“Shalom Festival 2014: Fear not, for I am with you,” was the theme of the one-day conference. A suburban Catholic high school honoring St. John Paul II, the great lover of evangelization, was the ideal location for this program promoting conversion.
The promoters of the Shalom Festival visited our prayer meeting on the other side of the metroplex a month earlier. They gave me a ticket because I write columns for their slick magazine, “Shalom Tidings.” I wanted to meet my email contact to the magazine. Besides, I love a good, rousing conference with inspiring speakers telling their stories of miracles, healings and conversions. And I knew some of my friends would come.
Even so, I was not prepared for the joyful staff, the dynamic speakers, the anointed praise and worship leader, and the beautiful mass that began the day. Most of all, I wasn’t prepared for my emotions. You see, this charismatic media ministry from India is bringing to the next generation the excitement I discovered in the renewal forty years ago, and that surprises me still.
I sat near the front where my off-key singing would blend with the voices of others; where I could see the words projected on the large screens on both sides of the stage. Yes, friends were in front of me. Beside me, a young couple from my parish introduced themselves to me. Their expectant body language reminded me of my husband and me when we discovered the spirit-filled life that still awes and thrills us. A dear friend from our parish joined us. Together we sang enthusiastically, raised our hands during praise and worship, knelt on the hard floor during the consecration, and later welcomed strangers into our lunch circle. We fervently committed our lives to the Lord, repeating together the prayer led by Dr. Mary Healy.
I had to leave before Shalom Media’s video presentation about their ministry, and Adoration that followed. But I knew Shalom Media originated in Kerala, South India, with a group of young people on fire with the Holy Spirit. With Msgr. C. J. Varkey as their spiritual guide, Shalom Media began their humble mission to spread the gospel world wide through publications, television and conferences. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI awarded the title of “Chevalier,” the highest honor conferred by the Church on a lay person for outstanding contributions to the Catholic Church and society to their founder, Bennie Punnathara. The Shalom World website states that 50,000 intercessors support them. Make that 50,001.
Down the hallway and just outside the door, people were hanging around the edges of the conference. Only a few of them were children playing or young parents soothing their fussy babies. I got the sense that most of them were hesitators, unsure how to take part in the praise and worship, yet not wanting to exit the joyful atmosphere. I wanted to say to them, “Just join in the joy! Take a chance on redemption. Go to Reconciliation down the other hallway. Sit down with an unfamiliar priest. Pour your heart out. Be healed.”
I wanted to shout, “Join in the festival! Sing the songs that can free your souls from anxiety and self-consciousness. Drop your burdens and raise your empty hands to receive all that the Lord has for you! Here’s your chance to connect with the Lord of the Universe. Yes, fear not!” As I drove home, I prayed that the Holy Spirit would urge them closer.
When I saw my new friend at daily mass on Monday, she was glowing with the Holy Spirit. Tears filled her eyes when she spoke about the healing service during Adoration. She came to the festival with expectant faith and the Holy Spirit filled her with the joy beyond her hopes. When the Lord touched my life deeply and I surrendered my life to him so many years ago, did I glow like her? I must go and look in the mirror and see that glow returning.
There’re 22 Shalom Festivals from LA to DC before the end of the year, and many renewal days, prayer meetings, retreats and healing services available to connect you to the Lord who says to you, “Fear not, I am with you!”
What are you waiting for?
(© 2014 Nancy H C Ward)