By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
To begin with, the gym was set up with about 150 seats, mostly occupied, but people just kept coming and more and more seats had to be brought out. In the end the crowd had to be well over 300, obviously beyond the organizers’ wildest expectations.
This was the Feb. 21 Asamblea (Assembly) of the Hispanic charismatic community, which is held monthly at St. Helena Parish in the Olney section of the city. It’s hosted in rotation by the various Philadelphia parishes with Hispanic charismatic groups.
“We have about 13, mostly in the North Philadelphia area,” said Victor Seda, permanent deacon at St. Helena Parish, whose own group usually draws between 50 and 60 people to its regular Wednesday meeting. The charismatic movement is really giving the people something they need and “if they don’t get it here they will get it somewhere else,” Seda said.
The featured preacher after an opening hour of song and praise for this Sunday afternoon assembly was Rey Lugo, a popular lay evangelist, composer and writer flown in from Ponce, Puerto Rico. Speaking forcefully and with humor, he took his text from Mark 11:2, which speaks of God’s power to move mountains if only one has faith.
“Mark speaks of the power of faith and how we can move mountains,” He explained after the assembly. “The mountains represent sickness and diseases; personal situations and the conversion of human beings.”
The rapt attention of his audience for almost two hours was testimony to his preaching skill and also their intense faith. (Well, there was one teen whose thumbs were busily texting the entire time, but he’ll probably come around in a few years.)
The charismatic movement is very strong in Lugo’s Puerto Rico and among Hispanics in general, he believes.
“The movement appeals to Hispanics because a lot of people have needs. They need to learn the Word, they want to learn the Word, but they don’t hear it,” he said. “Hispanics like being able to express it, it makes them feel at home.”
As to concerns about the Church losing some Hispanic Catholics to Evangelical denominations, it won’t happen “if they are given more opportunity to express themselves in the Church in the United States,” he said. “We need pastors of the Church to inform people, to teach them, show them God is in His Church in power. Our Gospel is in the Spirit, and we are not feeding the Spirit to the people in the way that they need.”
Lugo speaks from personal experience. Now 42 and a former Evangelical, he said, “The Lord revealed to me through the Word of God all the things the Evangelicals denied were true in the Catholic Church.”
Married with three children, Rey Jr., Malory and Gabriela, he and his wife, Vilma, have a popular radio ministry and the reputation for preaching, which drew the unusually large number of Hispanic charismatics to this particular assembly.
Jennifer Morales of St. Hugh of Cluny Parish said she has been part of the movement for 20 years.
“Being a charismatic allows you to fellowship, allows you to know God does exist and it allows you to be able to interact with others,” she said. “Then you are able to find what you are looking for.”
Being raised Catholic and attending Church, she said, gave her the foundation for her faith today, adding, “God is very important. He should be first and foremost in someone’s life.”
Rey Felez of St. Helena Parish has always been a churchgoer but began following the charismatic movement in January.
“You can be yourself. It’s just sitting there staring at a priest or someone else,” he said, and “you can actually join in and praise God in a different way.”
Randy Rosario was not a regular churchgoer. “Sometimes other stuff happens. I had things on my mind; things like bills and kids,” he said.
But that’s changing through the charismatic movement, which he joined a year ago.
“Since I joined the charismatics God is becoming more important to me every day,” he said. “I’m learning the Bible more and God is first in line with everything I do now.”
For more inform formation on the charismatic ministry of Rey Lugo see Radio Carisma (in Spanish) at radiocarisma.com.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.