By Linda Andrade Rodrigues
ATTLEBORO, Mass. — Four hundred Portuguese pilgrims from every corner of the diocese, including some from parishes as far away as Bermuda and California, gathered at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro last weekend for the Portuguese Charismatic Conference 2015 with the theme “Unity — Lord, May All Be One.”
They spoke different dialects, originally hailing from the Azores, Madeira, continental Portugal, Brazil and elsewhere; and the shrine Welcome Center reverberated in sound reminiscent of the Pentecost, as the participants prayed and sang with heartfelt fervor, as well as spoke in tongues.
Yet they all understood because the Holy Spirit speaks the language of the heart.
Jesus prayed in John 17:20-23: “That they all may be one” — and it was a call to unity that summoned the pilgrims there, as well as their desire to live a new life in Christ Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. They had embarked on a journey of transformation seeking union with God.
“The more we are united to Him by love, the nearer we are to those who belong to Him,” said St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
Pope Francis teaches: “What is the common sign of those who are reborn of this current of grace? To become new men and women — this is the Baptism of the Spirit. God’s love burns away our selfishness, our prejudices, our interior and exterior divisions.”
A movement in the Catholic Church since 1967, Catholic Charismatic Renewal emphasizes Baptism of the Holy Spirit, prayer, healing, speaking in tongues, prophecy, preaching, and teaching in the charism, according to Walter Matthews, executive director of the National Service Committee and special presenter at the convention along with his wife, Claire.
“The encounter with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit leads lukewarm Christians to become alive,” he said. “This is not just for priests and religious; this is for the lay faithful. Internationally, 50 million Catholics have been touched.”
The couple’s presentations were the only ones delivered in English.
“I am getting to know the Portuguese,” said Matthews. “There is a great deal of faith and enthusiasm here, which is obvious and contagious. What we’re about is Baptism of the Holy Spirit. This release of Baptism and Confirmation graces is meant for the whole Church, not just for the 400 people at this conference, so everyone can come into this relationship with God.”
Father Norberto Brum of the Diocese of Angra do Heroismo in the Azores was also a special guest and presenter at the event, and the music and choir was under the direction of singer, songwriter and instrumentalist Dionisio Da Costa.
Retired diocesan priest Father Henry Arruda, the former pastor of St. Anthony’s Parish in Taunton, also performed on keyboard with the band.
“I have been involved in the local (movement), especially Portuguese Charismatic Renewal for a long time,” said Father Arruda. “These are wonderful people who experience joy. They never thought that faith was so real. They want to live the Spirit and make sense out of life.”
Culminating the two-day conference was a Mass celebrated by Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., a native of Brazil.
Excitement mounted as the Portuguese pilgrims awaited the bishop’s entrance.
Father Arruda began playing the quiet strains of Pachabel’s “Canon” as marchers bearing banners from each of the Charismatic groups of the parishes processed down the aisle.
La Salette missionary priests concelebrated the Mass with the bishop.
There was lots of singing. Chris Tomlin’s “Forever” was performed in Portuguese: “Forever God is faithful, forever God is strong. / Forever God is with us, forever, forever!” They sang over and over again: “Sempre, Sempre!”
In his homily, Bishop da Cunha spoke about the crisis of faith in today’s world.
According to the Letter of St. James, a Christian cannot simply talk about care for the members of the community, or give verbal assurance to those community members who have physical needs; one must act, in imitation of Jesus.
“They say people of faith don’t live it,” said Bishop da Cunha. “If you have faith and don’t live it, that is the same as if you were dead. Show me your faith, and I’ll show you your works.”
He explained that Jesus wants us to continue His work of love.
“Transform the world,” the bishop said. “Today the world needs people of faith. It’s not the president or United Nations — it’s the people of faith who are going to transform the world.”
Bishop da Cunha proclaimed that Jesus is alive and His message is as alive today as it was 2,000 years ago.
“He wants to transform our hearts,” he said. “When we transform, we become instruments of a renewed world. May the blessings of the Holy Spirit transform us and bless us.”