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Healing Line

Healing Line

Thoughts From Francis

by Francis MacNutt
September 1992

The first week of ministry was marvelous. The first place we spoke was at Centre of Reconciliation in Rostrevor, directed by Rev. Cecil Kerr, who has dedicated his life to bringing Catholics and Protestants together. Traveling to these different places is such a blessing because we learn so much sometimes disconcerting, baffling things. For example, I was told at Rostrevor that the large International Catholic Charismatic Congress held in Dublin in '78, which seemed to be such a success (for instance, I prayed for about 600 Irish priests at that Congress) also began a decline in ecumenical relations. Before then, the Irish Catholic Charismatic Conferences usually featured a Protestant speaker, but at this large international congress the Protestants were cut out and limited to workshops on the side. The Protestants apparently believe that, since then, it's been downhill all the way as far as ecumenism is concerned. (Protestant leaders in the U.S. have felt the same decline here, beginning at about that same time.) After that success there seems to have been little felt need on the part of Catholic officials to really get together with Protestants on a meaningful level in spite of much talk about reconciliation. There must be something we can learn in all this. It probably has to do with our deep fear of losing our identity and so we have to be pushed out of our comfortable enclaves by external disasters. In Germany, for instance, Catholic Protestant relationships improved when priests and ministers were thrown together in concentration camp barracks during WW II. Yet, it is a mystery, isn't it? What would appear to be the high water mark of charismatic renewal in Ireland (and I was there to see it!) also represents — at least to some — the beginning of a spiritual decline in this one area.

David DuPlessis used to say that where ecumenism disappears the power of the Spirit also declines, perhaps this is the reason for much of the commonly noted slide in R. Catholic charismatic renewal in the U.S., England and Ireland.

From Rostrevor we went on to Belfast where we held a seminar on healing during the day and conducted. healing services at night in Church of Ireland (Anglican) Cathedrals in Belfast and Lisburn .. Considering that it was vacation (children are out of school only in August) the sponsors were happily surprised at the attendance. In Belfast it was sobering to see the streets being patrolled, not just by individual soldiers, but by squads, assault rifles at the ready, moving by, ready to fire (or be fired upon). And yet, we know, we were safer there than on the streets here in Florida. Another new experience was for me to stay in the dwelling of a community of Anglican Franciscans. I was really impressed to see how seriously they take their vow of poverty, not even buying a newspaper, and generously sharing what they have.

From there we drove on to Derry ("Londonderry", if you're in favor of N. Ireland's staying united to England), where I spoke in a Methodist church and then . at a Catholic retreat center in Donegal.

It was a great learning experience, talking to moderate people — Catholic and Protestant alike — about their assessment of the Irish situation. The problem is so much deeper than religious antagonism, the hatreds also go back to ethnic and economic conflicts. Just as what used to be Yugoslavia has Serbs (Orthodox), Croats (Catholic) and Bosnians (Muslim) fighting each other, so Ireland has had people of English and Scottish (notably in N. Ireland) descent attempting to dominate the Irish (Gaels). At one point in the 700's the Catholics were 75% of the population but owned only 3% of the land. This economic domination by the English was layered over by religious discrimination in which Catholics were deprived of the right to own land or be elected to public office. When the Great Hunger (the potato famine) struck in 1845 a million Irish died and another million emigrated (some of them are among our ancestors since there are something like 60 million Americans of Irish descent) out of a population of 8 million, (There are now only 3 1/2 million Irish). You can imagine how deep the history of anger and bitterness runs against the English ( most of the landowners in those days were English — many of them absentee.) In Ireland the people of English descent are mostly Church of Ireland (Anglican), the Scots are Presbyterian (many of the staunch Protestants around Belfast, like Ian Paisley, are from this background), and the native Irish of Gaelic descent are Roman Catholic. The fierce religious wars and· persecutions of the 1600's are kept alive by parades in North Ireland, and the Siege of Derry and the Battle of the Boyne (in the 1600's) are more present to the Ulster Irish than is Sherman's March to the Sea to the present day people of Georgia.

I can see now why some older priests of Irish descent were so much opposed to my speaking to Protestant groups when I taught in the seminary in the 60's; the Protties were the enemy and I was fraternizing with the enemy. The roots of trouble in Ireland run very deep. As in Los Angeles, there are ethnic and economic injustices, but, on top of that there are those religious beliefs that lead each group to regard the others as destined for hell (At least, that's the way it used to be.). When we spoke in England at the beautiful Cathedral of Wells we saw that all the. statues at the front of the cathedral had been smashed by Oliver Cromwell's Puritan soldiers. Shortly after, Cromwell went to Ireland, where he wiped up the Catholic forces, butchering priests and quartering his horses in the Cathedral of Kilkenny. All these memories still remain very much alive.

After our ministry ended in Donegal, we took our vacation in Westernmost Galway, in Connemara where our friends the Thorntons (from England) let us have their cottage. The children loved pony trekking there! This is a beautiful, rugged landscape but it is also the rockiest part of Ireland (have you seen the ,first part of the movie Far and Away?) where Cromwell exiled those Catholics who would not convert. From there we visited our friends from Jacksonville, Raymond and Minerva Mason, at Ballynahinch Castle — then on south to glimpse some of the forty shades of green for which Ireland is famous, touring round the beautiful "Ring of Kerry".

On the other side, too, there is a history of violence committed by Catholics against Protestants. From our experience (and what the Gospel says) there is really only one answer: it's the power of the Holy Spirit enabling people on both sides to forgive the past — and that is humanly impossible. It doesn't come about simply through preaching and committee reports; it comes only through God's gift (grace) channeled through our prayer.

I don't presume that we made much of a dent in the troubled Irish scene, but our friends in England would like to charter a boat in Liverpool and get a thousand people from England to travel to Belfast and seek forgiveness and reconciliation. We don't know how feasible this idea is, but we plan to work "while the light lasts".

And some day we do hope to return.

Love,
Francis & Judith
Rachel & David

Factoid:
While in Wells, England we met Mrs. Elizabeth Riley, wife of the vicar of St. John's in Glostonbury (the Canepas stayed in their home). When George Carey (now the Archbishop of Canterbury) was the bishop of Wells he appointed her as someone officially recognized in his diocese as having the "word of knowledge". I know of no other case of this and believe that it is truly remarkable and worthy of being carried out in other dioceses and churches as well!!


Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. September 1992 Issue