CARRYING ON THE FLAME

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Katie Feise had spinal surgery 2010, after suffering a number of injuries over the years. The operation was successful, but her recovery didn't progress like it was supposed to.

"It was like a dark cloud over me," Feise said. "I felt I needed to seek a higher power in my recovery."

Feise believed there was a hurdle in front of her, one that had major spiritual implications and was preventing her from properly healing.

A friend had told her about a healing Mass at a nearby parish, and in 2010, she attended a Healing and Deliverance ministry gathering at the archdiocesan Catholic Renewal Center.

"There was a huge burden that was lifted off of me. It was starting to peel off the layers of an onion," she said. "I had been to other types of therapy before, but this was totally different. I feel like you have to ask God into these situations if you really want to be healed. And that's what happened for me."

Before, the 37-year-old frequently felt like everything was "doom and gloom" and didn't feel good about herself. Now, nearly seven years after she started going to the Renewal Center, her outlook on life is much better. "Where I'm at now, it's more like, 'I'm going to ask the Holy Spirit to come into this situation.'"

Feise has described her healing as "journey. I have to continually surround myself with the people who are going to help me do that. You fall down but you get up again."

Feise is among the young adults in the archdiocese who are turning to the Catholic Renewal Center to enrich their souls and connect with a community in which they grow in relationship with God and one another. About 30 young adults are part of the community that meets monthly at the center, a former convent at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Crestwood.

She described her involvement with the ministry as a blessing. "There's a feeling of family and love and that you're welcome here," she said.

The "fabulous five"

Jane Guenther, director of the Catholic Renewal Center, had been meeting individually with several young women for spiritual direction. In 2012, she suggested to the five women — she affectionately called them the "fabulous five" — that they should meet one another.

It started off as a small prayer group; but as word got around, more young adults started showing up at the regular gatherings, then held at the Renewal Center's former location in St. Ann. When the archdiocese reignited its Young Adult Ministry several years ago, Guenther put the group on hiatus and encouraged them to seek out opportunities with other young adults through the larger ministry.

Two years ago, the group came back to Guenther. Young Adult Ministry was doing great things, they conceded, but they were missing the intimate community and the particular style of prayer, praise and worship in the Renewal movement.

So why have young adults been drawn to the movement? Founded in the United States 50 years ago, Catholic Charismatic Renewal focuses on a baptism of the Holy Spirit and an awareness of the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, which gives its members of sense of empowerment to bring Christ to others.

"They're seeking community, and you can't get that in one-on-one spiritual direction," Guenther said. Sometimes they're also drawn in through secular fascination with supernatural phenomena, but want to know within the context of faith how this phenomena occurs — through the charisms, or gifts, given by the Holy Spirit.

The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" notes that the Holy Spirit gives charisms to people to help build the Church and others (CCC 799-801). Charismatic practices include speaking in tongues, divine healing and prophesying.

"They're discovering their own charisms," Guenther said. "Some have been trained to do healing prayer with others and become Jonah ministers, and others are eucharistic ministers in hospitals. They're finding out what God has gifted them with and going out and serving others."

The Renewal movement also is a refuge for those who have experienced pain and suffering and who seek healing within a spiritual context. The sense of community is important to them as they develop their relationship with Christ. "This gives them the strength to face the individual encounter with Jesus," she said. "They're fortified by the group."

Guenther recognizes that there's been a "fresh outpouring the Lord is putting upon people. He's bringing a whole new generation of people" to the ministry.

Guided by the Holy Spirit

Armando Leos learned about the Renewal Center through the Hispanic ministry at his parish. He started going to the Renewal Center about a year ago because he was drawn to the style of singing, praise and worship, describing it as a laid-back atmosphere. He's noticed how the group is becoming more open with one another.

"When I bring up something, others will share how they relate to it," said Leos, 31. "I realize that Jesus is putting that in me."

At a recent evening prayer meeting, about 20 young adults assembled in the great room of the Renewal Center. The gentle sounds of a guitar and flute intertwined with their singing. Between songs, they openly lifted up their prayers to God. Some offered their praise in English phrases, while others spoke in tongues, often described as a rhythmic string of syllables and considered a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Afterward they listened to Cheryl Nelson, a longtime member of the Renewal movement, speak about the importance of forgiveness. She described it as "a conscious decision, and not an emotion. It's a process that takes time, a choice, and lasts our whole lives."

The conversation that ensued was clearly infused by the Holy Spirit. One after another, they shared stories of forgiving an ex-girlfriend, or a former co-worker. Advice flowed on dealing with forgiveness in family situations and handling bad feelings toward another person.

"God definitely has His hand in this," Feise said. "We feel we're equipped, but it's God whose in control of this. The Holy Spirit is guiding us, and we're trying to do the best we can to not get in His way."

Carrying on the flame

Last weekend several hundred people packed the gymnasium at St. Elizabeth of Hungary for the Renewal Center's regional spring conference. At the gathering, about two dozen longtime volunteers within the local Renewal movement were honored for their contributions.

The Renewal movement in the archdiocese started at Visitation Academy in 1968. Then-Father Francis McNutt introduced the movement to several Visitation sisters and the small group grew to over 400 people at its peak, longtime volunteer Cathie Smith described in an oral history she gave at the conference.

The movement then spread out into the parishes. "There were many prayer groups, probably 50 or 60 at one time," said Smith, who became involved in the movement in 1974. "Things moved on from there and the office is growing and growing."

Smith was working at her nursing job, when she met a patient who was reading about the Saturday night Visitation prayer group in an article in the St. Louis Review. "I lived out that way and I wasn't doing anything on Saturday night, so I drove over to see what it was all about." She remains active in the Healing and Deliverance ministry and helps with a weekly charismatic Mass at Holy Redeemer in Webster Groves.

Smith is overjoyed to see the resurgence of young adults in the movement; longtime members prayed over the young adults at the conference. The Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, a young contemplative, active religious community born out of the Charismatic Renewal movement, provided the praise and worship music for the weekend.

"I am so glad to see this, because those of us who were there in the early days are all passing on," Smith said. "We want to see it go on, so that's wonderful." 

Catholic Charismatic Renewal in St. Louis and beyond

When the archdiocesan Catholic Renewal Center moved to its current location in Crestwood a little over a year ago, it was poised to share a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit to the local community.

Located in the former Sparkill Dominican convent on the grounds of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish, the Renewal Center has quadrupled the number of people it serves, said Jane Guenther, the center's director. Bishop Robert J. Hermann serves as the center's liaison, and Msgr. Ed Griesedieck is chaplain.

The center offers prayer ministry, conferences, spiritual direction, seminars, teaching and retreats. Outreach to Hispanic Catholics also has grown, especially Life in the Spirit seminars meant to help people deeper their relationship with God; and Healing and Deliverance, a special ministry for individuals who are troubled or affected by evil spirits.

About 12,000-14,000 people a year are involved in the center's ministries. There is a mixture of paid staff, more than 500 regular volunteers and about two dozen priests who are involved.

Last July, Guenther was named to the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services committee, as representative for North and Central America and English-speaking Caribbean islands. The committee meets in Rome yearly and works via email throughout the year. It will host a worldwide charismatic conference June 1-4 in Rome, for the celebration of Pentecost. Pope Francis will preside at a prayer service June 3, Pentecost eve.

The Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement in the United States is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a conference in Pittsburgh. In February 1967, students from Duquesne University and La Roche College attended a weekend retreat at The Ark and The Dove Retreat House near Pittsburgh, which has been acknowledged as the beginning of the movement in the United States.

In February, Guenther attended a three-day gathering of 120 leaders from around the world at the Ark and the Dove, which was televised on EWTN. The group spoke about how the Renewal movement is going through a period of revival, a "fresh outpouring of the Spirit," Guenther said. She cited examples in Canada and its Light of Christ program that is building missionary disciples; and Renewal gatherings in Brazil that draw anywhere from 10,000-20,000 people. The group also spoke about a desire to move toward a season of fulfillment, to be open to spiritual ecumenism, and an urgency for unity in the Body of Christ.

"It is very important to recognize that the first 50 years were establishing the movement that the next 50 is to go," Guenther wrote in a recent letter to Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. "The word spoke was also, 'I am tired of your plans. Let my Holy Spirit lead.' So we walk in faith that these words spoken will empower the Renewal going forward."

— Jennifer Brinker 

Get renewed

• The Catholic Renewal Young Adults group holds a prayer meeting the first Tuesday of the month from 7:30-9 p.m. at the Catholic Renewal Center, 1406 South Sappington Road in Crestwood. The evening includes praise and worship, prayer and a speaker and discussion. The next gathering will be held on April 4; Dr. John Gresham will talk on “Unleashing the Charisms.”

• The Catholic Renewal Center offers other ministries including Healing and Deliverance, Life in the Spirit seminars, Magnificat Ministry for women, Zechariah Ministry for men, prayer groups, spiritual gifts inventory, spiritual direction, retreats and conferences. To learn more about the center, visit archstl.org/renewal.

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