The charismatic Renewal – Card. Suenens



In the course of my visits to the USA, I heard about an astonishing religious awakening, born in the early years of this century, then gradually accepted in traditional Protestant Churches, and appearing in the Catholic Church in 1967.

This spiritual Renewal affected both universities, extremely diverse religious communities and parishes.

At that time I was writing a book, already heralded under the title: “The Holy Spirit, our Hope.”

I stopped my writing, thinking that if the Holy Spirit was at work, even on the other side of the world! … I had to go and see on the spot what was happening, especially as everyone was talking about a charismatic revival, the very cause I had pleaded at the Council.

I went to several main centers, including Ann Arbor and South Bend. There I met a French group led by Pierre Goursat, the future founder of the Emmanuel Community which would later be extended internationally … Pierre Goursat had previously made the journey from Paris to Nevers (France) just after the war with the purpose of meeting Veronica O’Brien who was founding the Legion of Mary in France. Pierre Goursat was one of the first members of the Legion of Mary on French soil. Our unexpected meeting in the USA was proof of a common desire to hear and possibly grasp “what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Churches.”

After meeting the first Catholic “charismatic” groups in a university milieu, I realized that “pentecostal” Grace was at work: that it was not a question of a Movement (there is neither founder, nor rule, nor precise structure) but rather a breath of the Spirit, which affected the many and varied aspects of life, as do all movements.

JI described my discovery in 1974 in “A New Pentecost?”. The question mark placed after the title meant that this “Renewal” was not going to be automatic. One had ot only to welcome it, but to guide it with care: says “yes” to Pentecost but “no” to Pentecostalism, ensuring that this Renewal was rooted in the heart of the Church.

I informed Paul VI of this new stream which was spreading with rapidity into the five continents, touching increasingly different areas of life.

On the occasion of Holy Year in 1975, I had suggested to the Catholic Leaders of this Renewal that they come on pilgrimage to Rome, so that they could give proof of their Faith and their fidelity to the Church.

Some prominent Protestants were invited to take part as well and came to Rome for the feast of Pentecost which thus took on a moving ecumenical dimension.

Pope Paul warmly welcomed the 10.000 pilgrims, who came from diverse countries, and in his homily described the Renewal as “an opportunity both for the Church and for the world”.

On this occasion he asked me to watch over the integration of the Catholic Renewal within the heart of the Church and he thanked me in these terms:

“I thank you, not on my own behalf, but on behalf of the Lord, for all you have done and are doing for the Charismatic Renewal in the world and for all that you will do in the future to integrate and maintain the Charismatic Renewal in the heart of the Church and faithful to its teachings.”

I accepted this mission by assuming, among other things, the editorship of a series of “Malines Documents” the first of which – a collected work edited by a group of highly qualified people from many countries – constitutes a sort of doctrinal and pastoral charter of Catholic Charismatic Renewal. .

The important thing was to free the Catholic Renewal from any misunderstanding of its being Pentecostist and to immunize it against the temptation, ever present down the centuries, to unite Christians outside their Churches in a  “Super Church of the Holy Spirit”, this has been carefully analyzed by Cardinal Lubac in his book on Joachim de Flore. Incidentally, a short time afterwards, Ralph Martin and Steve Clark – the best known American pioneers – came in a group at my invitation to stay in Brussels with the intention of continuing our dialogue and helping to integrate the Renewal within the Church. These contacts proved to be fruitful..

Today, the words of Paul VI which described the Renewal as “ an opportunity for the Church” remain a wish only partially realized: the Grace offered has not been grasped at Church level – within the heart of the Church.

Moreover, to interpret the Renewal as one “mo­vement” among others is to misunderstand its nature: it is more a moving of the Spirit offered to the whole Church, destined to renew all aspects of the Church’s life.

The soul of the Renewal – “baptism in the Spirit­” – is a Grace of renewal destined for all Christians.

It is not a question of a “Gulfstream” which warms coastlands here and there, but of a powerful current destined to reach the very heart of the country.

– Let our theologians, who have themselves experienced the “outpouring of the Spirit”, analyse it and identify it!

– Let our Pastors reflect on the possibilities of an ever-deepening Christianization offered by this “baptism” to Christians already sacramentally baptized and confirmed.

– Let all Christians give witness to their Faith in a joy which is outwardly expressed and sung aloud, even in tongues – not necessarily foreign ones – but in full freedom of expression, and in profound union with the Holy Spirit who “intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Rm 8,26).

– Let the prayer groups and communities be more and more open to the possibility of evangelization in the heart of the world.

I would like to address these remarks to the pastors of the Church, echoing the wish of Paul VI.

As for my friends in the Renewal throughout the world, I would like to tell them that the Renewal is destined for the whole Church and that their constant concern should be to see that the river should flow into the sea in order to be faithful to its source.

A Christian is not fully a Christian until he is a Christianiser. The Upper Room is the place where Christians seek transformation through prayer and the welcoming of the Holy Spirit, but it is also the place when one departs to carry the torch of Pentecost to our fellow human beings. The “Tongues of Fire” are there as a reminder, helping us to overcome our silence, our fears and our mutism.

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”  (Lc 12,49).