By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
COLUMBIA — Clapping, singing and arms outstretched, charismatic prayer groups gathered for a weekend of prayer and inspiration during the 1998 South Carolina Charismatic Conference at St. John Neumann Elementary School Oct. 23-25.
With a theme of “The Holy Spirit, our Hope for Unity,” the annual conference, combined liturgies, a healing service and praying ministry for the people who came from the Carolinas and Georgia. It was sponsored by the South Carolina Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services, and staffed by the Open Heart Prayer Group from Columbia. The event was knit together by Babsie Bleasdell an international speaker and author who shared her inspirations about the Holy Spirit with the crowd for all three days.
Babsie Bleasdell speaks with Ouest Nazon of Summerville Bleasdell is a native of Trinidad who has been traveling the world since 1976 in charismatic renewal and as a motivator in traditional parish situations. She talks of healing through prayer and the acceptance of God’s gifts.
It is with great dynamism that this 77-year-old woman sings, dances, stomps her feet and laughs her message across with the gift of the storyteller that she is. Her audience was often smiling and nodding their heads in accord to what she said and in delight of her spontaneous animation.
Bleasdell has an impressive resume of speaking commitments. She has addressed some 6,000 bishops and priests at the International Priests Retreat in Rome and has assisted at priests’ retreats at universities in America, including Steubenville University in Ohio and in Eastern Canada. She is the Caribbean area Representative for Magnificat, an international ministry to Catholic women. She is founder of Word of Life Prayer Community in Arima, Trinidad and Tobago, and is involved in caring for underprivileged children by working to provide housing, education and medical care.
Bleasdell speaks from personal experience. She has been called a healer but quickly dismisses that misconception.
“The word heals,” she insisted. “If we obey God, God will do things through us. God has given you a gift but he doesn’t expect you to do nothing with it. He expects you to serve. Give testimony, be quick to tell what God has done for you, it builds up the community.”
After listening to her powerful talks, Bleasdell hopes people take away the ability “to examine their innermost being in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
“I want them to let the Holy Spirit enter into the secret places of their soul and open it to trust God to totally heal them …,” she says, “so there is no resistance to the Holy Spirit and they can become whole… .”
In the gym of St. John Neumann, she told the crowd of over 100 people that prayer works, in God’s time. She lost her sister to cancer over five years ago, and as she was ailing, Bleasdell prayed that God would heal her. In her prayers, she said, it came to her that the Lord was saying “Pray, and if I don’t answer in the way you expect, know that I am still doing the most loving thing I can do in the moment.”
“The Lord has promised us certain things,” Bleasdell went on, “and if we receive it, we don’t even have to beg for it. He has given us baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist and he is present in all those things. When we think our faith is drying up, we can plug into it again. It’s like an iron, it goes cold as soon as you unplug it.”
In matriarchal style, she urged people to reverentially partake in the sacraments they are offered and to actually keep the Sabbath holy. She related an anecdote from a Bible study she attended where a priest had the class read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: “Love is patient, love is kind …” He had them insert Jesus’ name into the reading, then he had them insert their own names.
“I couldn’t do it without laughing because if I didn’t laugh I would cry. We don’t know what love is anymore,” she said and transitioned to talk of the gift of repentance. She also urged people to consider fasting and try to pray when they did not really want to. “Our faith must be a living acting thing,” she said, “We must live it all day long.”
All of her topics and stories were interspersed with messages of inspiration and reminders of Catholic tenets.
“Babsie is a storyteller, she teaches us by life experiences,” said Franciscan Father Paul M. Williams, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua in Greenville. He attended the conference and celebrated the liturgies.
“She is insightful, gifted and loving but she’s no-nonsense,” he said. “She quickly lets you know how you stand. She is encouraging us to remain Roman Catholic.”
That message is right on time, he said, because he had heard that members of the Catholic charismatic community felt the church was dry and were called to Pentecostal churches.
Though Bleasdell recognizes gifts of other faiths, ecumenically, she believes that the fullness of Christ subsists within the Catholic Church, Father Williams said.
Ruth Falter, a member of the Open Heart Prayer Group said the conference was attended by approximately 150 people each day, smaller than in previous years but equally enthusiastic and open to the Holy Spirit.
PHOTO: Ouest Nazon of Summerville speaks with Babsie Bleasdell between sessions. (By Deirdre C. Mays)