50 Years of Renewal in the Holy Spirit

On the eve of Pentecost, a small group of pilgrims from across Wales kept vigil with Pope Francis. We weren’t on our own – we were with 40,000 other Catholics from around the world, who had heeded the Pope’s invitation to come to Rome especially for Pentecost. But why?

Charisms in the Life of the Church

At the first Pentecost, Our Lady, St Peter and the other Apostles experienced a powerful outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit. They were filled with a new courage, enabling them to go into the public square and speak about Jesus. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that Peter and Paul laid hands on new disciples who responded by prophesying and praying in unlearned tongues. The new enthusiasm that these gifts brought caused some new Christians to be quite unruly in prayer meetings – St Paul dealt with this at length in his First Letter to the Corinthians.

For the first three hundred years of the Catholic Church, these gifts, together with various healing gifts, seem to have been quite common, but over the centuries they became rarer and were eventually seen as the hallmarks of truly exceptional saints, the likes of Catherine of Siena or Pio of Pietrelcina. At the close of the 19th century, however, an Italian nun, Blessed Elena Guerra, felt called to ask Pope Leo XIII to seek a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Pope Leo not only used the Veni Creator at the opening of the new century, but wrote a number of encyclical letters on the Holy Spirit, and promoted the use of a novena of prayers on the nine days before Pentecost.

In the first decade of the 20th century, remarkable things occurred. On New Year’s Day 1901 – the very day on which Pope Leo had invoked the Holy Spirit over the worldwide church – a woman named Agnes Ozman asked her congregation to lay hands on her so she could become a missionary. There, in a tiny Protestant church in Topeka, Kansas, she was covered in the glory of the Holy Spirit, and found herself unable to speak or write English, only Chinese (which she had never learned), for three days! A world-famous revival took place in Wales in 1904, where several preachers found their words had unusual power to call people to church and turn away from sin – crime rates plummeted across our nation. Two years later, under the preaching of a minister trained in Topeka, the Azusa Street Mission in California experienced an outpouring similar to what we see described in the New Testament, and from that seed grew the networks of what we now call Pentecostal churches.

Another Pope, St John XXIII, called the world to pray anew for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in preparation for the Second Vatican Council. The Council closed in December 1965. Just over a year later, some Catholic students made a retreat in Pittsburgh, USA – and 50 years later, two of those students came to Rome to recall what happened next.

The Golden Jubilee Celebrations

David Mangan and Patti Gallagher Mansfield stand at a pulpitDavid Mangan and Patti Gallagher Mansfield were among a group of students making a retreat based on the Acts of the Apostles in February 1967. They were the most enthusiastic members when the leader proposed an act of renewing their confirmation; others were less keen. That evening, when they separately stepped into the chapel, they experienced the power of God’s presence so strongly that they were compelled to fall prostrate; soon, half the students on the retreat came to the chapel, and experienced the same powerful presence. Many prayed in tongues for the first time.

A third speaker on Friday night, Vinson Synon, represented worldwide Pentecostal churches, and spoke of his own journey of conversion from doubting that Catholics were really Christian through to being forced to accept that they had received the very same gifts known in Pentecostal churches for the past 60 years.

David, Patti and their fellow-students were not founders of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal; they were not personally responsible for spreading it to all the places where it quickly flourished. But they stood on a platform in Rome 50 years later as the first fruits of this vast current of grace poured out on Catholics around the world – and 40,000 Catholics from 128 nations rejoiced with them as representatives of what God had done.

The following afternoon, the participants gathered again at Circus Maximus – a location chosen personally by Pope Francis because so many early Christians had given their lives there as witnesses to Christ. This time, leaders from around the world spoke of how the Holy Spirit continued to change lives today – including a testimony from England’s Damian Stayne about the many healings experienced through the ministry of the Cor et Lumen Christi Community. Papal Preacher fra Raniero Cantalamessa reminded all present that Pentecost was a reversal of Babel – there, humanity rejoiced in its own creative power, but as Christians we acknowledge with gratitude the gifts that come from God. Pope Francis himself spoke of the importance of a “reconciled diversity” – the Spirit brings many gifts and we are to recognise, and rejoice, that other individuals and communities are also gifted by God for the work of the church.

The seeds of this great gathering were planted when, just a year after his election as Pope, Francis spoke to a gathering of Italian charismatics in the national stadium and said “I expect all of you, charismatics from around the world, to celebrate your great jubilee with the pope at Pentecost 2017 in St Peter’s Square!” And indeed, not only did the Pope come to the gathering at Circus Maximus, but 40,000 charismatic pilgrims went to St Peter’s for the Wednesday Audience and Mass on Pentecost Sunday.

What else should a Pentecost Jubilee event contain? We cannot require the Holy Spirit to work to our schedules, so inevitably there was a heavy focus on recognising what God has already done. The Friday evening vigil was largely recalling the history of how the Catholic Renewal began – with the pioneers now entering their 70s, this is perhaps the last major occasion where they will be able to testify in person. Saturday was an acknowledgement of our unity-in-diversity, including strong participation from non-Catholic leaders. The organisers commissioned a song contest and an art exhibition – and also offered a workshop on how to propose early pioneers of Renewal as candidates for beatification and sainthood! Many of the other workshops were filmed and can be viewed online.

The TransCambrian Pilgrims

Our small pilgrimage from Wales attended the larger events, but there was not room for all of us to attend the smaller venues, such as the first Mass at St Mary Major or the Ecumenical Congress on Friday morning. Apart from the scheduled events, we took the opportunity to visit venues that connected us with the experience of the early generations of Christian believers, to whom the power of the first Pentecost was still a living reality. On Friday morning we visited the Catacombs of St Priscilla – perhaps not the most famous catacombs in Rome, but the ones most accessible to the one member of our group who relied on a wheelchair.

We chose not to depart Rome hurriedly after Mass with Pope Francis on Pentecost Sunday; rather, on Monday morning we recalled how the first Christians met in house-churches by visiting the remains of such a church under the Basilica of Saints John and Paul (the martyrs named next to Cosmas and Damian in the First Eucharistic Prayer). Finally, we had our own experience of celebrating Mass in a small space, at the Chapel of St John in Oil – this marks the place where tradition has it that the Romans attempted to martyr St John the Apostle in boiling oil, but God miraculously preserved him. We took lunch at the Rosminian House at Porta Latina, mindful that Rosminian missionaries renewed the Catholic Church in South Wales at the end of the 19th Century, and continue to serve several Cardiff parishes today.

There are many ironies about this pilgrimage. Pope Francis invited us to join him at St Peter’s – but then sent us to Circus Maximus for the main events. We recalled St Peter’s sermon which was understood by all on the Day of Pentecost – but relied on FM radios for simultaneous translation at the two main events. We celebrated the Holy Spirit’s charisms of healing – but ensured that the pilgrimage would be accessible for anyone using a wheelchair. We were called to celebrate our “unity in diversity” – but worldwide Catholic Charismatics are still working on merging their two representative bodies, ICCRS and the Catholic Fraternity, into one. Pentecost is the third great feast of the Christian year, but unlike Easter and Christmas has no “tide” of its own. Yet the season for living out Pentecost exists! It is called “Ordinary Time” – but one where Christians are called to use extraordinary charisms for the building up of the Church. And these gifts are not meant to be brought together in Rome, but spread to the ends of the earth. Veni Sancti Spiritus! Come, Holy Spirit, come! Dewch, Ysbryd Glân, dewch!

In Memory of Vivien Christine Snow

Eulogy given at Our Lady and St Illtyd’s, Llantwit Major, on 9 November 2015.Vivien Snow

For me to be asked to give Vivien’s eulogy is rather like being asked to describe a precious stone when you have only had a good look at one face. There are some facets where you can see the edges just a little, and others which you can only see through the stone itself.

I first met Vivien at a conference in Carmarthen in 1995. Viv had recently stepped down from her role as Chair of Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Wales, and was now leading their conference’s youth programme. I was 21 at the time, so I still counted as “Youth”, and in the months which followed, Vivien encouraged the young people to gather regularly for prayer and time together. As one of those young people, I first visited Llantwit Major and got to know Viv at home, as well as in church. The youth group petered out, but my friBrown horse with white noseendship with Viv grew and lasted, through frequent overnight stays at Lane Cottage.

There are many facets of Viv’s life which I only know through those conversations with her. A horse called Harvey, who died two years ago – the last of a series of horses owned and cared for by Viv. Her elderly relatives, being cared for close to home. Her decades of work with the SVP, where she became Mid Glamorgan District President 2000-04. Her role as editor of the Llantwit Major & Cowbridge Parish Newsletter, which she produced faithfully for 25 years. And, of course, her early life.

Vivien was born in Hornsey in North London, and grew up in Barnet where she attended Queen Elizabeth Grammar School. She was clearly a powerful influence in her family, blowing all the pocket money for one holiday by splashing out on a fishing rod for her brother Geoffrey, while bamboozling sisters Natasha and Clare by giving them a pound and saying “Buy a 99 flake for me and get something for yourself” – what did the ice-cream van sell for a penny?

Vivien’s youth was marked by regular family holidays roaming across Europe, planting in her a love of continental camping. Before many British holidaymakers had discovered the continental trail, Viv could be found camping in a Greek resort where Cliff Richard has filmed Summer Holiday a few months earlier. Unsurprisingly, Vivien read Geography at Southampton University, becoming a teacher of Geography and Religious Education, and a noted author of school geography textbooks.

After a time spent teaching in Dublin, Vivien came to live in Llantwit Major in 1972. Here she became engaged to Michael in 1993 and enjoyed a long and happy marriage. She taught at two Cardiff Catholic High Schools, Bishop Hannon and St Illtyd’s, and later at the state school in Malpas.

In her early life, Vivien was an Anglican, but she was received into the Catholic Faith by Revd Ray O’Shea around 1973. In the late 1960s, the Catholic Church began to experience the phenomenon of ‘charismatic renewal‘ – a revival of the gifts mentioned in the Biblical Acts of the Apostles, speaking in tongues, prophesying, and experiencing God’s healing power. In Wales, Bishop Langton Fox was given oversight of this charismatic dimension of church life. In the young Vivien, he spotted the talents necessary to organise a national conference, and to represent Wales on the world stage. Despite her protests of inexperience, she became a key figure in arranging the annual Wales National Renewal Conference; and at world gatherings of charismatic leaders, where most countries sent bishops or senior priests, Wales sent Viv. Often the only woman and youngest lay-person present, she would read the Bible Lesson at Mass in these gatherings, and developed a close relationship with the Pope’s delegate to charismatic renewal, Cardinal Suenens of Brussels. I am told that she became known at the time as the “Cardinal’s sidekick”! Within Wales, she led the charismatic prayer group at The Walk Convent in Cardiff and rose to become chair of the National Service Committee 1984-90.

All of that took place before I came to know Viv. Before I share my own experience of her, I must acknowledge that in her written instructions for today, she stated that I was to speak about her faith. Now, “Faith” is an action-word. It’s not the beliefs we hold in our head – it’s what we do with them. And of all the Catholics I know, Vivien more than anyone else embodied what it is to be a lay member of the Catholic Church. The Viv I have just described was involved in the church at national and international level; the Viv I knew personally lived this out at home as well.

The faces of Viv where I only glimpsed the edge of what she did included her annual summer camping holiday. I would receive postcards from Christian sites the length and breadth of France and Italy, from Ars to Assisi, and we had a common love for the shrine of the Sacred Heart in Paray-le-Monial. I know that her travel plans also revolved around the question of where she could stop each weekend so as to be sure of hearing Mass.

Viv often spoke of her involvement in the parish here at Llantwit Major – in its administrative structures one of the best organised parishes I have come across, a gift to any parish priest placed in charge here. Her specialist role was on the magazine production committee. She was involved in the Parish Magazine from its beginning, and was editor of the last 12 editions, including the 50th edition which went to press just before she died. In that capacity she persuaded me to write articles on several occasions.

The face of Viv which I came to know directly was Viv at home, a friend I could visit and stay with for 24 hours without running out of things to talk about. On some such visits I would celebrate a house Mass – it was a sign of Viv’s concern for the poor that she would often invite friends who found it difficult to come to church, to join us. I know that for some fellow-clergy, Viv was the one who encouraged them to step out and put their beliefs into action. For me, Viv was a friend who shared my Catholic values, an utterly trustworthy ear for confidences which would go no further. Viv was passionate about praying the Divine Office, the official prayer of the church, and our visits were punctuated by saying the Office together at the appropriate times of day. When I received news of her passing I picked up my breviary and prayed the Office for the Dead – it seemed like the most appropriate thing to do.

Viv hated flying, but overcame this to visit Medjugorje with Mike, a pilgrimage which marked a deepening for both of them in their sense of how the Mother of God was an integral part of their relationship with Christ. They had planned to go again this year, and invited me too – alas, her health meant that I went with the group but Viv and Mike remained in Wales.

In her daily prayers, in her commitment to her parish, in her passion for attending Sunday Mass, in her faithfully attending the Chrism Mass each year, in the international work she did for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal before I met her, I think we can truly say that Viv lived out her faith as an active member of the Church at all levels, giving her heart and soul to serving God. Why? We can find the best answer in her choice of one of our hymns today, “The love I have for you, my Lord, is only a shadow of your love for me.”

Before I end, there are some words I have been asked to read out.

From Viv’s husband, Mike: “I am a most fortunate person. I have had two marriages which have been extremely good marriages. I think that my marriage to Viv was a truly Christian marriage.”

From the Irish missionary priest, Pat Collins, who visited Viv a week before she died, I send his apologies that he cannot be with us today but an assurance of his prayers.

From Tony Warburton of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, an acknowledgement of Vivien’s long service and that she was “well thought of in the SVP”.

From Neil Tully, who succeeded Viv as Chair of Charismatic Renewal in Wales: “Those early days of Renewal were truly life changing, and Vivien was at the forefront. All of us owe her a great deal, strong leadership and good organisation. The challenge for all of us is to continue Vivien’s good work, to bring people to new life through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

From Fran Graham, the current National Chair: “Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Wales owes Vivien an irreplaceable debt for her work. We will miss her, but pray now that she has eternal peace and joy and that she will intercede for us. We offer our deepest sympathy to her husband Michael and all their family, and will keep them in our prayers.”


There is much more which could be said. In preparing these words I looked at Viv’s photo album on Facebook. There you can see Viv with the family members and friends she loved very much, with Harvey and many other horses, and perhaps the most typical recurring image – Viv somewhere on holiday, raising a glass of wine to the camera. At the Last Supper, Our Lord said that he would not drink his last cup of wine until he could share it with us in His Father’s Kingdom. In her last post on Facebook, Viv wrote: “On my way to Llandough – No e-mails while in hospital.” There is, sadly, no connection to Facebook where Viv is now, either, but when we catch up with her I’m pretty sure we’ll confirm that the selfie we’ve just missed out on involves two glasses.

I am tempted to finish with the sonorous words, “We will not see her like again”, a traditional turn of phrase in these Celtic lands when a person of stature has left our midst. But I think these words would be quite inappropriate for Viv, and for two reasons. First, we profess as Christians that in death, life is “changed, not ended”: Viv is not lost to us. But second, Viv’s great work was to inspire many other people to embrace the Catholic values she held dear. If we can each embrace and imitate her faithfulness to the Church and its mission, then her likeness will live on, and be visible, in each one of us. We might interpret her very name, Vivien Christine as, “living image of Christ”, which is what every Christian is called to be.

So – until we meet again, farewell to Vivien Snow, formerly Perry, formerly Thomas. Farewell to our Llantwit Gem, a living image of Christ in our midst. Enjoy your final and never-ending holiday, where Mass is always at hand – and rest in peace.