Can we learn from Charismatic Renewal?

Hands up, I never ‘joined’ the Charismatic Renewal. But my life has been impacted and touched by a great many people whose lives have been changed because of Charismatic Renewal. People of a certain age may recall the emergence of the Charismatic Renewal around Ireland.


The influence of the Charismatic Renewal Movement and its impact on the Church in Ireland is in many ways incalculable. From its arrival in 1972 the Charismatic Renewal matured from an energetic style of worship to a more measured and sedate movement by the end of the 1990s.


The first recorded meeting took place in Kimmage Manor in Dublin. The first participants were a mixture of seminarians, religious sisters and young university students. These meetings became popular. Gradually as meetings grew in size larger venues emerged. Probably the most popular one was in Earlsfort Terrace in Dublin and then later in  Eustace Street. At the invitation of Charles Lamb a member of the Society of Friends, a gathering began on Friday evenings in Eustace Street. Soon afterwards enormous crowds also gathered at Dublin Airport Church for weekly charismatic meetings. Groups quickly sprang up all around Ireland.


The vibrant format of prayer attracted people mainly because of its simplicity. It was centred on Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit and shared prayer. Younger readers may not realise how liberating and freeing this was, especially based on the fact that the ‘new liturgy’ had not fully established itself. Soon people began to talk about their lives being changed and transformed.


Many groups introduced the ‘Life in the Spirit’ seminars. The Charismatic Renewal was attractive to many young people and people looking for a different expression of faith than was found in parishes. New forms of religious communities were created. Some of these still exist. Leadership structures were put in place. Annual conferences were organised and attended by thousands of people. These provided an international flavour with new forms of music, well-known speakers such as Cardinal Leo Suenens, one of the great figures of Vatican II, who gave particular attention to the emergence of the movement.


By the 1990s some of the early leadership had got older and the age profile of prayer groups increased, which meant that it became somewhat unable to keep up with youth culture and changes that were taking place. However, what remained was a deep core faith and belief in the power of God to change.


The late Cardinal Cahal Daly made an interesting  reflection: “In retrospect, the renewal movement has proved to be a great grace for many within the Roman Catholic Church. It has given many Catholics a new love for and familiarity with holy scripture, a new-felt personal experience of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, a new experience of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in their personal lives…All of this is positive and good.”


The impact of the Renewal movement and how it refreshed the Church and its structures may again be part of the solution as we struggle to find methods and means to create plans for renewal in Ireland.


Pope Francis spoke of his regret about not having time for the Charismatic Renewal at one time in his life. He also said that “this movement does much good for the Church overall”. He said that he was ‘converted’ when he saw the good work that they were doing in their ministry.


On Sunday, September 29 in St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral Dublin, people are invited to a special event celebrating the Charismatic Renewal in Ireland, past and present and looking ahead. Starts 2:30pm Mass at 6:30pm will be celebrated by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. For details call 01-8745441 – or email