By 4 a.m., thousands were lined up at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for what may soon be called the beginning of a new wave of spiritual renewal and reconciliation of the Body of Christ in the United States.
Protestant pastor Lou Engle of “The Call” led Azuza Now, a revival marking the 110th anniversary of the Pentecostal Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. Throughout the day, an estimated 90,000 Christians and church leaders from across the nation joined in praise, which began at 7 a.m. and ended at 10:30 p.m. April 9.
In 1999, from his then home base in Kansas City, Missouri, Engle began to organize the first of these large gatherings that grew into a series of stadium events, hoping to unleash the Holy Spirit.
The crowd’s hunger was spiritual, evident from the excitement onstage — from the testimonials of miraculous faith-healings, to the bathroom and concession-line politeness that you can only expect from a stadium full of Christians who refused to leave in the rain.
Shalom World Media was there to broadcast the event to the Catholic world, along with God TV and other Christian media channels. “It was the first time ever that a [mostly] Protestant-Christian event would be broadcasted on Catholic television,” remarked Mark McElrath of Orange County Catholics at Work, who emceed the broadcast along with Kevin Kast, formerly of the LA Archdiocese Office of Life, Justice and Peace, who is now an independent media producer.
Keith Major, founder of Major Change in Steubenville, Ohio, worked in tandem with McElrath to invite Southern California Catholic leaders to the anniversary revival, which included Auxiliary Bishop David G. O’Connell, auxiliary bishop of the San Gabriel Region.
Major worked with Engle’s ministry, The Call, after serving for a decade on the mission field in Russia, Poland and Middle East, establishing communities in other countries with Vineyard. The Majors reverted to Catholic-Christianity in 2010 and Keith worked for the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
Now, they hope to mobilize Catholics in collaborative efforts for ministry with Protestant-Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics. In December 2015, MajorChange joined Onething 2015 conference, organized by Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri and presented the first ever Catholic Ecumenical Track during their annual Onething Conference.
Mike Bickle shared his testimony with The Tidings while dodging heavy raindrops by standing under the cover of an outdoor kitchen canopy by the greenroom tent.
“When I was in my 20s I was asked to pastor a church and I never officially went back to the Catholic Church, but I also don’t feel like I intentionally left it either. At the House of Prayer, I encourage people to learn the teachings of the Catholic saints, as the experts on contemplative prayer, such as Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross,” he said.
“In fact, the idea for 24-hour prayer and musical praise comes from the writings of King David; however, it was first done in the Christian church by the Catholics!” Bickle joyously expressed with his famously contagious grin.
One of the most moving moments of the day was the call for forgiveness from the uncle of Michael Brown, the young man from Ferguson who was fatally shot by a police officer Aug. 9, 2014.
Leading the crowd in a chant-like yell “FOR-GIVE-NESS” from the stage, an intense prayer was led by African-American church leaders who traveled from all over the U.S. to join with pastors Fred and Wilma Berry of the Azusa Street Mission.
After remembering the African-American preacher William Seymour, the organizer of the 1906 Azusa Street Revival, which was the origin of the American Pentecostal movement, Engle then asked all those in the stadium to get on their knees and ask for the grace of forgiveness for all of our unhealed relationships in need of reconciliation.
Priests at the revival
Standing on stage at noon with Father Ed Benioff of the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Father Alexei Smith, director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, this Charismatic-Evangelical-Catholic was given a most astounding view of the thousands in attendance and the behind-the-scenes, cross-denominational comradery.
The highlight of my day was when Father Ed grabbed Father Alexei to turn him around fast, 180 degrees, and raised his hands for him in blessing to the south (toward the Coliseum front gate) during a prayer for the nation, and then turned him right back around again 180 degrees, grabbing his shoulders to force him to sway and sing like a good charismatic.
Father Alexei, who is my former professor, a surfer, and an Eastern-rite, Russian Catholic pastor, turned to me and laughed whole-heartedly declaring “I like it, but it’s just not my usual style!” And this was just their warm-up.
When the Catholic delegation moved out on front-stage for their time to lead prayer, I quickly ran behind them from the comforting fellowship of my nurturing hostess — Lou’s wife, Therese (named after St. Therese), and weaved around the worship band equipment, precariously jumping sound cables to move from far stage left to far stage right in about six seconds flat, with sincere determination to record with my cell phone the extraordinary sight.
The music quieted while the constantly boisterous crowd fell to a noticeable hush as the “men-in-black,” collared Catholic priests and their friends, who were incidentally wearing black, took center-stage. Standing with my right foot about one inch from the stage drop, I looked out on the crowd to see trepidation on faces and looks of curiosity, and even a noticeable pause of breath.
Matteo Calisi, former president of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, was introduced and began to address the crowd in Italian with Dr. Bruno Ierullo translating:
“We are a delegation, a Catholic delegation. … I come from Italy. And, I bring you a salute from 150 million Charismatic Catholics.” As the crowd cheered, Calisi then spoke to the crowd about the influence of the Asuza Street Revival on the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.
Following these remarks, he ceremoniously laid prostrate on the stage and kissed Lou Engle’s feet in an act of reconciliatory love. “We are just in a holy moment right here,” Engle emotionally cried out. Then he continued to call out the other church elders onto the stage while he fell to his knees reciprocally kissing Matteo’s feet.
“Jesus, I thank you!” cried out Calisi while Engle kneeled before his feet, “because you are breaking the spirit of division! You are preparing a great revival in the event of this call, like you did 100 years ago. Do it again! Do it again! Holy Spirit let your Spirit come again for a billion Catholics.”
Following his prayer, Engle introduced Father Ed Benioff:
“We have a brother here who is over the effort of evangelization in this archdiocese. I want you to stretch out your hands and pray for the evangelization — the mighty evangelization of the peoples of Los Angeles.”
Father Benioff came to center stage and kneeled while praying:
“Heavenly Father, you taught us through the words of St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians that the eye cannot say to the hand ‘I do not need you.’ Nor can the head say to the foot ‘I do not need you,’ but the truth is, we all need each other,” he said.
“And Lord, we know that you want to bring revival in our world and in our nation, but we will not have revival until we have reconciliation … and as Elijah prepared Elisha and Israel for revival, first, they had to be reconciled, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the sons and hearts of the sons to the fathers. So, Heavenly Father, it is my prayer that going forward from this historic day, we can all forgive each other. We have to forgive each other … so I say this to every person here with absolute sincerity and authenticity — I need you.”
Then Father Benioff paraphrased the words of Jesus in John 17:21, “Father, Abba, Daddy, let them be one as you and I are one.” He continued, “So let us pray and work for unity, so the witness of Christ will be most powerful in our troubled world.”
In the conclusion of his prayer he said, “Let us make a covenant to work together as a united family in Christ, so we can have love and reconciliation in our own, Christian family. Amen.
The next day, approximately 2,000 people gathered in a Pasadena auditorium of the William Cary International University to hear Lou Engle reflect on the significance of the weekend’s events. Engle commented on the historical significance of the stadium itself, the only sports arena in the United States to have held both the World Series and the Olympics, named in memorial for the good and sometimes evil sportsmanship history of the Coliseum in Rome, where Christians were martyred, and their blood was shed for their testimony of Jesus Christ.
“Fifty nations were joined with us yesterday on God TV, commanding spiritual awakening, praying for unreached people groups. We’ve got to believe that light is breaking out,” he said.
“When the ecclesia of God comes together in unity around the throne, Christ, at the right hand of the Father stretches forth his rod out of Zion and rules in the midst of his enemies,” he added. “I believe that enemies were falling back every place we stretched that rod out yesterday!”
Later in the day, I called Father Alexei Smith for his reflections. After we shared our mutual excitement for the events that had just transpired, I asked:
Father Alexei, I know you are the official representative of the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese on ecumenical events, so what do you see as the most significant fruits of the Catholic-Protestant interaction at Azusa Now?
“There are two things,” he answered. “First, this is very much in line with Pope Francis’ thinking. In ‘The Joy of the Gospel,’ he writes about our relationship with fellow Christians and he writes these words:
‘We must never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another. This means that we must have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicion or mistrust and turn our gaze to what we are seeking.’
“And, that is exactly what we did in the Coliseum on Saturday,” he said.
“The other significance is the forgivingness factor: at the end of the week for Christian unity, Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for the ‘un-Gospel-like behavior on the part of Catholics against Christians of other churches.’
“The mutual exchange of forgiveness between Catholic and Evangelical-Christians on Saturday wondrously reflected this forgiveness.”
Contributing writer Jennifer Wing Atencio is the founder of the Arcángel Film Festival, a Los Angeles film festival for Christian unity being held Nov. 4-6. For more information, go to www.arcangel filmfestival.com or visit her blog at www.maywebeone.com.