Karen Adams Special to The Catholic Virginian

Deacon Larry Oney drew laughs from the crowd gathered under a tent in Bedford when he said he never imagined he would someday be speaking at a tent revival for Catholics. 

“But I have to say, this is something special here,” he said.

Oney, a permanent deacon for the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans and founder of Hope and Purpose Ministries, was the keynote speaker for the “Behold” revival, a charismatic event held Friday and Saturday, Sept. 28 and 29 at Holy Name of Mary Catholic Church, Bedford. 

With scriptural references, Oney gave four presentations on fighting evil, healing broken hearts, discovering divine missions, and spiritual anointment. He highlighted the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives and send people to evangelize. 

“Everyone is called to serve the Lord; your baptism authorizes you to do the work of Jesus Christ,” he said. “God is present in your brothers and sisters, and some of them don’t look like you.”

He described his Louisiana childhood on a sharecropper farm, where he witnessed constant prayer. 

“Those old ladies thanked God all day long, even in the heat while picking cotton,” he said. “When you proclaim the Word of God, the angels run to the edge of heaven to listen.”

The weekend also included music led by Franciscan University’s Dr. Bob Rice, a prayer walk along Main Street, testimonials about changed lives, and a praise and worship Mass followed by more than an hour of hands-on healing prayer, provided by the church’s Holy Spirit prayer ministry. 

Despite a forecast of rain, the weather was beautiful. Event organizer Colleen Criste credited that to the fervent Marian prayers offered earlier by the nine-member revival team and their parish. The program also included food from Blue Lady Catering of Bedford. 

“And it was not an accident that the Blue Lady made our lunches,” Criste said with a laugh.

Multiple denominations participate

This was the second revival at Holy Name of Mary. The first, in September 2016, was just as surprising, according to Criste.

Early that year she suddenly had an image of a tent revival on her parish grounds, but thought it was a crazy idea.

Yet, after attending Franciscan University’s “Power and Purpose” conference in Steubenville that June, she asked speaker and author Father Dave Pivonka if he would consider attending the first-ever Catholic tent revival in Bedford that fall. Despite his busy schedule, he said, “Yes,” and the theme of his September presentation was “Say ‘Yes’ to God.”

In the weeks and months after that event, Criste heard stories of invigorated faith and changed lives. Catholics and non-Catholics were asking her when the next revival would be held. 

After hearing Oney speak at a Steubenville conference in 2017, Criste felt called to invite him. When he accepted, she knew God’s hand was at work. And when Rice accepted the invitation to play at the event, she and her team felt doubly blessed.

“The Father is full of wonderful gifts,” said Criste. 

Among the more than 350 people attending the event were Catholics from throughout Virginia, North Carolina, and even New Jersey, as well as Christians from area Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Evangelical churches.

Rev. John Salley, pastor of Bedford Presbyterian Church, attended the revival with several of his congregants, as he did two years ago. 

“A revival is a revival, and our world needs revival,” he said, adding that while Catholics, Baptists and Presbyterians might disagree on a few things “we all agree that the Gospel is that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, and you need him, and it’s the same for everyone.”

‘Motivating weekend’

Two speakers told stories of healing. Mike Brady, a member of St. Thomas More, Lynchburg, described how he had been healed of stage IV melanoma after asking for healing prayer at the 2016 event.

“I could feel the prayers coming into my body, and the good Lord coming my way,” he said, noting that after 18 months, the cancer was gone. “God is a lot stronger than cancer.” 

Holy Name of Mary’s Ruth Bailey shared a heartbreaking testimonial about her former addiction to food and pornography, and how she was freed through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

“Pornography not only debases the women who are in it; it is also a slap in the face to our Blessed Mother,” she said. “I hope to help bring dignity back to womanhood.”

“It was a wonderful and motivating weekend,” said Holy Name parishioner Mary Arthur. “To see such a large group of Catholics and people from other churches too, was so encouraging. It made me feel blessed.”

Opportunity to grow in faith

Fr. Salvador Añonuevo, pastor of Holy Name of Mary, said that the exuberance of charismatic worship may not be everyone’s style but that all forms of Christian prayer have the same goal of worshiping Jesus. 

“Our Christianity needs nourishment all the time,” he said. “This is a form of outreach for us as well, to reach out to our Christian neighbors.”

Deacon Eddie Craig, from Holy Name of Mary, agreed.

“Catholics don’t always think about the Holy Spirit, but it’s the core of our faith,” he said. “What really brings the sacraments to us is the action of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.”

Criste noted that she witnessed people of different backgrounds and opinions growing in their faith over the weekend. 

“There is so much that divides us these days, but this is the one thing that unites us,” she said. “We are all brothers and sisters in Christ and we should be praying together.”