Who We Are
The Catholic Charismatic Renewal is a movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church. As charismatic Catholics we believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as found in Acts chapter 2, I Corinthians chapter 7, and throughout the New Testament, did not die out in Apostolic times. Instead, they remain valid and active today. These gifts include not only high-profile manifestations like tongues, prophecy and healing, but also the Spirit’s guidance and power for the entire spectrum of Christian life.
We don’t claim to be the only Catholics who are filled with the Holy Spirit. All Christians have the Holy Spirit, and everything of value that has been accomplished by the Church or individual Christians on any level for the past 2,000 years has been guided and empowered by the Spirit. But the renewal has recovered a conscious focus on the Spirit that had largely been lost, and helps Catholics be fully open to all that the Spirit can offer.
History: The Charismatic Renewal has its roots in outpourings of the Holy Spirit in the earliest years of the 20th century in what are now known as the Pentecostal churches. It reached more mainstream Protestant churches about 1960, and the Catholic Church in February 1967, when a group of students at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh held a weekend retreat to pray for just such an outpouring.
The renewal spread rapidly among Catholics after that, through many routes and with no central organization. The first Canadian Catholics involved were probably Windsor, Ont., residents who crossed the border in 1967 to attend prayer meetings in Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan. The first recorded Catholic charismatic prayer meeting in Canada took place at Madonna House in Combermere, Ont., in August 1968. The first recorded meeting in B.C. took place after hours in a Catholic bookstore in Vancouver in about 1969; Father Don Wilson, a priest on loan from the Diocese of Nelson, was present, and helped spread the renewal in Vancouver and later in his home diocese. He is still a member of the provincial charismatic service committee (governing body).
A more complete history of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Canada was published in 2007 as Fire in the North, by Richard Dunstan of Victoria, and is available through The Bread of Life magazine.
Organization: The Catholic Charismatic Renewal has always been very loosely organized. The governing bodies refer to themselves as “service committees,” and their mandate, in the words of the constitution of the international committee, is that of “a servant offering help rather than an authority expecting compliance.” The highest level body is International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services, based in Rome. At the national level, Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services of Canada serves English-speaking Canada; its French-language counterpart is the Conseil Canadien du Renouveau Charismatique. The B.C. body is Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services of B.C., with representatives from each diocese.
Relationship to the institutional Church: While the renewal came as a surprise to most Catholics, it got a cautious but generally friendly reception from the Church, and has received many encouraging statements from the Popes over the years. These include a 1975 address to charismatic leaders by Pope Paul VI calling the renewal “a blessing for the Church and for the world”; a 1998 Pentecost vigil address by Pope John Paul II describing the Church’s institutional and charismatic aspects as “co-essential”; and a message of thanks to the international service committee from Pope Benedict XVI “for the many gifts bestowed upon the Church the past four decades,” delivered on the Catholic Charismatic Renewal’s 40th anniversary in 2007.
At all levels, Catholic charismatic leaders are answerable to the Church. The international service committee is under the jurisdiction of the Pontifical Council for the Laity; the national committee deals with the Canadian bishops through a liaison, Most Rev. Richard Grecco, auxiliary bishop of Toronto; and on the provincial committee, diocesan representatives are under obedience to their bishops.
More generally, it must be admitted that early in the days of the renewal, some Catholic participants abused what they saw as freedom under the Spirit to violate Church discipline or moral teachings, and some moved on to other churches, especially Pentecostal congregations. But those days are long gone. For many years the Catholic Charismatic Renewal has been a stronghold of loyal and obedient Catholics, faithful to the Magisterium and active in parish life. Catholic charismatics are also often active in more traditional Catholic devotions as well as charismatic prayer.
In 2003, the Canadian bishops issued a pastoral letter to mark the renewal’s 35th anniversary in Canada. This letter described the renewal as a “telling sign” that the risen Lord has kept His promise to remain with His people. The bishops praised the renewal for bringing participants a deeper personal experience of God, and for its record of service, prayer and evangelism. At the same time, the letter reminded charismatics of Church norms concerning healing services, and noted concerns over the lack of priests’ involvement in the renewal and signs of fatigue in charismatic leadership. It called for on-going formation for leaders, for prayer group participants, and indeed for all Catholics. The full text of this letter is reprinted as an appendix to Fire in the North.
Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services of B.C.
Richard Dunstan Victoria diocese, chair,
Richard Dunstan, Victoria diocese, Newsletter editor
Lennie David, Vancouver archdiocese
David MacIntyre, Victoria diocese
Lynne Williams, Nelson diocese
Reverend Deacon Peter Gomes, Vancouver archdiocese
Donald LeClair, Kamloops diocese