Pope Francis is fast becoming known as the Pope of the family and of the devil. He mentioned both in the same breath this weekend at a massive gathering of a movement called the Catholic Charismatic Renewal at a packed soccer stadium not far from the Vatican.
In his formal remarks, Pope Francis frankly told the members of the group he was not always a fan of their movement. He said as Archbishop of Buenos Ares he found their way of prayer off-putting. He called it a “samba school” for the seemingly crazy way they worship. Later, though, he became their chaplain in Argentina.
After his formal remarks, members of the Charismatic Renewal were brought forward to greet him. A family approached, mother, father, and three children. He embraced them and spoke of both Jesus and the devil.
Francis said, “Families are the home Church where Jesus grows. He grows in the spouses’ love and in the children’s lives. For this reason, the enemy attacks the family so much. The devil does not want it. He tries to destroy it, to prevent love from becoming free… may the Lord bless the family and make it strong in the face of the crisis by which the devil wants to destroy it.”
Since becoming Pope, Francis has often referred to the devil, insisting that the devil is real and that Catholics need to be on watch. It is said he performed an impromptu exorcism on a boy in a wheel chair after his usual Wednesday audience in St. Peter’s Square.
In October Francis has called for a Synod of Bishops to deal strictly with the family. This would be a gathering of all or nearly all the Bishops in the world. Speculation abounds that the Synod will loosen Church teaching on whether divorced and remarried Catholics may receive the sacraments including the Eucharist. Francis has spoken sympathetically about Catholics caught in that situation; however, Vatican experts scoff at the notion that the Synod with the Pope would actually change ancient Church teaching on marriage that is drawn directly from the bible.
The Charismatic Renewal is a movement of Catholics that closely resembles protestant Pentecostals in the rather extravagant way they pray – hands raised, speaking audibly, sometimes shouting, prophesying, and “speaking in tongues,” babbling in a way that sounds nonsensical to outsiders.
The Charismatic Renewal was founded in 1967 by faculty and students of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh but later found a permanent home at Franciscan University of Stuebenville, Ohio, which for years has held huge gatherings for Charismatics.
Francis invited the Charismatics to have their next annual gathering at the Vatican.