REHOBOTH BEACH - Outside, the October weekend was brilliant with the infinite blue of ocean and sky. The world inside the painted cinderblocks of the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center seemed just as glorious. As Bishop Saltarelli said, "In here, the Son is shining."
The occasion was the 15th annual Conference of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal of the Diocese of Wilmington. About 300 Catholics, many of them members of parish charismatic prayer groups, came to the conference, titled this year "The Father's Love." Together they learned and prayed and worshiped in their spirited and Spirit-filled way.
The divine love they experience radiated everywhere. In the parking lot and in the lobby, women in bright red T-shifts greeted strangers like long-lost loves, throwing arms around them and enfolding them in joy. Beaming worshipers held hands high and sang exuberantly with the musical group Spiritfire, even singing on in harmonic "tongues" as each song ended. At the foot of the stage, a bank of women in red shirts prayed continuously for speakers. From time to time they accepted and read aloud prophesies made by conference participants.
"How grateful I am to God for you," Bishop Saltarelli told the group Saturday after celebrating Mass at which he distributed communion to each person there. "So much is being done because you are the power, the fuel, the energy. Your prayers provide the leaven."
The bishop affectionately called the conference participants,"my crazy Catholics" and warmly chided them for being "politically incorrect" in referring to God as "The Father."
"'Why do you do that?" he asked. "Because He is! He is!" shouted participants. Father George Montague, a consultant to the National Service Committee of the Charismatic Renewal, had earlier told the crowd that many can fully experience God the Father only after "the father wound" left by an abusive or absent human father is healed.
Father Montague described how Jesus' relationship with his loving "Abba or Daddy" won for us the right to share that love. He described that love as God's opening of the heavens, as Jesus emerged from the waters of baptism to hear the proclamation: "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased."
The Holy Spirit, Father Montague said, brings us "the experience of knowing God as our Beloved Father. That is what we in the charismatic renewal are trying to promote the experience of God's love that comes to us through the Holy Spirit. "But today," he continued, "one in four children grows up in a single parent household usually with a mother. For them the image of God the Father lacks meaning. Others face a major obstacle to their faith by carrying the scars of paternal abuse. God wants to be our loving Father, but (for some) that involves a whole conversion, a whole healing."
When Jesus said, "Unless you become like little children you won't enter the kingdom" Father Montague explained, "he was talking about conversion not from great evil but the conversion it takes for us to accept the gifts of God the way a child would, letting the Father give us the gifts that come with Jesus the gifts of the Spirit."
And among those gifts is healing. Father Montague said he himself suffered from a father wound, which was "why the Lord's prayer never meant very much to me."
Then in the early 1970s, "The Lord got a hold of me and said, 'Following me is not a spectator sport,'" and so he allowed friends and acquaintances to lay hands on him and pray that he might be baptized by the Holy Sprit.
Lois McGhee Grande, a teacher of Christian healing and a secular Carmelite, echoed Father Montague when she said, "We are meant to live in the consciousness of a God, a Father, who smiles on us and tells us we are a favorite child."
A human father who has time to love his child is one of the greatest gifts a child can have, Grande said.
She told of lightweight boxing champion Oscar de la Hoya, who was asked, after he'd won $9 million, "Do you have any other goal in life?" He replied: Yes, there was one: to fight a match after which his father would say, "Son, your career has been awesome and I am pleased."
Grande said, "Simply stated, whatever blocks our full appreciation that we are a favorite child needs healing."
Speak in defense of life
One big component of the modern charismatic movement is its pro-life ministry. Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, opened the conference on Friday evening and on Saturday spoke at the 5 p.m. Mass at Holy Cross Church in Dover. He began his homily by asking a child to step forward.
He pointed to the congregation and asked, "Are they bigger than you? Are they stronger that you? Are they older than you?"
The child answered "Yes," three times.
Then Father Pavone asked her, "Are they more special than you?"
"No!" she said.
"The children always get it right," he said. "Somehow we adults get it wrong. We think value depends on size, strength and age."
Father Pavone said the Christian pro-life community is organized to help any pregnant woman with whatever she or her child needs. His agency distributes a list of toll-free numbers that anyone can call to get support and help. There are children alive tonight because people read it [the list] and remembered it when someone they love needed it. "
The doors of the church are always open to those who have had an abortion,", Father Pavone said. "We want to welcome you back."
To those who say abortion is a personal choice, Father Pavone said, "Before the day is over someone will abuse their children. We don't say 'That's their right. We won't interfere. It's up to them.' The business of love is to intervene and help anyone in danger. We understand the need to help the victims of poverty, crime, illness and war. We need to likewise intervene to help the victims of abortion."
He urged Catholics to speak out: "Every abortion is a rejection of the Son of God, a rejection of Jesus Christ."
Once, in Florida, after preaching on abortion, Father Pavone walked out on the beach to see a sign: "Do not touch the sea turtles or their eggs; they are protected by state and federal laws."
He said he thinks sea turtles should be protected, but there is something wrong when "We don't have the right to smash a sea turtle, but we have the right to smash a baby."
To the children at Holy Cross, he said, "If you don't understand everything that I have been saying, understand that there are people who are afraid to be Moms and Dads. You are special and babies are special, no matter how loud they cry."
And, he told the children, no matter what they achieve in their lives, "none of that is anywhere near as special as being a Mom or a Dad."