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MEDWAY -- Maryanne Mandolese loved God all her life, she said, and over the years that love grew and grew and it gave her strength. Where once she was insecure and afraid, God, and her love for Him, gave her confidence and gave her purpose.
He brought her into Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR), which encouraged her love for God and helped keep her strong. It was through Charismatic Renewal, and through her love for God and his love for her, that Mandolese said she became, in a sense, a different person.
Seated at in a room of nearly full tables, Sept. 9, Mandolese said all of this in a quiet voice and a smile on her face. She was at the Charismatic Renewal Services of the Archdiocese of Boston (CRSB) Fall Conference, held at the Betania II Spiritual Retreat and Conference Center in Medway, and seemed eager to speak about the positive changes Christ, as well as CCR, had made in her life.
Founded in 1967, CCR is a spiritual movement that emphasizes a personal relationship with Jesus, as well as the presence of charisms, spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the gift of healing and speaking in tongues. Worship often takes place outside of Mass.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis marked the 50th anniversary of the creation of CCR, and the CRSB Fall Conference, taking place the night of Sept. 8 and all day Sept. 9, served as a way to mark the anniversary in the archdiocese.
For Mandolese, a parishioner of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Saugus, the CCR prayer meetings make her feel "joyful."
"I can walk in and feel a little sad about something, but he (God) takes it away, just in the joy of showing our love and praising him," she said.
The movement, she noted in a straightforward way, is "very important to me."
Her sentiments were not unfamiliar to the many others who had gathered at Betania II for the conference. Many of them, it seemed, had stories similar to Mandolese's -- stories that spoke of confidence gained, friendships made, and an ever-growing love for God.
CCR is "a call," said MaryAnn Novak, a parishioner of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Millis. "There's so much joy and happiness" in it.
She spoke passionately and excitedly, explaining how those who are part of the spiritual movement share a great deal of love for God, as well as for each other.
"The people (in Charismatic Renewal) are real and sincere," she said.
"In life, you go around the regular world and people turn their backs on you. The people in the group are sincere -- they're lifelong friends."
"We just really feel the love everywhere we go," she said. "You're not alone."
Love and unity, both with God and amongst people, are perhaps part of the core of CCR, and were very much a focus of the conference.
People unite in the "power of prayer," said Janice Filippi, director of CRSB, speaking to The Pilot alongside Vincent Cerasuolo, a past CRSB director and current associate director.
Whenever we hold an event, Cerasuolo said, "the intention is to gather people from all the different languages and cultures that participate so we can experience and express unity."
At times, "it's been difficult to overcome differences," he said, but added that there is "an enormous reward in being together."
Filippi added, "We're all part of the body of Christ."
Members of English-speaking, Spanish-speaking, and Brazilian communities came together for the CRSB Conference, praying, singing, and dancing together during the times of joint praise and worship, and celebrating Mass together.
Only during talks, which were held Sept. 9, did the communities attend different tracks according to language.
Three speakers -- one speaker addressing each community -- were featured at the conference: Peter Herbeck, author, television and radio personality, and vice president and director of missions for Renewal Ministries, addressed the English-speaking community; Father John Mario Montoya, a spiritual healer from Colombia, addressed the Spanish-speaking community; and Father Gleuson Goncalves Farias Gomes, a priest and spiritual healer of the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro, addressed the Brazilian community.
Bishop Sosthene Leopold Bayemi Matjei of the Diocese of Obala, Cameroon, also addressed the English-speaking community, and celebrated Mass.
For Mandolese, the conference was a success.
The conference and talks helped me "understand that we're not on this earth just to exist here; there's a reason for our being here, and that the love of God is the greatest thing we could ever know and it gives purpose to our life," she said.