The movement began when a group of young people-including Irvington native Patti Gallagher Mansfield-found themselves "on fire" with the Holy Spirit during a spiritual weekend retreat in 1967 at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. As a result, Mansfield and her friends sparked a movement that today includes an estimated 10 million charismatic Catholics in North America and more than 119 million in 235 countries throughout the world.
The conference featured "tracks" with guest speaker presentations and music representing cultural groups involved in the renewal movement, including Filipinos, Hispanics, Koreans and Haitians. The audience, during the English-language track, sang and danced in the aisles, lifted their arms in prayer. Some were moved to joyful tears during the convention.
"The Duquesne Weekend was based on the Acts of the Apostles and some of us experienced the Holy Spirit in an overwhelming way," Mansfield recalled.
Forty years ago Mansfield and her fellow students questioned why Catholics were not as active and passionate about their faith as other Christian denominations. "I wondered: 'Why aren't we on fire and witnessing the Holy Spirit? 'At the heart of charismatic renewal is the experience of being baptized in the Holy Spirit. In this baptism, there is a release of the graces that we Catholics received in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation," Mansfield explained.
She also is a recipient of the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice papal medal. In her book, "As by a New Pentecost," she lists some of the effects of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, including a deepening awareness of the presence and love of God and the lordship of Jesus Christ; a new power and desire to witness; spiritual manifestations of charismatic gifts such as the gift of tongues; and a call to serve the needs of others.
In June of 2006, Mansfield was asked by the Pontifical Council for the Laity to thank Pope Benedict XVI on behalf of all the ecclesial movements and new communities before a crowd of 400,000 people in St. Peter's Square in Rome. In her speech, Mansfield exclaimed: "Holy Father, thank you for loving us. Thank you for your constant support and encouragement."
Here at the Conference of Charismatic Renewal, Mansfield's presentation ("The Lord is Alive Internationally") recalled her experiences throughout the world where the renewal movement is flourishing. She said that of the millions of Catholics who define themselves as "charismatic," only a small percentage reside in North America. The renewal movement has a large following in Asia, Africa and South America.
"In poorer countries, there is a great hunger for spiritual life. Some people have no other recourse but Jesus," Mansfield said. "Our society (in America) has become so secularized."