St Michael's Nelson Bay recently held a parish retreat. The inspiration was drawn from a book about St Francis of Assisi. Our retreat was modelled upon St Francis of Assisi’s “Lent”. Each year between the Feast of the Assumption (15 August) and the Feast of Michael the Archangel (29 September), St Francis of Assisi prayed and fasted on Mt La Verna. St Francis of Assisi had a special devotion to St Michael, who is the patron saint of the Nelson Bay Parish.
The decision to hold the retreat was agreed upon at the Parish Assembly held earlier this year. The overall purpose was to express and deepen our Catholic faith and to build communio within the parish. Blessed Pope John Paul teaches us that communio means “....to make room for our brothers and sisters, bearing each other’s burdens (Gal 6:2); to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship....”
The forty days were a special time set aside to pray, to experience a variety of opportunities to deepen our faith and to share the good news of our life in Christ. There was a daily commitment to pray for God’s blessings upon Pope Francis’ ministry of care, leadership and guidance of all the Church. The parish community wrote to Pope Francis and advised him of this intention and forwarded a copy of the prayer card that contained a prayer for him along with a family prayer. The distribution of over 700 of these cards ensured that a great number of parishioners were able to participate in the retreat’s call to pray.
The program involved a variety of activities that afforded parishioners various opportunities to participate during the forty days of the Retreat.
The ‘preface’ to the retreat was a day of prayer for the whole parish with Fr Richard Shortall SJ who visited St Michael’s and guided parishioners to an understanding of both the Benedictine and Jesuit methods of prayer. Fr Richard then explained the parish Directed Retreat, which he calls the “Come Walk With Me - Retreat in Every Day Life”. Fr Richard - from Victoria - resided in the Parish and provided regular personal guidance to 24 participants during the 3.5 weeks of the Directed Retreat. The Directed Retreat concluded with the Eucharist and a participant dinner.
A “Dad’s Night Out” was facilitated by Steve Britt, a Psychologist/School Counsellor, who encouraged men of the parish and those with children attending the parish school to explore and share their father memories and stories and to enjoy a meal together.
Sr Virgina Bourke RSJ led parishioners through two sessions on the topic “A Creed to Live By”, which was advertised as “I BELIEVE - just what do I believe?” This was a most entertaining session that looked at some of the prevailing beliefs in the early church that the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed tried to counter, why that Creed is what we do truly believe and the basis for how we are called to live our lives in Christ.
Three separate groups, in total numbering around 40 people, met each week for five weeks to discuss and learn from each other after reading Fr Richard Leonard SJ's amusing and insightful book, Why Bother Praying? The hour’s informal sharing included a reflection on a Scripture text and concluded with prayer.
The social justice mission of the Church community was encouraged by two sessions on refugees. One explained the history of one of the world’s trouble spots and the reason why people from Afghanistan risk their lives to come to Australia as asylum seekers. The United Nations Convention on Refugees was explained.
The importance of worldwide and local wetlands was expertly explained within the context of the spirituality of the environment by a parishioner, Ian Fox.
Fr Anthoni Selvaraj FM resided in the Parish for a week and in a variety of sessions explored the Spirituality of St Francis of Assisi, including an explanation of the Franciscan cross, the Tau.
Parishioners were encouraged in personal prayer and reflection with the Stations of the Cross each week, home Masses, and a twilight shared reflection and prayer evening, focusing upon the Feast of the Birthday of Mary. Prayers that evening responded to Pope Francis’ request that there be a special prayer and fasting worldwide to avert the threat of the spread of the war in Syria.
People in retirement villages and nursing homes were included with Masses and anointing of the sick both in the church and at the various retirement villages within the parish.
A highlight of the retreat was the pilgrimage by some 45 parishioners to the oldest extant church in the diocese, St Michael’s Wollombi. The pilgrims displayed a strong sense of sharing and connection through journeying together, sharing faith stories with the Wollombi community and the celebration of Eucharist. The pilgrimage provided encouragement to the faith of the local people, and the visit increased our awareness of the deep faith of the early-mid 19th century Wollombi region Catholic community. The Wollombi Ngurra Bu Aboriginal tour group provided a rich insight into the millennia-old deep spirituality of the local Aboriginal peoples. This was seen through study of the remarkable rock carvings in the surrounding area centred upon Mount Yengo.
The Parish Retreat concluded on Sunday 29 September, the feast day of St Michael the Archangel, with a picnic in the school grounds attended by families and some 40 children who enjoyed various novelty events and face painting.
The Parish Council will invite parishioners to complete a simple review of their 2013 retreat experience. Ideas and suggestions will also be sought with a view to making preparations for the proposed 2014 Parish Retreat!