Charismatic Conference focuses on spiritual freedom

COLUMBIA — Finding the true freedom that only comes through accepting Jesus Christ was the main focus of the annual S.C. Catholic Charis matic Con ference held Oct. 24-26 at Our Lady of the Hills Church.
The theme was “Spiritual Freedom … Transforming the Culture” and was based on 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, “All those people speak about how you received us when we visited you, and how you turned away from idols to God, to serve the true and living God and to wait for his Son to come from heaven.”
Ross Gamble, one of the organizers, said more than 235 people attended from North and South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Florida and Kentucky.
The guest speakers were Father Will iam Halbing, pastor of St. Antoninus Church in New ark, N.Y.; and Third Order Regular Father David Pivonka, vice president for mission effectiveness at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
Father Halbing has been involved with charismatic renewal since 1975. He often  travels around the country offering Bible instruct ion and speaking at renewal seminars and at the Steubenville Youth Conference.
Father Pivonka is the author of “Spiritual Freedom: God’s Life Changing Gift,” and has produced “There is Freedom,” a six-CD set on how to experience spiritual freedom.
During the three-day event, the priests celebrated Mass, the sacrament of reconciliation, prayed with people one on one and  spoke during general sessions. At the opening Mass Oct. 24, they concelebrated with five other priests from the Diocese of Charleston.
The conference also included praise and worship periods, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and adoration.
During two general sessions Oct. 25, Father Pivonka talked about the importance of increasing spirituality through accepting Jesus Christ and allowing the Holy Spirit into one’s life. He said that sometimes it takes a period of great suffering, either physical or emotional, for people to truly encounter God and find liberation.
“We in America have more freedom than any other country in the world, but we are not the most free spiritually,” he said. “When freedom is separated from truth, individuals lose moral direction. True freedom is not about doing whatever we want whenever we want … when it’s separated from truth freedom leads to chaos. True freedom is the ability to live responsibly and live in the truth of our relationship with God.”
Father Pivonka said one of the main problems in today’s American culture is that people mistakenly believe tolerating everything, even immorality, will lead to freedom. Instead, he said, people find themselves in bondage to secular culture and separated from God’s love.
He used the story of Adam and Eve hiding from God in the Garden of Eden as an example of how immorality and sin causes people to separate themselves from God.
“Sin causes us to hide from the one who loves us and wants to protect us,” he said. “We were supposed to walk hand in hand with God. God has created us to be free to be loved by him. He loves you. He doesn’t love in generalities. … When we accept the love of God, we get back to what we’re created for.”
Father Halbing focused on the importance of the Holy Spirit in daily Christian life, and said it is essential for Catholics to get back to their biblical roots and prepare for the return of Jesus. He said Catholics should focus on the importance of the Eucharist, and this should be reflected in everything from church design to a priest’s homilies.
“I’ve been in churches where you need a detective to find the tabernacle,” he said. “God should be front and center in his own church. Catholics also need to learn more about the Bible and priests should preach the bible. Every Catholic church should have Bible studies.”
He said Catholics need to learn more about the Holy Spirit and the miraculous possibilities that come with true faith in God.
“People leave the church because they don’t see the power of miracles,” he said. “We need to realize that the Holy Spirit helps conform us to the person of Jesus Christ. We need to fall in love with Jesus Christ because he is the only door that leads to heaven.”
Susan Henry of Hopkins attended with her mother-in-law Dot Henry, who travels with friends from Hopewell, Va., each year for the conference. Susan Henry said she was moved especially by Father Pivonka’s keynote speech on Oct. 25.
“I thought it was important how he mentioned the word freedom over and over again,” she said. “We get so bogged down with things in everyday life that I think it’s really important to be reminded of the freedom we find in Christ.
“It’s been great just to have time to go to confession, to reflect and to be able to come here and forget everything in our lives, and just focus on God,” she said.