With international service group, pope connects Catholic charismatics to broader Church

Pantheon on Pentecost Credit Marina Testino CNA Rose petals shower from the ceiling of the Pantheon, a Pentecost tradition in Rome symbolizing the descent of the Holy Spirit. | Marina Testino/CNA.

As several thousand Catholics belonging to the charismatic renewal gathered in Rome this Pentecost weekend, the Vatican officially launched a new international service to aid the ministry in its commitment to communion and service.

Bishop Peter Smith told CNA that with the creation of CHARIS, "the Holy Father is trying to say okay, we're part of a much bigger thing here, let's not lose sight of that connection and let's help one another to build the Kingdom and not just be focused on ourselves."

"This pope sees [the charismatic renewal] as a much broader thing," he said.

CHARIS is an abbreviation for Catholic Charismatic Renewal International Service and fulfills a request of the pope that there be one charismatic service organism for all expressions of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

It does not have any legal authority over charismatic communities, but its purpose is communion, formation, and advice. It also has a doctrinal and canonical commission, which can study and give information on things such as baptism in the Holy Spirit, as CHARIS moderator Jean-Luc Moens told CNA.

"We need to be sure that we serve the Church without going into our own ideas," he said.

Auxiliary bishop of Portland, Oregon, Peter Smith has been in the charismatic renewal since a young adult in the late 1970s. As CHARIS launches under the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, he is serving on the leadership team as one of two representatives for North America.

Smith explained to CNA that the charismatic renewal is not an organized movement in the sense of having a founder or one overarching vision, but that it is very loosely organized.

"The heart of the charismatic movement is a profound encounter with Christ and the Holy Spirit," he said. "There's sort of a deeper infusion of the Holy Spirit into our lives that transforms us, and so, people go forth from there."

"It deepens people's lives of faith significantly," he said, explaining that the way most Catholics would encounter the movement is likely through a prayer group at their parish, at conferences and retreats, or communities and ministries.

He said there are an estimated 100 to 112 million active members of the charismatic renewal worldwide, many of whom are in Africa and Asia.

Pope Francis met with around 3,000 or more Catholics of the charismatic renewal on June 8 in the Vatican's Pope Paul VI hall. He told them that with the start of CHARIS "a new stage begins on this journey."

"A stage marked by communion among all the members of the charismatic family, in which the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit is manifested for the good of the whole Church," he continued.

The pope said he expects the movement to share Baptism in the Holy Spirit with everyone in the Church: "it is the grace that you have received. Share it! Do not keep if for yourself!"

He also asked them to serve the unity of the body of Christ and to serve the poor.

"These three things: Baptism in the Holy Spirit, unity of the Body of Christ and service to the poor, are the necessary testimony for the evangelization of the world, to which we are all called for our Baptism," he said.

Smith described the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the context of Confirmation, which he said, "is a gift of a deeper experience of the Holy Spirit." And just like any gift one receives, "it is worthless unless you do something."

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"You have to take it, you have to open it, you have to see what it is, you have to make it part of your life," he noted. "And when you do, that gift comes alive for you. The same thing happens with the gift of faith." The charismatic renewal helps people to have a "vivified, living faith."

"God is not just a philosophical reality... God becomes like a close friend in the sense that you experience him," he said. "This is all fundamentally part of our faith life."

"I've bumped into certain groups of Catholics who say, well [the renewal] is Protestant. My reaction to that is no, that's been Catholic from the beginning," Smith argued. While the Catholic Charismatic Renewal has been around for just 52 years, the bishop said what the renewal promotes can be seen even in the writings of the early Church Fathers and in the lives of saints.

For Catholics who would like to have a deeper experience of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost, Smith said there is not a set formula except for simply placing one's self in God's presence. If there is some obstacle to communion with God, something one needs to repent of, do that, he said, and then "just ask God to reveal himself more closely to you, to make the Holy Spirit come alive within you."

"Countless people, myself included, we were good Catholics, always lived the Church's teaching," he noted, "but there comes a point where you can say, Lord, I want more."

Most people, he said, will never have one of "these St. Paul moments" where you are going about your life and "wham, you have this incredible experience."

For most people, "we begin to pray, you surrender your life to God, you ask the Holy Spirit to be more a part of your life, and you begin to see things happen."

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It can be summed up by thinking about the universal call to live and proclaim the Gospel. "We can't do that on our own, nobody can. We fall short," he explained. "So, God in his mercy gives us the Holy Spirit, which makes Christ present in us in a much deeper way and strengthens us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit... so that we can live as he calls us to."

"That is why people who experience this often have their faith come alive," he said.