No Need to Fear Charismatic Renewal, Says Papal Household Preacher
An Interview With Father Raniero Cantalamessa
Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa made that point Thursday as a
gathering of more than 1,000 delegates of Catholic Charismatic Renewal
from 73 countries drew to a close.
The delegates had gathered for a spiritual retreat and to reflect on
holiness in light of John Paul II's apostolic letter "Novo Millennio
Ineunte." Father Cantalamessa was the retreat master.
Taking into account Protestant, evangelical and Pentecostal
denominations, and some members of the Orthodox Church, it is
estimated that 600 million Christians have had the charismatic
Given his knowledge of the "charismatic" experience, ZENIT interviewed
Father Cantalamessa just before the conclusion of the meeting.
Q: There are those in the Church who think that "baptism in the Spirit" is
an invention of the charismatics, and that a name has been given to an
experience that is not "catalogued" in the Church. Could you explain,
from your own experience, what baptism in the Spirit is?
Father Cantalamessa: Baptism in the Spirit is not a human invention; it is
a divine invention. It is a renewal of baptism and of the whole of Christian
life, of all the sacraments.
For me, it was also a renewal of my religious profession, of my
confirmation, and of my priestly ordination. The whole spiritual organism
is revived as when wind blows on a flame. Why has the Lord decided to
act at this time in such a strong way? We don't know. It is the grace of a
It is not about Charismatic Renewal inventing baptism in the Spirit. In
fact, many have received baptism in the Spirit without knowing anything
about Charismatic Renewal. It is a grace; it depends on the Holy Spirit. It
is a coming of the Holy Spirit which is manifested in repentance of sins,
in seeing life in a new way, which reveals Jesus as the living Lord -- not
as a personage of the past -- and the Bible becomes a living word. The
fact is, this cannot be explained.
There is a revelation with baptism, because the Lord says that whoever
believes will be baptized and saved. We received baptism as children
and the Church pronounced our act of faith, but the time comes when
we must ratify what happened at baptism. This is an occasion to do so,
not as a personal effort, but under the action of the Holy Spirit.
One cannot say that hundreds of millions of people are in error. In his
book on the Holy Spirit, Yves Congar, that great theologian who did not
belong to Charismatic Renewal, said that, in fact, this experience has
changed profoundly the lives of many Christians. And it is a fact. It has
changed them and initiated paths of holiness.
Q: How do you carry out your ministry as Papal Household preacher
given your experience in Charismatic Renewal?
Father Cantalamessa: For me, everything that has happened since 1977
is the fruit of my baptism in the Spirit. I was a university professor. I was
dedicated to scientific research in the history of Christian origins. And
when I accepted this experience, not without resistance, I then had the
call to leave it all and be available for preaching.
My appointment as Papal Household preacher also came after I
experienced this "resurrection." I see it as a great grace. After my
religious vocation, Charismatic Renewal has been the most marked
grace in my life.
Q: From your point of view, do the members of Charismatic Renewal
have a specific vocation in the Church?
Father Cantalamessa: Yes and no. Charismatic Renewal, it must be said
and repeated, is not an ecclesial movement. It is a current of grace that is
meant to transform the Church -- preaching, the liturgy, personal prayer,
So it is not a spirituality as such. The movements have a spirituality and
emphasize a particular aspect, for example, charity. First of all,
Charismatic Renewal does not have a founder. No one thinks of
attributing a founder to Charismatic Renewal because it is something
that started in many places in different ways. And it does not have a
spirituality; it is Christian life lived in the Spirit.
However, it can be said that as the people who have lived this
experience are, socially, a reality -- they are people who do certain
gestures, pray in a certain way -- then a social reality can be identified
whose role is simply to be available so that others can have the same
experience, and then disappear.
Cardinal Leo Jozef Suenens, who was the great protector and supporter
of Charismatic Renewal in its beginnings, said that the final destiny of
Charismatic Renewal might be to disappear when this current of grace
has spread throughout the Church.
Q: As you are about to finish preaching a retreat attended by 1,000
Charismatic delegates from all over the world, what message would you
like to give believers who do not know the Renewal?
Father Cantalamessa: I want to say to the faithful, to bishops, to priests,
not to be afraid. I don't know why there is fear. Perhaps, in some
measure, because this experience began in other Christian confessions,
such as Pentecostals and Protestants.
However, the Pope is not afraid. He has spoken of the ecclesial
movements, and also of Charismatic Renewal, as signs of a new
springtime of the Church, and he often stresses the importance of this.
And Paul VI said it was an opportunity for the Church.
There is no need for fear. There are episcopal conferences, for example
in Latin America -- this is true of Brazil -- where the hierarchy has
discovered that Charismatic Renewal is not a problem. It is part of the
solution to the problem of Catholics who have left the Church because
they don't find in it a living word, a lived Bible, the possibility of
expressing the faith in a joyful manner, in a free way, and Charismatic
Renewal is a formidable means that the Lord has given the Church so
that one can live an experience of the Spirit, Pentecostal, in the Catholic
Church, without the need to leave the Church.
Nor should Charismatic Renewal be regarded as an "island" where
some emotional people get together. It is not an island. It is a grace
meant for all the baptized. The external signs can be different, but in its
essence, it is an experience meant for all the baptized.