The Charismatic Renewal and Social Work
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
The Charismatic Renewal is often accused of focusing only on Social Prayer, by confining itself to the routine prayer meetings, and not fostering Social Concern, by interacting with the marginalized and downtrodden, and much less involving itself in Social Action, by changing unjust social structures. Our answer is, basically, that it all depends on what one means by 'social work'. For us the most important 'social work' is, firstly, to help a person to have a life-changing experience of total healing and liberation that will release the fountains of love within him, as prayed for in the touching hymn and haunting melody to the Holy Spirit:
Living waters flow on,
Sweep away my pain,
Bring your healing to my heart,
Let me love once again.
Secondly, world history has shown that attempts to change unjust social structures have often been followed by worse and more oppressive social structures, as it happened in the dictatorships in Communist Russia and Socialist Iraq. It is far more vital to change the heart of man, for that change and spiritual renewal will, like a pebble thrown into a pond causing ripples all around, perforce bring changes and social renewal all around, as with St. Francis Xavier and Frederick Ozanam. Social Concern should precede and will lead to social action.
And, thirdly, right from its beginnings, the Renewal has been involved even directly in certain areas of Social Action, in a way in which and to the extent to which no other renewal movement has done, - to mention just the two most important ones: alcoholism and drug addiction. Let me share a testimony that I heard and an experience that I had right at the beginning of the Renewal in Mumbai, in order to show that this happened not of set human purpose but by a providential divine intervention, and not directly through known human techniques or methods but mainly by the power of the prayer of faith and of love.
The Testimony of a Life Changing Decision:
Way back in 1974, in my very first year at Mount Carmel's Church, Bandra, Mumbai, I was faced with the problem of alcoholism in the parish. The most troublesome alcoholic was Frankie. He would be pestering me persistently to give him money, obviously for drinks. One early morning there was a knock on my door. I opened it - and there was Frankie once again. I was about to shut the door angrily in his face, when he inquired if I had my watch. "Of course, I have it," I retorted, - but I did not see it on my wrist or, on looking around, anywhere on my table or bed. He then held up a wristwatch and asked me with a grin, "Is this your watch?" I looked at it closely and I recognized it, "It's mine! How did you get it?" He then sat down ashamedly and told me his story.
When he was in my room the previous day begging for money - for his drinks, he stole my watch from the table while I was attending a phone call. He left my room overjoyed that he could now drink to his heart's content from the sale of the watch. He went to the best liquor joint in faraway Juhu beach, in north Bombay, and drank late into the night. But whenever he tried to put his hand into his pocket to take out the wristwatch to sell or pawn it for his drinks, another unseen hand, so it seemed to him, prevented his hand from entering his pocket. The joint owner obviously would not let him leave till he had paid up the last penny or paisa. But during the night there, a voice, it seemed, was relentlessly ringing in his ears, 'Go and give back that watch to Fr. Rufus!' Even stranger to say, all those in the joint that night also seemed to be hearing it - and just could not get sleep. The joint owner finally threw him out yelling at him, "We don't want your watch - but we need our sleep!"
Frankie walked back all those miles along the seashore in the dark night till he reached my room in the early morning. He had been so shaken by this unusual experience that he now asked me to pray over him to be delivered from his alcoholism. He came to see me again the next day, - bringing along a drinking buddy of his. He told me that he was off drinks since the previous day, and neither had the desire nor felt the urge to drink. He had now brought along his friend who, on hearing his testimony, also wanted to quit drinking and to be prayed over. The following day these two brought each one his drinking pal to be prayed over too.
The Experience of Changing the World Downside Up:
I now felt that, if they were to return to their broken homes and habitual haunts at this point of time, they would most likely slip back under peer pressure into their former way of life. In a flash there came to my mind the thought that they should stay with me in the parish house for some time, till they were spiritually and emotionally strong enough to resist the temptation to drink. To my utter disbelief, the Parish Priest, Monsignor Ayres Fernandes, a no-nonsense old-fashioned priest, welcomed the idea, which it took me courage to put across to him. Soon these four 'alcoholics' brought in more of their 'friends', and now there were about 30 of them, whom we accommodated in a shed behind our parish school, St. Aloysius High School. Being its Principal, I could not give them all my time, and my fellow assistant priest, Fr. Gilbert D'Souza, who had been watching the 'goings on' with curiosity and incredulity at first, gladly undertook to take charge of them.
We formed them into a community of faith and love, at the same time having them follow a disciplined timetable, keeping them occupied in productive activities and motivating them to be self-reliant. I would guide them in prayerful meditation each morning and lead them in a prayer meeting each evening. Soon the news of this 'happening' in the parish traveled all over India, and people dropped in just to see this strange phenomenon of a parish house housing both the large parish team that we were and this wild assortment of strange looking fellows. The first anniversary of the beginning of this experience, or was it just an experiment, was celebrated in the parish house with an all night drinking party with a difference, - only soft drinks and not hard ones were served.
It pained my heart to be separated from them when I left the parish two years later, on being appointed by my Archbishop, Cardinal Gracias, for full time ministry in the Charismatic Renewal. The group itself was disbanded when Fr. Gilbert too was transferred to continue the same type of ministry in the annexe of the Diocesan Pastoral Centre, Bandra, as an Archdiocesan project. Once again this important 'social work' was discontinued when the annexe was first lent to the Catholic Charismatic Bible College for their year long residential courses and finally reverted to the Diocesan Pastoral Centre itself for retreats to school children. But, praise God, there is now Mary's Clan at Mt. Mary's Shrine and the Kripa Foundation at Mt. Carmel's Church, both in Bandra, both engaged in a much needed and very successful apostolate to alcoholics.
But personally I can never forget Frankie and my wristwatch, and that community of hardened and despised alcoholics, who had become my close friends and brothers or, should I say, children in Christ. It still seems like a dream - but it was a dream come true, all because of the way the Lord had dealt with me, - firstly at the Charismatic Prayer Meeting, a true Family of God, then in the Emmanuel Covenant Community, a true Body of Christ, and finally through the Yesu Bhawan Healing Centre, a true Temple of the Spirit, - that made it possible for that band of anonymous alcoholics, now Christian Converts, to sing everyday in their untrained but sincere voices:
I'm free, I'm free
I'm free to be the servant of the Lord.
He taught me how to praise him,
He taught me how to sing along,
He taught how to love,
I'm free to be the servant of the Lord.
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Led by the Spirit reproduced with permission from Charisindia. Copyright © Fr. Rufus Pereira. All rights reserved.