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Interview with Charles Whitehead

Charles, what would you like to see happen in CCR over the next ten years?

Charles WhiteheadI think I would like to see CCR become what it is supposed to be — I don’t think we have quite got there yet. It is a move of the Spirit. As such, I believe that it is meant to flow into every part of the life of the Church. It needs to be in parishes, and therefore in dioceses, in seminaries — I think it needs to be everywhere with its simple message of living the Christian life in the power of the Holy Spirit, and using the gifts of the Spirit.

We have been marginalised to some extent as a kind of movement for enthusiasts or that sort of thing. It certainly isn’t the Holy Father’s fault, because he has been promoting the movements, including CCR, and he has been telling us how important it is for the life of the Church. He has given us amazing access to him through the International Council. He endorses the charisms, and has spoken almost weekly of them during the Year of the Holy Spirit.

I would like to see CCR flow into every area of Church life much more than it has been able to do, or, in some cases, more than it has been willing to do so far.

Do you think that CCR has enough of a voice in the Church, for example, in relation to the Sacrament of Confirmation?

Probably not. We have done some good theology, but not enough of it, and what we have done has not really flowed into the life of the Church. Perhaps some of the theology of Killian McDonnell and George Montague is coming into seminaries to some extent, but it really takes time before it comes right into the full life of the Church.

If you look at the Sacrament of Confirmation, for example, the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we find in 1 Corinthians 12 and other writings of Paul are not taught in Confirmation anywhere, except where the priest is involved in Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

It seems to me that, if we are talking about charisms and gifts, and the Holy Father is talking about them, that really those things should be flowing into the life of the Church through the Sacramental programs.

The insights of Renewal need to come into the whole life of the Church, and we have not achieved that. It is a slow process.

How can the role of CCR in the Church be better publicised?

I think that the Church is not very good at publicity, and CCR is not very good at it either. Some individuals are very good at publicising the work of their communities and groups in CCR quite widely, but on the whole, it is not really happening.

I think what is speaking to the Church is the work we are doing. I am thinking particularly about some of the things that are happening among young people. One of the areas where the Church almost everywhere around the world is desperate to find answers is to hold on to our young people. So many of them are confirmed and disappear.

This is one of the reasons why the Holy Father is doing his World Youth Days and so on - he sees this as crucially important. One of the ways in which we can do much better publicity for CCR is by publicising the success we are often having in a number of ways with young people.

You have a lot of things happening that are very good, and the Church really appreciates them, but they don’t sail under the banner of CCR. They sail under the banner that says NET or ‘network teams or some other identification. Now the Church doesn’t see that work as a fruit of the Renewal. We need to emphasise that, and point that out much more clearly.

We could certainly use the Internet in ways that we do not. We could improve some of our newsletters and magazines.

We have this tricky balance where, if you say something is the Charismatic Renewal, a certain percentage of people close their minds to it instantly, and you don’t want that to happen. Yet, at the same time, where it is a clear fruit of Renewal and the Baptism in the Spirit, you want people to know that. We walk a bit of a tightrope, which means that we do not do our publicity very well. I would like us to be more up front about it.

What advice do you have for the local prayer group?

In our own parish at home, we have a prayer group, and people in the group are serving the parish in all kinds of ways. We do things like a Life in the Spirit Seminar or, more recently, the Alpha Course, which CCR has promoted and financed in England, and lots of parishioners go through that. The Lord touches them and they become open to the Spirit, but they don’t join the charismatic prayer group — they just go back in the parish and work more effectively from that time on. All of them say that it was really a blessing for me to have done the Seminar.’

One way is to devote a portion of every prayer meeting's intercession period to praying for local situations in the churches — for the parish they represent, for the priest, the schools — and to be committed as a prayer group to praying for local issues, as well as being involved in parish life.

What speaks most in the local church is, in my experience, people willingly and happily serving. Others recognise that they are from the prayer group, and say, ‘Well, they have got the heart for it.’

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