Encouragement, comfort, guidance and peace are some of the blessings Catholics receive at the Cathedral Charismatic Prayer Group.
But the blessings are only part of the picture.
"The thrust of charismatic renewal is evangelization and to serve and build up the church," said Tony Conrad, co-leader of the prayer group along with his wife, Sue.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec) Joan Finui of Altoona (left) and Carole Lang of Huntingdon participate in the Life in the Spirit seminar, hosted by the Cathedral Charismatic Prayer Group at the Cathedral.
Vince Watkins, formerly of East Freedom, is one of the group's members whose faith was renewed through the prayer meetings and now he wants to serve others. A former aircraft mechanic, Watkins is a student at St. Vincent's Seminary in Latrobe where he is studying for the priesthood.
Before joining the prayer group, which is part of the Catholic charismatic renewal movement, Watkins said he was not going to Mass on a regular basis.
"It gave me a deeper understanding of the faith and made me aware of the Holy Spirit working in my life," he said. "It played a big role in my decision to go to seminary."
The group pointed out the pastoral qualities he possessed and helped him to discern his calling. He spoke about how the group supported him and prayed for him during a witness talk he gave at the annual Life in the Spirit seminar recently held at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.
More than 250 people attended the seminar, where 10 Catholics indicated they are interested in pursuing religious vocations.
Those 10 are in addition to Watkins and seven others who previously committed to pursing religious vocations, according to Tony Conrad,
He said another charismatic prayer group meets on the campus of St. Francis University in Loretto where five men are in the stages of formation to become Franciscan brothers and a woman is considering being a nuan.
Father Allen P. Zeth, director of vocations for the diocese, said he believes the prayer group helps people discern their gifts by pointing them out and encouraging people to share them.
Zeth said he has attended two services and believes the group is a sign of God's work among his people.
Another one of the people considering a vocation is Ray Becker of Ebensburg. Becker attends the Sharers of the Word charismatic prayer group at St. Francis University as well as the Cathedral's group. He is pursuing studies to become a permanent deacon
Becker said the groups have "increased my sensitivity to my faith and how important it is to praise God and thank God."
He said he has become more sensitive to God's plan for his life and takes one day at a time.
Overall, he has found a great group of friends.
"They pray for each other. They are there to help each other. Small faith communities really build you up," Becker said.
It is for the building of their faith and to praise God that about 50 to 60 people from various parishes gather at 7 p.m. Mondays at the Cathedral.
Worshippers lift their hands in praise to God while singing choruses led by a band with guitar accompaniment.
"It is very charismatic," Tony Conrad said. "We give the Lord praise."
The meeting includes a spiritual teaching from clergy or a lay person and an opportunity for people to share how God has intervened in their lives.
Sometimes a participant will receive a message from God to share with others. An individual prayer time focuses on healing and other needs, and a priest also is available for confessions.
John Campbell of Hollidaysburg called the group "a conduit for God to reach me."
He said the group was a great source of support when he was going through a divorce and his younger brother died in 2009.
Campbell, who plays guitar in the praise band, said the group provides an opportunity for him to grow in his faith and have a deeper relationship with God.
"It's like getting plugged into the electrical outlet. You need recharged to face the world," he said. "It's a place to share your faith, your struggles and your joys with others."
Co-leader Sue Conrad said she attends Mass regularly, but the prayer group strengthens her Christian walk.
"I am more aware of my actions. The whole prayer group is such a support for me," she said. "It has definitely brought me closer to God and increased my prayer life."
She said it has helped her to step out in faith.
"God is part of everything you do," Sue Conrad said.
Tony Conrad believes the prayer group is something God has called him to do. He has watched the group grow almost sixfold from the 10 people who started meeting about five years ago.
"It's a blessing to watch people grow in their faith," he said.