By Patti Mansfield, Clarion Herald Guest Column
Who is Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa – the priest who will lead the United States bishops in an unprecedented, one-week spiritual retreat at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago in January?
“A follower of St. Francis of Assisi, whose simple, yet profound preaching invites many people, including the pope, into a deeper relationship with a God who is Love. This priest and professor, now in his third decade as the Vatican’s Preacher to the Papal Household, draws upon his broad scholarship and deep joy in the Gospel to inspire popular, as well as papal, audiences. His numerous books, his international ecumenical outreach, and his … television (programs) all show the world why two (now three!) popes, plus many cardinals and bishops, have made this humble friar part of the prayerful pulse beating at the heart of the Church.”
With these words, Father Cantalamessa was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Notre Dame in 2007. My husband Al and I were with him, and this description of our father and friend seemed very accurate except for one important fact.
Baptism in the Spirit
He is a man whose life has been profoundly changed by the grace of the baptism in the Spirit.
Father Cantalamessa was a renowned professor at the Catholic University in Milan when he first heard about the Charismatic Renewal. He had a strong negative reaction, telling people: “You must never go back to those meetings!”
His attitude changed after hearing confessions of some Catholic Charismatics, which impressed him as “very deep and sincere.”
In 1977, he accepted a free trip to the States with the proviso that he attend an ecumenical charismatic conference of 55,000 in Kansas City. There, he encountered the power of the Holy Spirit as Christians of various denominations met under the evangelistic theme: “Jesus is Lord.”
The following week in New Jersey, he received prayer to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. He describes it as “turning over the reins of my life to Jesus.”
Someone proclaimed a prophetic word at that moment: “You will have a new joy in preaching the Gospel.” And this prophecy has been fulfilled.
Soon thereafter, he had an image of Jesus walking by and inviting him to “leave all and follow him” in preaching the kingdom of God. He waited a year in prayer and discernment. When his superior freed Father Cantalamessa to leave his professorship, he wrote, “Father Cantalamessa is dead to the university life” and stamped it with the seal of the Capuchin order!
One rainy October afternoon, he entered an empty St. Peter’s Square, and, looking up at the window of Pope John Paul II, he cried out loud, “Corragio!” (Courage!).
He had just read Haggai 2:4: “Take courage, O Joshua … high priest … work, for I am with you says the Lord of hosts.”
Very shortly thereafter, a call came from the Vatican that John Paul II had appointed him Preacher to the Papal Household. He has held this position since 1980, the longest stint in the history of the church. He preaches every Friday during Advent and Lent to the pope, cardinals, curia officials and heads of religious orders.
He has traveled across the world preaching at events of every sort – from retreats for cardinals, bishops and priests to Charismatic Renewal conferences to university symposiums and even to small home meetings (ours being one of them).
His special love has been ecumenical gatherings, such as one in Buenos Aires, when Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio knelt to receive prayer.
A post-Katrina witness
Father Cantalamessa has visited New Orleans six times. He was especially eager to come after Katrina devastated the region to witness “the passion and the resurrection” in the Lord’s beloved people here.
Father Cantalamessa will preach a retreat to the U.S. bishops from Jan. 2-8 in Chicago. Let us pray for our bishops, and let us pray for the humble Capuchin entrusted with God’s word for them at this critical time.
The word he cried out so many years ago takes on a fresh new meaning: “Corragio! Take courage! For I am with you, says the Lord of hosts.”
Patti Mansfield and her husband Al are coordinators of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal of New Orleans.