities, where necessities were shared and all goods, projects and personal plans were renounced.
Life Community missionaries now live in community houses and perform mission work according to the needs of the Catholic Church and their respective Shalom communities.
"Our spectrum is wider," Emmir, a Life Community member, explained. "We work full time for evangelizing."
By 1998, Shalom's presence in Fortaleza had reached almost 1,000 members, more than most parishes in the city's Archdiocese. Cardinal Claudio Hummes, then-Archbishop of Fortaleza, signed a canonical decree, formally recognizing Shalom at a diocesan level.
"Obviously we were surprised with how fast we were growing," said Emmir. "But it was totally unexpected. I don't know if anyone saw this coming at the beginning."
In 2007, Shalom's Pontifical Recognition was decreed by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and on Feb. 22, 2012 the Vatican confirmed Shalom Catholic Community as a private international faithful association, approving its Statuses indefinitely.
"Being approved by the Vatican, that's certainly our greatest accomplishment," Emmir said. "It's what we're most proud of, and it has helped us to reach more people."
Among desired areas of growth, Emmir specified Australia, Asia and Africa as top priorities for new Shalom Evangelization Centers. Though the community opened an Evangelization Center in the United States in 2012, Emmir said she's also hoping for development of more North-American based Evangelization Centers.
"We would really like to be overspread in five continents, by all means," she said. "Whenever another priest or bishop calls us, we're going to go. We really want to be there."
Shalom, WYD and Halleluya
In 2013, over 1,000 Shalom community members participated as pilgrims and volunteers in Pope Francis' celebration of World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro.
Though the journeys to Rio, time spent in the city and responsibilities as either pilgrims or volunteers varied greatly among Shalom WYD youth, nearly all interviewed participants shared a deep appreciation for the Holy Father's simplicity.
"Especially when he went to the Favela and spoke with residents," said Lucas Justo, 22, a Shalom Life Community member and WYD pilgrim from Sao Paulo, "it was very courageous."
"He gave us great joy," added Lucia da Silva, 24, from Rio de Janeiro. "His happiness is radiant, not only in the name Francis, but in his humility and love of the poor."
Apart from WYD, Shalom celebrates its own annual Catholic youth conference each year in Fortaleza. The event, called "Halleluya" in Portuguese, is Brazil's equivalent of National Catholic Youth Conference. Last year, the five-day conference drew over 500,000 Shalom Youth from around the world.
"Incredible," said Cassiano Azevedo of Halleluya. "There is no Catholic celebration like it in any other part of the world."
Above all, despite its status as a Charismatic Catholic Church, Shalom community members emphasize the movement's obedience and commitment to their local archdioceses.
"We're always called to be in intimate cooperation with our archdiocese," said Aldemir Neto, 18, from Natal. "We're not a single movement, we're not another church or religion, we're part of the Catholic Church."