The pope's preacher, a charismatic Catholic, brought 1,100 silent voices to full throttle this week with the deftness of a practiced orator.
"Shout these two phrases when I give the sign," the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa instructed a packed house Monday evening at St. Mark's Catholic Church in Vienna.
"Jesus is Lord," he intoned, signaling with uplifted hand.
Jesus is Lord! they shouted.
"God raised Him from the dead," he said.
God raised Him from the dead! they yelled.
"And if you believe that in your heart, you are what?"
It was a robust response to a soft-spoken man in his sixties, who is slight, about 5 feet 7 inches and wears the brown robe of a Franciscan friar gathered at the waist with a rope. He frequently used his hands to emphasize points, but without the full-arm flourishes and verbal explosions of many evangelists.
Cantalamessa's congregants this night--Washington area lay people, priests and nuns--had come in cars and small buses to hear the man Pope John Paul II chose 19 years ago as his personal homilist. What they heard was an hour-long exposition on the mystery of "the Father" in the Trinity (separate from the Son and the Holy Ghost) and the modern application of charisms, gifts of the Spirit described by the Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Romans.
The modest Italian variously sermonized, lectured, philosophized and counseled his audience, entreating them to join a "re-evangelization project" meant to bring more people to God by the turn of the millennium. And all seemed to love it--from the Rev. Paul S. Loverde, the new bishop of Arlington who introduced Cantalamessa, to the people who swarmed around him afterward, seeking his personal blessing.
Cantalamessa lives in Rome and travels the world proclaiming the Gospel. But every Friday during Advent and Lent, he preaches to the pope and the 60 or so bishops and cardinals of the Vatican bureaucracy. Most of the services take place in a small chapel, but once a year--on Good Friday--the Italian friar preaches from the altar of St. Peter's Basilica.
Many people, including Catholics, are unaware of the position officially called "predicatory of the pontifical household." But it has existed for four centuries and since 1743 has been filled by a member of the Friars Minor Capuchin, a branch of the Franciscans known for their preaching ability. John Paul appointed Cantalamessa in 1981, three years after he became pope.
In an interview, Cantalamessa said that the question he gets asked most often is whether he is frightened or intimated when he preaches to the pontiff. The answer, he said, is no, because "I have not been called to preach a personal message."
Instead, he focuses on the seasonal themes of Christmas and Easter. He does not address "specific problems" on which the pope has taken a position, such as the debate over women's ordination. And he never speaks on abortion or other moral issues.
"That's not my ministry," he said.
Trained as an academic in ancient church history, Cantalamessa said he gave up his teaching post at the University of Milan more than 20 years ago to pursue the life of an itinerant preacher. The change came abruptly in 1977, he said, when he was "baptized in the Spirit" at a convent in New Jersey--en route home after attending a conference of charismatic Catholics in Kansas City, Mo.
He called the experience "very simple but at the same time very powerful," he said. He was "convicted of the truth of the manifestation of the spirit," and decided to leave a renowned teaching post and to preach about the "outpouring of the Spirit" that is increasingly evident at millennium's end.
Baptism of the Spirit, theologians say, refers to a phenomenon associated with the Pentecost--an event recounted in the Book of Acts. During the Jewish festival of Shavuot, the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles 50 days after Jesus's resurrection, empowering them to preach the Gospel. Later, Paul called on lackadaisical early Christians to reclaim these gifts of the spirit in renewed efforts to bring people to Jesus Christ.
Many charismatic Christians, especially Pentecostal congregations that take their name from the biblical account, believe they receive special gifts of healing and speaking in tongues when they are baptized in the Spirit.
In the Catholic Church, according to the Rev. Francis A. Sullivan, a theology professor at Boston College, a "charismatic renewal movement" began in the late 1960s, the same time many mainline Protestants also discovered the power of spiritual baptism. The movement rapidly gained momentum and drew hundreds of thousands of Catholic adherents, many of whom gathered in weekly prayer groups to speak in tongues and heal the sick.
Sullivan, a Jesuit priest who has written about charismatic Catholics, participated in a weekly prayer group for 20 of the 36 years he taught at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He said the movement has slowed in the United States but continues to gain ground internationally, particularly in Third World countries.
"The current Holy Father is favorably disposed to charismatic renewal," Sullivan said in a telephone interview, because most of practitioners are "loyal to the church and the papacy and are conservative in theology."
Cantalamessa, while believing that all Christians need constantly to renew their spirituality, said he places less emphasis than many charismatics on physical manifestations of the spirit.
He never has experienced speaking in tongues, a phenomenon that involves one person in an assembly speaking in an unknown language while a second person interprets the message, which charismatics believe comes from God. But he frequently participates in "singing in tongues," a practice he describes as "a beautiful way of praying . . . without passing through words."
Sullivan, who observed singing in tongues at St. Peter's in 1975, refers to it as "nonverbal vocalization . . . that can express a religious attitude, reverence or adoration."
Singing in tongues was not part of the program at St. Mark's, though a worship leader and 35-member choir from St. John the Evangelist Church in Columbia led vigorous congregational singing before the friar's talk. They joined in such contemporary tunes as "How Can I Keep From Singing?," "I Danced in the Morning" and "On Eagle's Wings"--accompanied by piano, acoustic guitar, string bass and a percussionist on a full drum set.
"Get up and dance if you want. I won't stop you," the worship leader offered, though no one did.
Cantalamessa came to St. Mark's at the invitation of the Friends of John Paul II Foundation, an affiliate of a Vatican-based organization formed by papal decree in 1981 to support the pope's teachings and pastoral, charitable and cultural activities.
While his talk supported John Paul's theme of 1999 as the "Year of the Father," recognizing the divinity who gave His Son to the world 2,000 years ago, Cantalamessa referred to his papal congregant only once.
It came as the clock pushed toward 9 p.m., when the magic of the evening began to fade and the crowd started getting restless. The friar told a story about the first sermon he gave at St. Peter's.
Cantalamessa said he was unused to preaching in such a cavernous space and didn't realize when he practiced his sermon that he would need to wait for the echoes to subside before going to the next words. In slowing his delivery, he exceeded the time allotted before the pope was to preside over the Eucharist. This clearly agitated the bishop in charge of the ceremony, who began pointing at his watch.
Pope John Paul II appeared nonplussed, Cantalamessa said. And the next day he learned that the pope had gently chastised the bishop, telling him, "When a man of God is speaking to us, we should not look at our watches."
The crowd at St. Mark's roared with delight and settled back in their pews. The fidgeting and paper rustling decreased noticeably during the final 15 minutes of the Capuchin preacher's talk.