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Posts tagged ‘retreat’

Visiting the Dominican Republic

Along with Sr. Peggy Doherty, Sr. Tese Currie gave a retreat at the Society's mission site in the Dominican Republic earlier this year.

In mid-April, Peggy Doherty, SHCJ (M. M. St. Thomas) and I were invited by Ann-Joyce Peters, SHCJ (M. M. Domina) to fly to the Dominican Republic to give a weekend retreat in Spanish similar to those we have been guiding twice a year for women from Providence Center. Peggy had been there before, but this was my first visit to which I looked forward eagerly, but with a bit of trepidation.

The experience was unforgettable: enlightening spiritually and challenging both psychologically and physically. I have returned with tremendous admiration for the work of our sisters, the Response-ability Volunteers, and their Dominican colleagues. They have provided an oasis in the batey where the Haitians, who had come to cut sugar cane, have been abandoned when their employers went bankrupt and left the country.

There was nothing there when Ann-Joyce arrived 15 years ago to begin a project under the auspices of the Jesuit FE y ALEGRIA program. Today there is a bright, well-staffed clinic under the direction of Sr. Kathleen King of the European Province. With special attention to mothers and babies, this clinic has helped improve the general health of the area. Beside the clinic is the Montesori School complex, the inspiration of Mary Alice Minogue, SHCJ (M. Grace Mary). Here the youngsters learn basic skills so that eventually that will be able to join the mainstream of their peers in the nearby public school. We had only one day to absorb all this activity, but I hope never to forget the smiling, grateful faces of all we met – in the midst of great squalor. There is much more that I did not see: the Associates who know and love Cornelia Connelly, the women’s workshops, prayer groups, etc.

Fifteen Dominicans (3 men and 12 women) made the weekend retreat, most of them members of the prayer group Ann-Joyce had initiated. We were able to spend two days at a Jesuit Retreat House right on the Caribbean. Peggy and I were pleased by the retreatants’ generous response to the theme, “Growing in Faith, Hope and Love.” We ended on April 18th with the Cornelian Prayer suggested by the Associates. Three final days at the beach gave Ann-Joyce a bit of rest (that she rarely takes) and for me, another view of this beautiful island. The mansions we passed on the way to the shore were such a contrast to the hovels of the batey.

I needed more than three days to sift through all my reactions to this very special visit. The oppressive heat, daily cold showers, frenetic traffic – all of which I found so daunting – are all taken in stride by our sisters and volunteers. More than WHAT they do, I was struck by the love and caring with which they minister to these very needy people. They do so with great joy, giving the Haitians a sense of their worth and enabling willing Dominicans to share in this ministry which is making a difference in people’s lives.

Not content with what they have already done, they have dreams of doing more – building a guest house where volunteer doctors and benefactors can stay, adding another classroom to the school, providing additional medicine and equipment for the clinic. Because FE y ALEGRIA has 72 other projects, it cannot be their chief source of funding. To continue this work and to allow it to grow depends on the generosity of friends. No donation is too small to help with their teaching, healing ministry.

To know myself loved by God as I am!

By Sr. Carmen Torres, SHCJ     

Twenty-eight years ago, I made a youth encounter retreat at Saint Raphaela Mary Retreat Center in Haverford, Pa. It was a life-changing experience! Prior to the retreat, I had started helping out at Visitation BVM parish’s CCD Program and youth group. Later that year, God’s grace moved me to respond to the call I had been so afraid of giving voice to and naming—that of a religious vocation. Three years later, I entered the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and became a Sister.     

During a recent youth retreat, Sr. Carmen Torres led young retreatants in an exercise where they created masks on one another.

Recently, I returned to Saint Raphaela Mary Retreat Center. This time, however, I came not as a young retreatant, but as part of a team that would guide 10 Hispanic teenagers through a weekend retreat with the theme, “Descubrete Joven en Cristo: Learn, Grow, Belong.” It was a time for the teens to learn and grow in their identity as Hispanic Catholics and deepen their sense of belonging in the Church.     

Amazing Realizations
When I made my first youth retreat 28 years ago, the leaders introduced the topic, “Why am I afraid to tell you who I am?” I still remember the filmstrip images: the clown, the body beautiful, and the bully—to name just a few. These images were representing masks that people wear when they fear that being themselves may not be acceptable to others, especially their peers. We used this topic again, but with new technology. We had a Power Point presentation and devised an activity where each of the teens created a mask as a way of visualizing both the person that, at times, they put on and the person they really are today. The teens were paired up and helped mold a mask on each other using “Rigid Wrap.” It was very messy, but lots of fun.     

When asked what it was like to have plaster on their face while the mask was being molded, they used words like scared, weird, and afraid it (the mask) would not come off. When asked what it was like to have the mask finally lifted from their faces, they responded with, “like I was free,” and “I was new, starting over again.” Isn’t that it? To know myself loved by God as I am! There is freedom in that kind of self-knowledge.     

Inspiring Support
As the weekend progressed, the teens heard from Fr. Gus Paleo on Hispanic Identity. Fr. Gus had them laughing, but also really thinking about their role as Catholic Hispanics in the Church—the potential influence they have on their peers. It reminded me of the words of the Foundress of my community, “Be yourself, but make that self all that our Lord wants you to be.”     

The teens also listened to witness talks by team members. Most impactful was the witness of a team member who is a teenager himself and a leader in his parish youth group. He spoke of his love for the Church and how the community of his parish surrounded him and was a support to him during the long-suffering and eventual death of his mother.     

Others (Msgr. Joe Shields, Sr. Marion Vincent, Fr. Tom Higgins, and Sr. Ruth Bolarte) came to the retreat to offer a word of encouragement and most especially their presence.     

The teenagers settled fairly quickly into the rhythm of the weekend. Those of us who led the retreat weekend were stunned the first night when we gave them free time at the end of the evening to play board games and instead they gathered as a group and started a discussion about what they believe and what it is like to share their love for God.     

The more things change, the more they stay the same
It was a weekend of abundant laughter, moments of tears, and an outpouring of God’s grace. Not much has changed since my own retreat 28 years ago. Young people still desire to grow in relationship with God. They still want to participate in the Church they name as their safe place. They still want their parents to tell them more frequently of their love for them. They still want to get to know and hear the life stories of those adult Church leaders that serve as inspiring role models. What a privilege it was to be witness to the glimpses of God at work in the lives of these youth.


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