A group of wealthy charismatics plan to beam their view of the Church's message worldwide. They say they have the Pope's approval — but senior churchmen are not so sure, as Viviane Hewitt, our Rome correspondent reports.
FROM an office not far from the Vatican, three self-defined "men of zeal" are plotting the evangelisation of the world by the year 2000. Their means will be three direct broadcasting satellites, scheduled for launching within the next five years, and designed to ensure full planet coverage as the organisers put it, as well as a steady flow of Millions of dollars and, most important of all, Vatican backing.
But complete, unconditional Holy See sanction is slow in coming for the project, Lumen 2000, a mammoth religious roadshow with a vision of piping the Gospel, papal masses, messages and images to all corners of the five continents.
Although the notion of spaceage spirituality intrigues John Paul II, who has twice received the Lumen 2000 founders in audiences, read their proposal and invited them to present it to the Synod on the Laity in October 1987, it worries some members of the hierarchy.
Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, Archbishop of Paris, has warned that the faith experience could never be a spectacle and the alarmed Brazilian Episcopal Conference denounced Lumen 2000 as a megalomaniacal feat which risked giving birth to the Church's own version of Big Brother.
But Lumen 2000's aim is as simple as the Gospel message they are anxious to spread from electronic pulpits. "The year 2000 is Christ's anniversary and we must give Him a special present: more disciples and more visible testimonies of His Word," said 61-year-old American Fr Tom Forrest, a former missionary in Puerto Rico and president, since 1978, of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement.
"The Church is too fragile. It must be strong and show it. Catholics must eliminate their complexes, using the best, most powerful means. They must not fall back on their own private faith".
Forrest was probably already visualising an enterprise such as Lumen 2000 back in 1982 when he was organising a world retreat, for 1984 in Rome, for 5,000 clergy from all over the world.That same year he met Piet Derksen, a 74-year-old Dutch millionaire who registered an income in 1987 of just under £140 million.
Owner of a chain of tourist villages in Northern Europe, Derksen founded the charismatic movement, Testimony of the Love of God, based in Eindhoven, Holland, after an alleged miracle cure through prayer. He also built a church in gratitude, donated money to the dioceses of the more conservative Dutch bishops, and abandons business life three times a year in retreat.
It is said in Rome that when he heard of Forrest's plan to organise a world retreat for the clergy, Derksen promptly donated a million dollars to the enterprise. By the end of 1982, Derksen and Forrest had met the third member of the Lumen 2000 triumvirate — former American Air Force Colonel Bobby Cavnar, an audiovisual expert and himself the founder of a charismatic movement in Dallas, the Community of God's Delight.
A member of the US defence programme for the development of the Titan missile, the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and the spy plane U2, Cavnar already boasted his own charismatic video service in the States and in 1983, he and his new-found partners first discussed the possibility of Lumen 2000.
They strategically involved the Italian, Fiorenzo Tagliabue, administrator of the Milanbased Catholic daily Avvenire. He is also a member of Italy's charismatic movement, Communion and Liberation, and his later appointment as secretary of the Vatican Television Centre — to have been Lumen 2000's official launch pad — made him even more eligible.
Lumen progressed amid a paradoxical back-drop of apparent papal approval and the contrasting caution of many within the Roman Curia, already wary of charismatic movements and, particularly of the politically rightist-leaning Communion and Liberation, once described by Milan Archbishop, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, as "more Catholic than we are".
In 1984, the technical apparatus was prepared for religious programme contributions to the Europe TV satellite serving the Netherlands. The next year, technicians in transit for Lumen 2000 operations in Latin America, were being trained at a Community of God's Delight centre in Dallas. Dallas was also the venue for Lumen's first convention with 55 delegates from 32 countries. The convention nominated as project treasurer Jean-Loup Dherse, a French financial consultant and a member of the French charismatic movement, Emmanuel.
Lumen masterminds then wrote a letter to the Pope explaining that their objective was to use the last decade of this century for "a great, new evangelisation of the world".
John Paul received the founders twice and promised to find a way to set the project in motion within Holy See mechanisms, the organisers said at the time. In January 1987, Piet Derksen was nominated to the executive board of the Vatican Television Centre.
Lumen's offices were inaugurated in Rome on June 3 1987, with a benediction by Bishop Jose Sanchez, Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. Also present were Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Bishop Jan Schotte, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, and the American Ambassador to the Holy See, Frank Shakespeare.
The inauguration came just three days before Lumen 2000's first, real dress rehearsal — the opening of the Marian Year on June 6. With the help of 1,000 technicians, the special mass was filmed by 75 cameras and beamed via 18 satellites to an estimated two billion people in 30 countries.
The total cost of what was believed to have been the most far-reaching religious transmission ever was $2.5 million, not paid by the Vatican, stressed Bishop John Foley, President of the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications. An American company. Global Media, which had transmitted the 1984 Olympics from Los Angeles by satellite, provided $800,000, the French Bic Pen Corporation staked $500,000, and Lumen 2000, $650,000, from its Dutch funds.
But, as well as with dollars, Lumen 2000 was showered with criticism.
Members of Bishop Foley's own Commission declared they did not agree with "unconditional support" for Lumen 2000. Cardinal Secretary of State, Agostino Casarali minimised Lumen. "It is an initiative like many others and, like many others, it has no official status.
Lumen insists it has papal benediction, an assertion observers feel is probably justified, given John Paul 11's total awareness of media power and his considerable ability in utilising it.
In 1986, but without direct references to the project, the Pope declared: "It is essential that the Church be directly involved in the new scenario, with its newspapers, magazines, broadcasting stations and radio and television programmes".
Only the faint-hearted — and the bone idle — are sceptical, according to Lumen. In one of its news bulletins it declares that the essential element of success is "zeal, to be found in few, since most are born with that inertia, called laziness".