Who was he ?

Emiliano has left us. Never again will we hear him speak of " the Lord’s little sheep ". I remember him from the first time we met in Montreal. There were 70 000 people gathered in the Olympic Stadium for the Charismatic Assembly in 1979. Amongst those present was Don Helder Camara, the courageous little Brasilian bishop who, shortly afterwards was to publish together with Cardinal Suenens, "Renouveau et Engagement " ( Renewal and Commitment). The next day a Montreal daily newspaper carried a full page headline " Jesus, King of the stadium ". On leaving the stadium I managed to join the man who had prayed for the sick ; the same Father Tardif whom we had spoken about in our publication " Il est Vivant " (He is Alive ") two years earlier. We went to a café to drink a " Seven Up " and I put my questions to him.
Emiliano’s real name was " Emilien ". He spoke French with his native Quebec accent and with that flavour of the " Belle Province " which later became so familiar to Charismatics throughout the world. He had all those qualities of the French-speaking populations of the New World – warmth, common sense, a quiet quality of daring in the realm of faith and a certain freedom in the face of criticism and suspicion on the part of the " specialists " in religious matters. He was to make twenty round- the- world evangelising trips - on one occasion without a suitcase ! He had all the qualities of the French-speaking in the New World as well as his God-given charisms.

He had not always been the person we knew ; the Charismatic evangelist who drew crowds in the Lebanon, in Zaire, and in Mexico. He had not always been the celebrant at Masses and a leader of prayers for healing ; the preacher of retreats for priests. Nor had he always been the priest who, in Santo Domingo, in the parishes for which he was responsible, created numerous rural prayer groups, as well as groups for catechesis and instruction. In the 70’s, when he was Provincial of his Congregation, he used to say : "Latin America is not so much in need of prayers as of commitment. "

In 1973, in Santo Domingo, he fell ill with acute tuberculosis and was repatriated to Canada as an emergency health case. " During the period between the initial medical examinations and the decisions concerning the treatment required, friends came to see me. They asked me if I believed that Jesus could heal the sick. I went along with this for the time Jesus was in Palestine, and also as regards the principle, but I was deeply disturbed when they announced that they were going to pray for healing for me at once with the help of Holy Spirit. I asked them to close the door, but fortunately the Holy Spirit had time to come in. I was healed after three or four days and the doctors could not make out how or why. "

After asking his superiors for permission to devote a part of the time required for his treatment to studying the Charismatic Renewal, " Padre Emiliano " as the Latin Americans called him, returned to Santo Domingo. He was sent to a small town in the interior of the country called Pimentel where he started a prayer group. He was asked to pray for the sick and in view of what had happened to him, he could not refuse. The problem was that there were healings… In five weeks, the prayer group grew in number from 200 to 40 000 people. This was the beginning of an adventure that would lead Emiliano to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

In 1979, after the Montreal Assembly, Pierre Goursat invited Father Tardif to the International Charismatic Pilgrimage in Lourdes. After this first visit to France Emiliano was to be invited on numerous occasions, in particular to Paray-le-Monial where up to 25 000 people attended. Father Tardif liked to work with the Emmanuel Community, and in general, with Communities, in order to keep the prayer for healing within the bounds of evangelisation, peace and encounter with the love of God. In 1980, he was invited to the Cameroons with a small Emmanuel Community team including Danielle Proux. He was invited by the Bishop of Sangmelima for the 90th anniversary of the evangelisation of the diocese. As the result of an error concerning the necessity for Canadians to have a visa, Emiliano was held at the airport the whole night. In the end the officials graciously made it possible for him to enter the country. After this event, Father Tardif liked to point out that among the very first persons to be healed in Sangmelima and in Yaoundé there had been, in particular, the officials and the Prefect’s wife… We don’t know who it was who expressed his gratitude to the Lord by offering an elephant tusk, but it is a fact that the wonders of God were greeted with a huge outbreak of popular rejoicing. We personally witnessed this. The Archbishop of Douala confided to us : " While reading the Gospel, I said to myself, ‘but why should Jesus not do here in Cameroon what he did long ago in Palestine ?’ and now I see it happening. " We had come a long way from the hypercritical neo-Jansenism predominant in the theological seminaries at the time and which forbad God to manifest his loving kindness.

In Father Tardif’s view, the healings were a gift of God’s love for the people and for evangelisation. He used to say : " You, the sick, you are right to ask the Lord for healing. You must not be afraid of the love of Jesus, and indeed the abundance of his love. " And he would add : " It’s true that not all the sick are healed. Why did Jesus not heal all the people he met on his way ? This is a mystery of his love. If Jesus does not heal, it is because he has another plan for us, a still more wonderful plan ; namely, to unite our physical suffering with His redemptive suffering. And in this case, others will benefit from the fruits of our illness lived in peace and joy. There was a woman like this in my old parish of Nagua. She had seven children and she was suffering from cancer. " We had prayed a lot for her to be healed. But the Lord did not heal her ; He came to fetch her. At the very moment of her death, a young prostitute aged 21 was healed of a stomach cancer. " This young woman had, in her shame, not dared to mingle with the crowd that was praying on a large open space near the church. She had hidden behind a wooden fence to follow the prayers of the group ; it was there, behind the fence, that she was healed.

" As for the body, the Lord sometimes heals it for this life on earth, but the soul, " said Father Emiliano Tardif, " He heals it for everlasting life. " It was in Cordoba in Argentina, where he was conducting a retreat for priests, that Father Tardif died on 8th June 1999. On learning of his departure to the Father in Heaven, I remembered his retort during a press conference being held on the Mount Tabor barge (péniche Mont Thabor) in Paris in 1979. Sceptical and critical journalists were asking him ; " But how is it that not everyone is healed ? " And Emiliano replied ; " I too wonder about this, and it will be the first question I’ll ask when I arrive up there ! "

Hervé Catta


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