In 1972, Dominic Berardino accompanied a friend to a charismatic prayer meeting on Loyola University's Westchester campus and soon began to feel uncomfortable with attendees' expressive style of worship. The 18-year-old cradle-Catholic from Hawthorne was particularly startled by the spontaneous singing and praying in tongues, and he planned to make a quick get-away before the 10 p.m. Mass.
“This is a special Mass, God wants you there,” a female student-participant told an unpersuaded Berardino, who noted that he had to wake up early the next day for his summer job.
And then a male attendee with waist-length hair chimed in. “Hey, man, you got to go to this Mass. You’ll feel like you’re walking on a cloud,” he said, rolling up his blue flannel shirt sleeve, displaying an arm full of needle tracks. “Up until two weeks ago,” he told Berardino, “I was shooting heroin every day, but my friends brought me to this [post-prayer group] Mass, and at this Mass all addiction for drugs vanished.”
“My mouth just went wide open because [during] my high school years I was trying to help peers who were getting high on drugs," Berardino, now 60, recently told The Tidings in an interview at the Burbank office of the Southern California Renewal Communities, which he has led as president for 25 years.
He stayed for the Mass that night, sitting at a safe distance in the back of LMU’s Sacred Heart Chapel, where the late Jesuit Father Ralph Tichenor was presiding at the concelebrated liturgy.
“The moment [he started Mass], I sensed something spiritual like never before,” said Berardino. "By the conclusion of the Mass, I had such a dramatic experience of the Holy Spirit, it was similar to the upper room at Pentecost. It was so strong and so real. Then I got this other intuition that whatever this was — and I didn't know what it was — I was called to be a part of it."
Four years earlier, at the age of 14, Berardino had experienced “a very lucid dream” of the living Christ. "It was more real to me than daily experience. Immediately after that, I knew that my life would be of service to God, it was intuitive, instinctive. I wondered how [it would happen] because I didn't feel the call to the priesthood.”
Berardino began going to Loyola’s weekly charismatic prayer group, which had started in the early 1970s with a small handful of students who obtained permission to meet from then-president Jesuit Father Donald Merrifield. Berardino theorizes that the late Father Merrifield had heard about similar charismatic prayer groups on other university campuses.
"As an ecclesial movement in the church," Berardino explains, "the charismatic renewal emerged very unexpectedly in 1967 at a weekend retreat for Catholic students attending Duquesne University in Pittsburgh." It spread among Catholic universities and college students in the late ’60s, reaching Los Angeles a few years later.
"In the 1970s," he noted, "sociologists and historians pointed out that this charismatic movement in the Catholic Church was the fastest growing movement ever seen in the history of the church." During that time, the charismatic renewal saw explosive growth in the U.S. and Europe.
"People were having these experiences all over without any type of organizational strategy — it was spontaneous at the time," according to Berardino, noting that an estimated 160 million Catholics worldwide are involved in the charismatic renewal, which is "still exploding" in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
"When I was starting in 1972, I met people who would drive every week from San Diego, Lompoc, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino. For the few Catholics who had heard about this or had connected with [the charismatic renewal] in other parts of the country, Loyola was the magnet; it was the mother prayer group.”
As charismatic prayer groups began to sprout in the archdiocese, Cardinal Timothy Manning appointed Father Tichenor to oversee the growing movement. Berardino volunteered for the newly-named Southern California Renewal Communities (which became a non-profit corporation in late 1972). A small off-campus office was opened in 1973, funded through donations.
"It turned out to be the first Catholic charismatic renewal office of its kind [diocesan based] anywhere in the world," said Berardino, who served as Father Tichenor’s personal assistant during the years of the Loyola prayer group, which ended shortly before Father Tichenor’s death in 1983. Berardino continued as an SCRC employee until he became president in 1989.
Berardino noted that the charismatic dimension of faith is deeply rooted in the New Testament scriptures in the life of the early church, such as the Pentecost account detailing how the apostles spoke in tongues.
"Many people believe that the wide-scale reemergence in modern times of the charismatic dimension is an answer to Pope St. John XXIII's prayer for a New Pentecost…[the subject of] his convening Vatican Council II prayer," said Berardino.
He noted that Pope St. John Paul II was encouraging to ecclesial movements, urging them to adopt a strong missionary thrust to the whole world. "Our mission statement for decades now is to make known the transforming power of Jesus Christ," said Berardino.
Pope Francis, added the SCRC president, is "strongly supportive" of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Speaking at the Charismatic Renewal Convention at the Olympic Stadium in Rome, drawing 50,000 people on June 1, the pontiff said he was grateful for the presence of one of the original 1967 Duquesne Weekend retreatants (Patti Mansfield) and remarked that the Charismatic Renewal was born of the will of the Spirit as "a current of grace in the Church and for the Church."
"I continue to have a very deep conviction that the charismatic renewal's purposes are not yet completed," said Berardino, holder of a master’s degree in religious studies from Mount St. Mary’s College, who has given approximately 8,000 talks since the mid-’70s on evangelization, Scripture studies and charismatic prayer to over 400 parishes locally and around the country. "People today are in greater need than ever of God's grace and help, and that's one of the hallmarks of what this movement is supposed to be about."
SCRC Convention: Aug. 29-31
The 43rd annual SCRC Convention, the largest Catholic charismatic gathering of its kind in the English-speaking world, takes place this year on Labor Day weekend, Aug. 29-31, at the Anaheim Convention Center. An estimated 9,000 people from the U.S. and abroad are expected at the event, centered on the theme, "You are the Light of the World."
The convention offers three days of workshops and arena liturgies, including an "Unbound" track on deliverance prayer, young adult activities (co-led by Father Ed Benioff, archdiocesan director of New Evangelization, and Father Paul Griesgraber, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena in Reseda and St. Bridget of Sweden in Van Nuys), a teen conference, a children's program and tracks in Vietnamese (Aug. 30) and Spanish (Aug. 31).
The day before the convention (Aug. 28, 1:30-5 p.m.), a special free workshop, “The Reality of Warfare with the Powers of Darkness” offered exclusively for Roman Catholic priests (separate online registration required), will take place at the Anaheim Marriott Gold Key Room.
A short list of speakers from dioceses throughout the U.S. includes Msgr. John Esseff sharing stories of his personal friendships with St. Padre Pio and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta; Patti Mansfield speaking on spiritual maturity; and Deacon Eddie Ensley discussing how prayer can heal emotions. Among several Southern California speakers, Dominic Berardino will give a workshop on "Heaven: The Promise of Jesus" on Aug. 31.
Father Bob Garon, pastor of St. Didacus in Sylmar, will preside at the 7:30 p.m. Friday night Mass; Redemptorist Father Bill Adams will be the main celebrant at the Saturday evening liturgy followed by a healing service conducted by Claretian Father John Hampsch; Father Ramon Valera, associate pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes in Northridge, will preside at the 7:30 a.m. Sunday Mass; and Orange Auxiliary Bishop Dominic Luong will preside at the 2:30 p.m. closing liturgy.
For more information or to register for the SCRC Convention, visit www.scrc.org or call (818) 771-1361.