It has been 50 years since a group of students at Pittsburgh's Duquesne University experienced the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It was the first known case of a group of people receiving gifts at the same time. That experience spread to other college campuses, spawning the Charismatic Renewal movement in the United States. To mark the golden jubilee, Pope Francis called for a conference in Rome.
Father Ronald P. Sajdak, pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Harris Hill, and St. Lawrence and St. Martin de Porres parishes in Buffalo, hosted a delegation of eight to the Rome conference from May 31 to June 4.
"It was a terrific experience for me," he said, adding that he had been involved in the movement for 45 years.
The Charismatic Movement holds many of the beliefs and practices of Pentecostalism, such as the gifts of the Holy Spirit being available to all baptized Christians. These gifts include prophecy, healing and speaking in tongues.
The four-day conference began with a general audience with Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square. The next two days were filled with symposiums, workshops and Masses.
Bud and Marilyn Northway, from Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, attended some of those workshops.
"The one that was striking to me was the one on healing," said Bud Northway. "So, we know that charismatic means charism or gifts of the Holy Spirit, including prophecy and speaking in tongues, dealing in miracles. In our own lives, we have been healed by the Lord and have prayed with people who have been healed. One of the things that (the speaker) talked about was to have a greater or higher expectation, that our expectations are maybe too low. We should be expecting great things, miraculous things when we pray for people."
The speaker demonstrated faith levels by saying if one's faith was ankle high, they should strive for knee-high faith.
Father Raniero Cantalamessa, a former member of the International Theological Commission and current preacher to the papal household, spoke during the Pentecost vigil on June 3, using the second chapter of Acts of the Apostles to demonstrate a need to unify the body of Christ in the form of people of faith.
"We should be looking to bring about unity in the body of Christ," Northway said, reiterating the core message. "The body of Christ is broken, much to the sadness of our Lord. We should be working towards unity. The pope also talked about that, the importance of unity and the body of Christ."
The Northways, who belong to a Clarence prayer group called People of Praise, are in the process of setting up a Light in the Spirit seminar in the Black Rock/Riverside area where the People of Praise has an outreach.
"The pope encouraged us to go back to our homes and to encourage the baptism in the Holy Spirit wherever we can," Northway said.
A similar conference took place in Pittsburgh, July 20-23, with over 6,000 people from all over the world attending. Interestingly, Africans and Hispanics make up the majority of the American conference.
"It blew my mind away to see the cross culture," said John Gehl, from St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Corfu and East Pembroke.
As with the Rome conference, several multi-lingual workshops took place.
"One of the speakers there was Michelle Moran, president of the International Catholic Charismatic Association Worldwide. She made four or five points. She said, 'We are in the middle of a current of grace,' quoting Pope Francis. The current of grace is the power of the Holy Spirit. There was a prophetic word given about a year ago. 'The door is opening, we need to walk through it.' It's just amazing," Gehl said.
Gehl, a member of the People of Praise, has been asked to give Life in the Spirit talks at various parishes and is spreading the word via mass media. "I can see doors opening, and we should be stepping through them to reach out," he said.
First known as the Pentecostal Movement, Charismatic Renewal spread quickly through the States, leading to a large conference in Notre Dame University in the early 1970s. People from all over the world participated. The movement changed its name to Charismatic Renewal. The word "charisma" means gift, and Charismatic Renewal is the gift of the Holy Spirit upon people. Gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophetic messages, healings, miracles, inspired speeches are among the gifts given by the Holy Spirit.
Through prayer groups, people grow into stronger followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Scripture teachings, healings and prophetic messages enhance growth in their lives as Christians. The Charismatic Renewal office offers an eight-week course called "The Life in the Spirit Seminar."
The Charismatic Renewal office in the diocese of Buffalo has been active since the mid-1970s. The organization offers Life in the Spirit Seminars, a newsletter, and now a House of Prayer with prayer teams and spiritual direction. The prayer teams include priests, doctors, nurses and dedicated lay people. There are 18 established prayer teams. Some have been active for 30 years.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not well known nowadays, but those working with the Charismatic Renewal program feel those gifts are needed to equip the laity to assist priests and religious.
"For years we have seen our priests doing all the work. Now we seem to be challenged, not only by the Holy Father, but also by the magisterium to do our best as laypeople to serve the Church. How do we do that, but to be able to know what the gifts are that we have," said Anthony Sheeda, associate director of Charismatic Renewal/Burning Bush House of Prayer in Buffalo.