A Journey to Rome

by Francis MacNutt
Aug/Sep 2008

As you know, we (our son David and I) have returned from what I believe was a really significant trip to Rome. As we now try to get caught up to date at the office, I will share with you some encouraging news.

For me personally, the time together with David was very special. Since it is getting harder for me to travel, David was especially helpful; but the real blessing was simply his companionship. We flew to Rome four days before the conference (March 27-April 2) and stayed two days after (April 7-8). This gave us a chance to go wandering the streets in our area and share a leisurely meal every evening, talking together for several hours. David had an excellent guidebook and he would select our restaurants. (You have probably heard: there are no bad restaurants in Rome!) For example, we had a lunch at the one which the movie director Fellini liked the best (near the Trevi Fountain). Although David has spent a good deal of time at home, this time in Rome gave us much more time to share on a personal level with no particular agenda, except to enjoy each other’s company. As you can imagine, this was an extraordinary time for us. David also handled all our finances, all the way from getting taxis to finding lodging for us near a bridge over the Tiber leading into the old Trastevere section of Rome.

The mission purpose of the trip was for me to give a talk on the “Charism of Faith” at the second colloquium on healing sponsored by the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Service (ICCRS – a Vatican office). The first colloquium, which Judith and I attended, was held in 2001, but this one was personally significant for me in several ways. Just being invited to speak was an unusual honor, since I am a married priest and this was a meeting on the topic of healing for 150 Catholic leaders from all around the world. Unfortunately, Judith was unable to attend this one since she had already accepted an invitation to speak half a world away in Hawaii. (This, too, was significant.)

At the first conference in 2001, the leaders included many whom I had not seen in years and I had been a little nervous in meeting them for the first time since our marriage (1980), but it was a very healing experience for both Judith and myself. Even though we were not invited as speakers in 2001, we were honored by being singled out (with seven other participants) to stay afterwards and meet with the International Council of ICCRS to reflect on the meeting itself. Out of that meeting and getting to know the ICCRS leaders (such as Oreste Pesare and Allan Panozza), CHM received last year’s invitation to co-sponsor the memorable international conference for Catholic leaders that we held here in Jacksonville (for about 460 participants). So when I came to this conference, I already knew about half the group and felt very much at home with them.

The day before the conference began, Oreste Pesare, the Director of ICCRS, gave us a tour of his office in the Vatican. This office was modest in its furnishings and had several dedicated secretaries—two of them American. It reminded me of the reason why the international office first contacted us three years ago: it was simply that CHM had been going for 20 years and we are financially solvent, even with 18 salaried members on our staff (whereas ICCRS, with a tiny staff, has always had problems financially). They saw CHM’s solvency as a kind of miracle—which it is. This has made me more grateful than ever at realizing, once again, that it is only through our faithful contributors that we have kept going all these years, with just enough coming in each month to pay our bills. I guess it truly is a financial miracle and we cannot be grateful enough to God for our staff and our buildings. Maybe we had too much to take it for granted. Beyond just keeping our doors open, now we are hoping to build a new center!

On Thursday, April 3, David and I moved to the retreat center in Rome (run by Spanish nuns) where the conference was to be held. I had asked Oreste Pesare whether it might be possible to meet for a short time with Cardinal Rylko—the official liaison of the Roman Catholic Church for the charismatic renewal movement—just as we had met with Cardinal Stafford who occupied that post in 2001. Cardinal Rylko is also head of the Congregation of the Laity and was a protégé of Pope John Paul II. Like the Pope, he is Polish and was singled out by the Pope for his leadership qualities. Providentially, Oreste was able to arrange for me to meet with Cardinal Rylko for a half-hour before the beginning of the colloquium. My only agenda was simply to meet and to offer to share what we had learned in 40 years of experience in the healing ministry (since he was the liaison for renewal and the topic was healing). I also wanted to give him a special invitation to come to the second international conference that we are co-sponsoring here in Jacksonville (Oct. 20-25), realizing that someone in his situation would probably find it impossible to fit our six-day conference into his schedule. Yet, that is what dreams are for!

Cardinal Rylko is a good listener and the meeting went very well. What was striking to me was that the same questions that were there in Europe 40 years ago are still there today. For example, resting in the Spirit is still seen as a question mark, although I did not sense as much outright opposition. The main difficulty (at least as I see it) is that there is very little actual healing prayer going on in Europe for church leaders to observe. The main model that church authorities might have as a background upon which to base their judgments is simply missing. The image of healing ministry they do have seems to be what they see on TV of American healing evangelists! No wonder they would have reservations about this kind of healing service. On top of the major problems they had way back in 2001 in judging Archbishop Milengo’s African-style healing and deliverance services, they have really seen very few positive developments in healing services in Europe. This was discouraging to find that the healing ministry has not made more progress in Europe in the past 40 years.

fter my brief meeting with Cardinal Rylko, however, I was filled with hope that, since the main barrier in Rome seems to be simply not understanding the healing ministry, there might now be an opportunity to make our levels of teaching available worldwide. A complementary development is a French publisher that is signing a contract to translate and publish my books in French. (Healing was translated into French in the 1970s, but they cut the chapter on deliverance and anything else that might seem too “supernatural.”)

At the colloquium itself, the experience was altogether positive. About 150 international representatives from about 40 countries came (by invitation) and they almost all seemed to have experienced the Spirit’s renewal. (In the 2001 colloquium, some of the speakers were theological experts who did not seem themselves to have experienced the charisms of the Spirit.) This time, we were almost all sharing what we had learned by experience, as well as by study. One bishop, Joe Grech of Australia, only ordains priests in his diocese if they have 1) been baptized in the Spirit, 2) attended a life-in-the-Spirit seminar, and 3) led a life-in-the-Spirit seminar.

Wouldn’t this be great if every diocese in the world was sponsoring spiritual renewal like this? (Bishop Grech is a member of ICCRS.)

Another extraordinary change is that exorcism is now an accepted ministry. Ten years ago, there were only seven priests involved in the International Order of Exorcists and now there are hundreds. I met the leader of this group, Fr. Gabriel Amorth, CP, who is the official exorcist of Rome and who has had the audacity to write that any bishop who does not provide an exorcist in his diocese is committing a serious sin. This represents a major shift in the practice of the Roman Catholic Church. There are still many places where priests (and laypeople) have no understanding of this ministry, but now at least it is recommended. (Fr. Amorth is in his 80s, so he is not seen as a young revolutionary!)

An old friend, Fr. Rufus Pereira of India (he has an interview in my book Deliverance from Evil Spirits), has started another, complementary group, the Order of Deliverance Ministers, which also holds international meetings. You may not sense what a difference this is from just a few years ago! Fr. Pereira has been traveling worldwide at the invitation of bishops in every continent, holding healing services for thousands, as well as giving conferences to priests on what they need to know about deliverance from evil spirits. It is well-known that Pope John Paul II dealt personally (but briefly) with several instances where evil spirits surfaced at public gatherings.

Another item of news that surfaced while we were in Rome was that Fr. Emiliano Tardiff (of Canada and the Dominican Republic), whom I knew in the 1970s when I traveled often to Latin America, has now been proposed for the process leading to his possibly being declared a Saint by the Church. He was famous in his lifetime for his preaching and healing ministry.

On the other hand, a few bishops in Europe refuse to talk about “healing” services; they only allow priests to advertise “blessing” services. Fathers in some places are not supposed to lay hands on and bless their children, since only priests are supposed to be able to do that! So it is a long—but glorious—struggle to restore the Church’s healing ministry.

Which brings me to my half-hour talk (April 5) at the colloquium on the “Charism of Faith.” What do you say in such a short time on a topic that could take all day? After separating out the gift of faith that all Christians are meant to have (e.g., believing in the Resurrection), I raised the question, “Are all Christians called to pray for the sick?” I believe that we are and the special “charism” that some have, but not everyone, is to know who is definitely going to be healed. Praying for the sick should be ordinary: “Everybody gets to play!” Yet, having discovered in recent years that only 3% of Catholics can remember their fathers ever praying for them when they were sick as children—and only 20% remembering their mothers ever praying for their healing when they were sick as children—I asked if we might not make it a reasonable goal of teaching the 120 million Catholics who have been baptized in the Spirit to pray for their children when they are sick; and also to pray for their sick colleagues at work. Since Scripture encourages us to do this (“ask and you shall receive”) and the first 300 years of church tradition show that this was actually done, why not make this a project? I am not sure how many really heard my modest proposal, but if the Church acted on it, it would change the face of the Church.

It is clear, though, that, especially in the Third World and among evangelical-charismatic groups, healing and deliverance prayer are sweeping the world and, among Catholics in Brazil, in some African countries and in India, healing prayer is widely practiced in the Catholic Church, too.

I was greatly encouraged at this conference in seeing that all the participants were so desirous of learning more. There were no rancorous debates on the floor or platform, just discussions leading to learning from each other. It was an advantage, then, being away from these leaders for so many years, because I could see a great difference. There does seem to be a difference—and for the better! (I think our new manuals of healing prayer are coming out at just the right time.)

ust seeing old friends such as Fr. Bob Faricy and Fr. Francis Martin was well worth the trip. We want especially to thank those special friends who made the trip possible by providing the financial aid needed for the planes, the lodgings and—oh, yes—the Italian restaurants.

Last of all, we hope that some of the leaders who came to Rome will find it possible to come to our international Catholic leaders’ conference here from October 20-25! And some of you, too!

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Aug/Sep 2008 Issue