The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Harvest abundant for state’s Hispanic charismatic renewal

Annual conference brings international speakers, 2,000 Catholics to Fort Smith annually

Published: November 4, 2022   
Maryanne Meyerriecks
Worshippers join in adoration during the Hispanic Charismatic Renewal Conference Oct. 21 at the Fort Smith Convention Center.

One of the largest diocesan events draws 1,500 adults, 300 teens and 200 children to Fort Smith each year.

The 17th annual Hispanic Charismatic Renewal Conference (Conferencia Renovacion Carismatica Catolica) was held Oct. 21-23 at the Fort Smith Convention Center.

The conference theme, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few,” seemed to contradict the movement’s extraordinary growth in Arkansas.

“We held our first conference in 2003 at Immaculate Conception Church,” Ada Salazar, a member of Immaculate Conception Church in Fort Smith and one of the conference coordinators, said. “By 2008 we had 600 worshippers and moved to the convention center, and now we have 2,000.”

“Our charism is calling for the Holy Spirit in every moment. We strive to live the lives that we preach and incorporate the Holy Spirit in every aspect of our lives.”

The movement of the Holy Spirit is evident in Arkansas. Prayer groups meet weekly in 24 parishes to pray, share and study the Bible. Monthly meetings are held in Little Rock for coordinators and parish representatives, led by Father Salvador Vega-Alvarenga, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Glenwood and St. Martin Church in Nashville and diocesan liaison for the Hispanic Charismatic Renewal.

Father Vega-Alvarenga was ordained in El Salvador, where he ministered in a parish with a very active charismatic program, moving to Arkansas eight years ago. He provides spiritual direction to the leadership teams and individual spiritual direction when requested. He leads regular workshops on intercessions, worship and other aspects of charismatic prayer.

“Father Salvador gives workers a space where they can also enjoy and be renewed,” said Tanya Herrera, who attends St. Raphael Church in Springdale and coordinated youth events for the conference. “We had separate workshops for youth ages 12-18 and children ages 5-11. We also hold a separate youth conference each year in the Dardanelle Community Center. There are youth programs in 20 parishes in the diocese.”

While most of the youth are introduced to charismatic prayer by their families, some become active after going to conference with friends. Herrera became involved when one of her godmothers gave her a ticket to a conference as a high school graduation gift.

“When I got to the conference, I saw some people I met at previous retreats,” Herrera said, “so I decided to make the best of it.”

The conference began with Mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Fort Smith celebrated by keynote speaker, Father Jaime Perez of Colombia. The weekend’s activities included large-group presentations, breakout sessions for youth, workshops, prayer, concert and adoration, ending Sunday afternoon with Mass at the convention center celebrated by Bishop Anthony B. Taylor.

“Adoration is a big part of the conference. We had holy hour from 5:30 to 7:30 Saturday. During holy hour, the priest walks through the aisles with the Blessed Sacrament, and there is a lot of healing,” Herrera said. “There are a lot of untold stories of healing but whenever we meet in the diocese, we hear some stories from the communities about people who had experienced healing.”

In the conference setting, adoration is accompanied by music and song, a litany of praise and worship to Jesus. The stage area is surrounded with banners from each parish. A larger-than-life sculpture of the Blessed Sacrament is at center stage, flanked by Our Lady of Guadalupe and the saints. Many members of the congregation kneel with their arms outstretched and eyes closed in silent prayer.

Salazar said she experienced complete healing from migraines at her first conference in 2003. Herrera added there are rules for intercessory prayer, and that workshops in the diocese help newcomers understand how it works.

“Our charism is calling for the Holy Spirit in every moment. We strive to live the lives that we preach and incorporate the Holy Spirit in every aspect of our lives,” Herrera said. “Experiencing the power of the Spirit in conference and our weekly meetings encourages us to carry the Spirit with us wherever we go.”

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