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A Healing Mass for Catholics : Charismatics: Gathering of 14 prayer groups shows that although the movement is more associated with Pentecostal denomination, it remains strong in L.A. Archdiocese.

July 01, 1995|JOHN DART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They praised God with the unintelligible sounds known as speaking in tongues and placed their hands on their neighbors in the pews who believed prayer would heal their physical, mental or spiritual problems.

For the 2,000 charismatic Catholics gathered for Mass at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Reseda last week, it was a foray into turf long associated with the Pentecostal denomination, rather than liturgy-bound Catholicism.

The term charismatic has generally been applied to mainstream Christians--Protestant and Catholic--who adopted Pentecostal beliefs of being filled by the Holy Spirit and receiving supernatural gifts such as speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy and spiritual wisdom.

No claim of miraculous healing emerged in Reseda, but the size of the crowd demonstrated that the charismatic movement--now 25 years old in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles--remains an energizing spiritual force in local parishes while enjoying continued approval by the Catholic hierarchy.

Not that U.S. bishops are comfortable with every aspect of the movement, especially the flamboyant displays of "spiritual gifts"--such as speaking in tongues and laying on hands to heal--sometimes seen in Pentecostal churches, according to one longtime member of the Catholic charismatic movement.

"Most of the bishops' statements tend to praise the charismatic renewal for all the safe things--the effects on prayer life, new interest in Bible study--and back off when it comes to prophecy and healing," said Gabriel Meyer, associate editor of the National Catholic Register, published in Encino.

"Of course, the very thing that attracts people to the renewal is praying in tongues, healing and prophecy," said Meyer, who in 1972 founded the Southern California Renewal Communities (SCRC), an independent Catholic charismatic organization with offices in Redondo Beach.

The meeting at St. Catherine of Siena marked the first time the 14 parish-based charismatic prayer groups in the San Fernando Valley and Glendale had jointly organized and publicized a healing service, said Ken Elsey, the Valley coordinator for the group.

"The feedback I've had is, 'When can we do this again?' " he said.

The group operates the largest annual Catholic charismatic convention in North America, complete with workshops and healing services.

More than 13,000 Catholics are expected to attend the 24th annual Catholic Renewal Convention, to be held Sept. 1-3 in Anaheim, said Dominic Berardino, the group's president. Indicative of the archdiocese's open but cautious backing, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles will preside at the closing Mass in the Anaheim Convention Center.

"We grew rapidly in attendance from between 6,000 and 8,000 in the 1980s to a peak of 15,000 in 1992," Berardino said. Attendance slipped during the last two years, but the conference's preregistration figure is higher this year, he said. "People come from other states and even other countries," he said.

Worldwide, at least 25 million Catholics are estimated to have been involved in the charismatic movement at some time, with the biggest growth occurring in Third World countries, Berardino said.

The start of the charismatic movement is usually traced to 1959, when the rector and some lay members of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Van Nuys declared that they were exercising Pentecostal spiritual gifts, stirring disputes over whether these were authentic Christian phenomena. Other charismatic believers began to surface in Presbyterian, Lutheran and Methodist churches, often leading to resignations and church splits.

The Catholic charismatic movement first appeared in Midwestern cities in the late 1960s. Catholic charismatic prayer groups began in the Los Angeles Archdiocese on the Loyola University campus in 1970.

Then-Archbishop Timothy Manning of Los Angeles raised questions about the activity. But, according to Meyer, Manning was assured that the movement would stay within the boundaries of Catholicism when a trusted Jesuit friend, Father Ralph Tichenor, led the movement from the Loyola campus gatherings into individual parishes.

"At that time," Meyer said, "the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship, Melodyland Christian Center [in Anaheim] and [faith healer] Kathryn Kuhlman were siphoning off a lot of Catholics. So, there was a concern to put the Catholic charismatic movement under local pastors."

The movement got a clear sign of legitimacy in 1975 when Pope Paul VI addressed an international Catholic charismatic meeting in Rome, Meyer said.

"Studies have shown that a large number of Catholics have been touched by the charismatic renewal, but also that for many it is a revolving door," Meyer said. "People get out of it what they need and move on, often to other forms of service to the church."

Some charismatic prayer groups have lost members because one member who claims the spiritual gift of prophecy appears to be trying to control what the rest of the group should do.

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