By PAUL A. BARRA
COLUMBIA When the pastor of St. Martin de Porres Church determined it was time to revive the spirit of his parish community, he figured that an old-fashioned revival meeting sounded about right. But do Catholics hold revivals?
“We call them missions in the Catholic Church,” said Sister Oralisa Martin, “but non-Catholics will definitely recognize it.”
Sister Oralisa presented the revival, Feb. 4, 5 and 6, and it was like no other mission this cradle Catholic ever saw. When she spoke at both Sunday Masses, before the start of the revival, she promised “you will not be bored.” She did not tell a lie. The Monday night event was an emotional drama that drew the packed inner-city church to roaring heights as they were called to “get into the boat with Jesus and row to the other side.”
The privately vowed woman religious asked hard questions and provoked responses, exhorted and cheered, preached with passion and used the English language like an art form.
“Can you go to glory today in peace because you gave your children Jesus Christ? If the master should call you home, are you ready?
“After Jesus died, his soul went down into the bowels of the netherworld and preached there, and he battled Satan. So the victory is won already for us.
“This (church) is not a club; this is your daddy’s house. You can cry here, you can ask for help. You can call on your Jesus and row your boat and invite him in. You are a child of God.”
Sister Oralisa, who holds a doctorate from the Howard University School of Religion, also taught theology during the revival: “If sin is separation from God, then Jesus stood in the gap. He took on our sins and for the first time in his human life, as he hung on the cross, he experienced the separation of sin. He cried out, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?'”
The tone for the St. Martin de Porres revival was set by Wyonna Counts, who belted out a rocking Negro spiritual, “Jesus, Just Walk With Me,” that got the congregation to its feet and raring to go. A men’s choir got the same reaction throughout the revival.
Father Steven Pavignano, a Franciscan friar who is administrator of the parish, said that the St. Martin’s faith community “has gifts and talents that are not being brought forth. We’ve had what I call a mission mentality for too long. This (opportunity) didn’t just happen, and I ain’t that dumb to say no to the Spirit. Oralisa brings a strong and good message for us.”
Parishioner V. Woodson called the message “uplifting.” Leon Elliott found the message exciting and said that he was appreciative at hearing it from a feminine viewpoint. Edith Benson, a member of the revival committee, said that the revival had a strong evangelization tone.
“This is an outreach effort to our community,” Benson said. “We’re in a poor area, and I’m hoping we can grow in faith through this. I hope the Holy Spirit will touch me and grab hold of me.”
The Spirit grabbed many of the 150 in the small Hampton Street church, judging by the responses and reactions to Sister Oralisa’s powerful sermonizing. The theme of the revival was “Lord, help us to hold out.”
Oralisa Martin taught in Catholic high schools for 20 years and was a consultant to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles from 1986-1990. She founded the African-American Catechetical Conference and Institute there. She was coordinator of the Youth Theological Seminary at Howard and has been a speaker and presenter in 40 states. Her blood sister, Belhia Martin, said that she is particularly interested in youth ministry. The St. Martin de Porres revival put the bloom of youth on young and old alike during three cold February nights.