The New Ecclesial Movements and the New Evangelization

Renewal in the Spirit

Salvatore Martinez


The author of this article is the co-ordinator of Renewal in the Spirit in Italy. If the essence of God is “love”, then the mission of the Church is to evangelise and to communicate this “good news”. Jesus came for this and the Church exists to continue this mission. It follows that all Christians find in the “obligation to evangelise” their truest form of obedience to the Father’s will, which is that every human being be saved through Jesus.


In view of the Church’s evangelising mission, what is the specific role of Renewal in the Spirit (Renewal) which Paul VI defined as a “chance for the Church” and John Paul II described as a “hope for the world”? Although Renewal is an ecclesial instrument for a new spiritual communication of the faith, in itself it does not represent a new spirituality. Renewal wishes to contribute to reviving the shape of Christian existence, which is, by its nature, an existence “in the Spirit”.

This was why Cardinal J. L. Suenens defined Renewal as “a current of grace which is capable of giving a shake-up to the post-conciliar Church…a movement of the Spirit which helps the Church to become totally charismatic in line with the expectations and proposals of the Second Vatican Council…”.

Renewal is characterised by “being made up of groups and communities which pray together and which ask for a new outpouring of the Spirit for each of their members. Their intention here is to add the following to the grace of Christian initiation: a new awareness of the Lordship of Christ, a new experience of the gifts and charisms of the Spirit and a new readiness to place every talent and charism given by God at the service of their brothers and sisters in the Church”.

The assembly of the community which prays and celebrates is the fundamental event of Renewal. This recalls that which is famously described in Acts 2: 42-48 and in I Cor 12 and 14.

Through charismatic prayer and recourse to the Word of God, the members of Renewal commit themselves to living an authentic spirituality, that is, a way of living which embraces every dimension of human life: the physical body, affections, emotions, reason, creativity, the social aspect of the human person. It’s about a spirituality that is not just a part of life but, rather, life itself being driven by the Spirit. It’s a spirituality that doesn’t estrange people from their daily life but rather demolishes any discrepancy which may exist between life and faith. It follows, therefore, that evangelization is not a gesture, a momentary thing, some kind of methodology to be worked out within the life of the community, but rather a natural and continuous expression of the new life which has been embraced.

The preparation for evangelization begins in prayer groups (the “upper rooms” of prayer) where brothers and sisters experience faithful and submissive abandonment to the Spirit. In these they witness a new flowering of the gifts of God that comes about as a result of this new way of life and of the permanent conversion which it demands. The heart of this new spiritual dynamism originates in the experience of prayer as a new “outpouring of the Spirit or baptism in the Spirit”.

In a meeting with the Italian groups and communities of Renewal in 1980, John Paul II said, “we know that we are indebted to this outpouring of the Holy Spirit which has brought us a deeper experience of the presence of Christ.”

Certainly we are not dealing with a new baptism or a repetition of the sacrament, but with the relationship we have with the sacraments of initiation (this is why in English speaking countries it is referred to as “baptism in the Spirit”). The outpouring of the Spirit fulfils and renews our baptism for it engenders a clearer awareness of its purpose with regard to the evangelising mission to which all Christians are called.

With regard to the effectiveness of the outpouring of the Spirit in revitalising baptism, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa states: “The person finally does his part, that is, he makes a responsible and personal choice of faith, prepared by repentance, which enables the work of God to be freed and unlock its power. The gift of God finally becomes ‘unleashed’, faith becomes alive again and the opus operantis is made visible”. The outpouring of the Spirit is the cause of a spiritual “rebirth”, the same as that proposed by Jesus to Nicodemus, with the result that people are now able to be struck by the marvels and newness brought about by the Spirit.

In Renewal, evangelization is the basis, the heart and the source of health for community life. One cannot be part of Renewal if there is not a choice to “depend upon the Word” and to become evangelisers.

Our charismatic and ecclesial identity can be expressed in five vital ways of relating to the Word. These are an expression of the ways in which groups and communities commit themselves to the continual process of evangelization and from which they draw their source and strength on their journey.

The foundation of groups and communities derives from a “pronouncement of God”. It is through a discerning process, by means of the Word, the elders and those responsible for the group or community understand the will of God and assume responsibility to “hand over what is contained within” that pronouncement – the tradition of our charismatic experience – to other brothers and sisters. Thus a journey of “spiritual illumination” begins. And this is a call to conversion through a suitable “study of new life in the Spirit” in which the announcing of the work of “renewal in the Spirit” is made fruitful by the Word of God proclaimed and accepted by the brothers and sisters.

A lack of the Word, of prophecy, in community prayer meetings is a “lack of inspiration”. Through the Word, the Spirit “inspires” our prayer so that it does not remain simply “spontaneous”. Without the Word, prayer does not have a charismatic tone to it. Those who trust in the Word of God in their personal prayer let themselves be much more easily involved in the prayer of the community and experience a greater intimacy with God and their brothers and sisters. Every gesture, every exhortation, every commitment which the leaders ask of the assembly during community prayer must be “moved” by the Word.

Liturgical life is the basis of being the Church. It is that which “makes us the Church”. Groups and communities are called to communally celebrate the Word through well prepared liturgical events for the growth of the brothers and sisters. The eucharistic celebration and the communal celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation are the two occasions in particular in which Renewal sees its own catholic, ecclesial and ecumenical identity being re-established. It is in these celebrations that groups and communities experience the fullness of brotherhood and community life. The Renewal’s “celebrating the Word” is offered to God as an instrument of salvation for many and it feels compelled by the Spirit to widen the frontiers of the Church.

Without the study of the Word, without the applying of the heart and mind to that which God wishes for our good, the journey of growth for groups and communities would be impossible. To “remember the promises the Lord has made” is a way to help our brothers and sisters feel the faithfulness of God throughout the years of their journey. This, therefore, is why groups and communities who “live by the Word” “journey with the Word”. This is a commitment which cannot be put off, an undeniable opportunity to face ourselves with the will of God by responsibly taking up tasks at various levels of the community’s life.

If the Word becomes our life itself, that is, the expression of the “new life” according to the Spirit, it follows that “to witness the Word” is already to“give life”. The Spirit sends us to be “servants of the Word”, witnesses to that which we have accepted and come to believe in communal life. The Word is Jesus himself: it cannot be “jealously guarded”, but must be “shared” in order to become salvation for those who either do not believe or refuse to believe. Without evangelization, faith will tend to become extinguished: every group is called to “give meaning” to the hope which is answered in Jesus, the living Word in our midst. Groups and communities that do not evangelise are destined to become extinct, to extinguish the fire of Pentecost, that is, the passion for the Word which the Holy Spirit ignites in the hearts of believers.

We need to return to the guidance of the Spirit and recover the prophetic and interior guide in prayer. This is the only true method that an evangeliser should desire. The techniques and methods of evangelization are good, but none of them, nor all of them together can substitute for the discreet, surprising and ever new and totally divine activity within us of the Spirit whom we can only find in prayer.

Without the Spirit even the most refined education achieves nothing. Without the Spirit even the most convincing dialectics are ineffective. Without the Spirit all our catechetical strategies based on sociology or psychology turn out to be empty. What helps is more abandonment to the Spirit and less trust in human securities; more evangelical simplicity and less dependence on learning in order to evangelise.

The Gospel is a communication from heart to heart. It is an immediate announcement with no mediation or superstructure. We should reveal Jesus and not ourselves. It is Christ that should appear and not the novelties of our communication skills. We should go back to speaking about Jesus, because faith comes from listening: “How can they believe if they have not heard? And how can they hear if no one announces? Faith depends on preaching Christ’s word.” (Rom 10: 4.17), not forgetting however that “the witness of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy.” (Apoc 19:10)

Without a working faith our Christian life remains mediocre, lacking in God’s glory; it is no use talking about faith if it is not an active one, if it is not put into practice. We cannot proclaim something our heart lacks; we cannot talk about what we have not experienced: this is where the secret of effective evangelization lies. The word that we proclaim is a word of faith, it is a profession of faith, it is recognising Jesus always. Only the word truly believed can be proclaimed, in order for it to be true, believable and attractive to whoever receives it.

The Gospel is the word of truth: to receive the Gospel is to do truth; to proclaim the Gospel is to teach how you can be truly happy in Jesus, if one is truthful. In the talk he gave last October on the occasion of the “Jubilee for Catechists”, Cardinal Ratzinger resolutely affirmed: “Evangelization is teaching the art of living.”

Jesus said: “If you remain faithful to my word you will truly be my disciples” (Jn 8: 31). To remain in him (this is prayer) in order to get to know him (this is where listening to his word comes in) and in this way to become his disciples. Without prayer and the word we only think we are disciples of Jesus but, in fact, we are still distant even estranged from the Father despite professing ourselves to be his children.

Prayer and evangelization are important in order to become saints and to help the world and the Church to become more holy. Prayer and evangelization are essential to find the breath of Pentecost strongly and intensely. Pentecost is an “Upper Room” and a “town square”, it takes place in two distinct and complementary places: an “Upper Room” for praying and waiting for the Spirit and His prophetic charisms; a “town square” to speak of Jesus in order to let the Gospel of salvation issue from our lips, from our gaze, and from our life.

Renewal wants to give once more prophetic strength to the cause of evangelization, beginning with prayer, with the Word. It wants to promote an evangelization supported by a prophetic spirituality that reaffirms the sovereignty of Jesus in the power of the Spirit, in all the situations we feel we are stuck in, those situations where the world has given up.

“And we heard them announce God’s great works in our own language. Everyone was amazed and puzzled asking each other what does this mean?” Others however, made fun of them and said: “They are drunk on wine.”(Acts 2: 11-13). To proclaim God’s great works, to give glory to the almighty name of God – this is the fruit of Pentecost; this is the secret of evangelization. The apostles do not want to make a name for themselves, but for God; they no longer discuss who will be the greatest among them, they are overcome by the Spirit, blinded by God’s glory. Within them the greatest revolution since the day of dispersion at Babel takes place: the Spirit shifts the centre of our attention from ourselves and focus us again on God.

The prayer of praise is one of the specific charisms of the Renewal, I would say, almost a secret weapon in evangelization. It is the most effective instrument for re-centring ourselves on God and living a permanent conversion, in the personal journey of evangelization. In praise, God’s holiness and our poverty are made manifest. In praise we give glory to God, recognising what he is despite ourselves, without looking at ourselves, as happens when we turn to God because of what he has done (prayer of thanksgiving) or for what he can do (prayer of supplication).

Through the Spirit praise means entering into God’s repose; praise means immersing oneself in God’s mysteries; it means loving God’s will for us.

Praise is a pure oblation to God, which does not increase God’s greatness, but obtains for us the grace which saves us. Praise suits the lowly and the sinner who trust in God’s mercy as believers not as clients, proclaiming faith in God. As scripture says: “If you proclaim that Jesus is the Lord and you believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9)

Those who do not pray remain alone. They lose themselves and they lose God. Prayer is the only ability we have of being open to the transcendent and to others, to meet God and to meet Him in every neighbour we meet, to recognize God in heaven and to always recognize him alive in our brothers and sisters.

“A Christian is worth as much as he prays.”(Personal letter from John Paul II to Renewal, 2001). Only by praying will we value others even up to the point of giving our life for them.

To pray then, is not abdicating your responsibilities to others. On the contrary, only those who pray know how to get their hands dirty because they feel the urgency of God, the fire, the passion of God for us and cannot help getting involved, taking part in history, and giving their life for God’s kingdom.

It is in communitarian life that the members of Renewal experience obedience to the Spirit, the strength of charismatic prayer, and discernment based on the word of God. So they get involved in re-living the experience of the Upper Room at Pentecost.

When it is not possible to speak to the world of God, we never stop speaking to God about the world in prayer and intercession. This is so that through the Spirit, Jesus may ever be alive in His Church and the Church may never cease to desire that the kingdom of God progresses on earth.

Rather than worrying about giving a talk about God, our brothers and sisters are taught to bear witness to their spiritual experience and their journey of conversion that came about through their prayer for a new outpouring of the Spirit. Rather than being “experts about God” we say we are “lovers of God’s glory”, our witnesses of the culture of Pentecost that the world sadly lacks.

It is an incredible miracle to be able to admire within the Church the rebirth of people who – before their conversion – led an apathetic existence, indifferent to any form of involvement in the Church and who today take on a responsibility for improving their personal, family community and social life.

So, silent people become eloquent proclaimers of God’s Word; ignorant people reveal surprising forms of spiritual knowledge and wisdom: really a new Pentecost. Many sons and daughters of God who have not had any access to institutes or ordained ministries in the church have receive ecclesial dignity from the Spirit becoming guides and animators of active ministries, even taking on pastoral responsibilities.

Another characteristic of evangelization in Renewal is to strongly believe that it must be marked by charisms of the Spirit and by the signs and wonders which –as in the early Church – always accompanied the preaching of the Gospel. In fact, we believe that the Spirit of Christ has not finished the mission proclaimed by Jesus two thousand years ago and that the Church has lost nothing of its original power in spreading the Kingdom of God. God is almighty and through the Spirit He re-awakens “charismatic faith”, the invocation of God’s marvels, so that the world may believe and be converted to him. The charismatic intervention of the Spirit directs our attention towards the Risen Lord, allowing us to merit His glorious victory over death and sin.

From the very first persecutions of the apostles for the sake of the Gospel (Acts 4: 29-31) the Church has always called upon God’s help and marvellous intervention, so that – just as in the time when Jesus passed among his own “healing and blessing those who were under the power of the devil”(Acts 10: 38) – healing, liberation and miracles would occur for the greater glory of God and for the benefit of those who are hard of heart.

Paul, the apostle, reminds us how the Gospel was spread “not just by means of the Word but also with power and with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction”(1Tim 1: 5). The Church today possesses the same power to heal and free which belonged to Jesus because it is – in space and time – the sacrament of Jesus’ saving power in history, and Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today and always.”(Heb 13:8). To preach the message of salvation without calling for the gifts of the Spirit that allow the Word to bear greater fruit, is the equivalent of not complying with Jesus’ last teaching on building the kingdom of God. Likewise, it would not be walking in harmony with the Magisterium of Vatican II and the teaching of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church which encourages us to avail of charisms for evangelization which are “useful for the renewal and greater expansion of the Church”(
Lumen Gentium, 12)

Jesus did not invite his disciples to teach theories or abstract ideas, but to witness to what they had heard and seen. It often seems that we are more concerned with teaching a doctrine rather than communicating life. In order to grow in the life of God, in the new life, you must first be born from the power of the Holy Spirit. An evangeliser is first of all a witness who has a personal experience of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a witness who transmits more than a doctrine to others, a living person who gives life in abundance. Only afterwards must one carry out catechesis and transmit moral teaching.

The commandments were given after the theophany of God on Mount Sinai. That the commandments given by the Lord to Moses were divine and not a human work was clear to the people from the radiant face of Moses, a consequence of the mysterious meeting of the prophet with the Word come down from heaven. God shows himself, he does not put himself on display. We are often concerned with making people understand the commandments of God but the same people don’t know the God of the commandments.

It is essential that the Gospel of salvation, Jesus Himself, can act and work among us in this pagan and de-christianised era. Many people are satisfied simply with the fact of Jesus being present without being concerned to verify whether He is actively alive among His own. Faith is God’s dynamism, it recalls God’s activity among us. I always tell my own people: it is not enough to know that Jesus is in our midst if you cannot see, feel or touch His presence, if the Spirit cannot produce Pentecost in us.

If we re-read the Gospel accounts of the meetings Jesus had with others, we see him repeat, “What do you want me to do for you?”. As well as by word, he often says this through a simple glance of love. At every ‘coming’ of Jesus, His presence among us is an event that we can “feel.” This appeal to the spiritual senses is quite important for understanding the apostle John’s affirmation in the prologue of his first letter: “That which was there from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have contemplated and which we have touched with our hands, the Word of Life…we also announce to you.” (1 Jn 1: 1-3). It follows that, rather than speaking about Jesus, we should pray that Jesus acts with all the power of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel is not made of words; even the Kingdom of God is not built on words, but is founded on the Word, on the living God, on the power that comes from above.

In the third part of
Novo millennio ineunte, the Holy Father exhorts us to “to set out again from Christ.” “To set out again from Christ” means before anything else, “returning to Christ in the Spirit”. You can speak of Christ, you can boast a good knowledge of him without being with him. We must let ourselves be convinced by the Spirit. Perhaps we have forgotten Christ or overlooked his presence in our life. This is the true evil that can befall us: everything which happens is a consequence of this.

So many people today seem to have forgotten God and this is why they are at the mercy of the world. We have overlooked the Holy Spirit because we have not welcomed and believed deep down in Jesus’ words. Every lack of faith is a dark space, a space forbidden to God, a terrible loneliness.

Paul VI said: “Instead of converting the world to Christ, many have converted themselves to the world.” We are not called to conform ourselves to the world but to transform the world.

Jesus’ disciples not only “spoke of Jesus” but also found the strength to witness to the Gospel to the point of giving their life for the Lord. Witnessing is a speaking that you can see; it is speaking with life that allows an invisible force which is inside us to become visible: the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Mary is the one who bears witness to all of this. She is the one who proclaims it with her whole life.

The Upper Room is a house of prayer and Mary helps the apostles in this space to build an interior ‘Upper Room’ in their hearts where the Holy Spirit can always be called upon, waited for, and welcomed. We need to rebuild the Upper Room and to put Mary in it in order to renew Pentecost, the starting point for the Church’s evangelical mission.

She teaches that there is no more important prayer in our life than that of making of our life a firm dwelling place of God, such that the Lord, through His Spirit, is able to sanctify us in the most intimate fibre of our existence. Like Mary, we must feel “chosen by God” in order to become, both in and for the Church, the house, the Upper Room where we can draw on thought, word and strength to be diligent witnesses of new life.

I will finish with a word directed to you, dear priests.

One of the greatest discoveries that a priest can make in the midst of his apostolic battles is that of confidence in the Holy Spirit. In
Pastores dabo vobis, n.33, the Pope, addressing himself to, priests, affirms: “Yes, the Spirit of the Lord is the great protagonist of our spiritual life …. How can we not reflect on the essential role that the Holy Spirit performs in the specific call to holiness that is the priestly ministry?”

The priest is the “man of the Spirit”, clothed in the power of the Spirit; he is the “dynamic man”, that is, God’s power in the world, because he lights fires of love and holiness in the world which are so much desired on earth by Jesus.

Through the presence of the Holy Spirit in you, you can always have “fire in your heart”, the Word on your lips, prophecy in your gaze.”(Paul VI audience on the last Wednesday of November 1972).

May you be ever more aware of the Spirit who is Holy and who wants you as “an advance guard of holiness” in a world that does not shine with God’s glory. The promise carried out at Pentecost is not a fact of the past which we realize nostalgically once a year: the growth, purification, sanctification of your priesthood happens each day by welcoming Jesus’ words: “I will ask the Father and He will give you another counsellor so that I may remain with you always…the Spirit will live with you and will be within you.”(Jn 14: 16-18)

May the Lord receive the prayer which finally I offer to him in your name and together with you in the words of Paul to Timothy (1Tm 1: 12-17): “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, and who judged me faithful enough to call me into his service even though I used to be a blasphemer and did all I could to injure and discredit the faith. Mercy, however, was shown me, because until I became a believer I had been acting in ignorance; and the grace of our Lord filled me with faith and with the love that is in Christ Jesus…that Jesus meant to make of me the greatest evidence of his inexhaustible patience for all the other people who would later have to trust in him to come to eternal life. To the eternal King, the undying, invisible and only God, be honour and glory forever and ever! Amen.”