For three days about 70 people with disabilities immersed themselves in the annual Faith and Sharing Retreat at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike. It was the 50th year for the international program retreat and the 46th retreat for the chapter in the Diocese of Cleveland.
Some of the participants have cognitive disabilities, some have physical limitations and some have multiple disabilities, but all joined in the prayer, praise and sharing sessions July 19-22. Among those on the retreat were those from the Faith and Light ministry for disabled in the diocese and members of the local L’Arche community, who celebrate the uniqueness of each person – those with and without disabilities.
Claire Donovan from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, traveled to Cleveland to participate in the retreat. She is the North American English-speaking coordinator for Faith and Sharing.
Sister Patricia Dowling, CSJ came from Toronto, Canada, to present the retreat and serve as the animator of the Word. The retreat theme was “God of the Hungry.”
Maggie Walsh helped coordinate the event with Father Jim O’Donnell. They worked together for four decades at Father O’Donnell’s inner city ministry in Cleveland until his retirement earlier this year. He got involved with the Faith and Sharing retreat during its second year and said it changed his life. He began the retreat in Cleveland in 1972.
Walsh said retreat participants spent time in small groups to share their thoughts, feelings and what touched their hearts. “That was the heart of the retreat,” she said.
One of the high points of the event was the closing Mass on July 22, which was celebrated by Bishop Nelson Perez. He also celebrated Mass last September – just days after his installation as the 11th bishop of Cleveland — for the second annual Faith and Light Pilgrimage of Compassion, another event for those with disabilities.
“We’re celebrating 50 years for this retreat. I was 7 when it started,” the bishop told the group. He also acknowledged Father O’Donnell, who is 88 and just observed the 62nd anniversary of his ordination. “That’s incredible. We celebrate and thank God for all who were part of this,” he said.
“In the Gospel, Jesus went to find a place of rest, a place to be alone,” Bishop Perez said, but people followed him. “You were able to stop your regular routine of life for three days to participate in this retreat,” he added, asking the group to share what they learned or heard.
Retreatants told the bishop they heard “to be present,” “I heard the Lord,” “tales of courage,” “compassion,” “be still,” “Jesus is with us and God, too,” “helping people” and “we all hunger.” One woman told the bishop that God touched her in her head.
“We are all like sheep without a shepherd. The Holy Father talks about people on the outskirts, on the margins of life – those who need a shepherd,” he said. In the first reading, Bishop Perez said that God promised the people he would be their shepherd, walking in their midst. He explained that God comes to us in different ways, but he shepherds all of us.
“Father Jim (O’Donnell) has walked with you all these years. Your families and friends and the others who walk with you are all manifestations of the shepherd of Christ. Faith and Sharing is a manifestation of the shepherd in your lives,” he added. However, he said we can only be in one place at a time, so the Church delegates the “shepherding” to the bishop.
“But the mystical presence of Christ is everywhere and this annual retreat is a chance for you to see that manifestation,” he said. “We all look for peace and St. Paul tells us that peace is where Christ is – it’s a sense of peace, love, tranquility and sharing that comes in our soul.”
During the Universal Prayer, the group remembered “the sheep of our Church,” as well as political leaders, L’Arche, Faith and Light, Faith and Sharing, Sister Patricia and others who helped with the retreat.
After Mass, Walsh thanked Donovan for traveling to Cleveland for the event and presented her with a Cleveland Indians baseball cap. She also thanked Sister Patricia, who spent 46 years ministering in Central America – 13 years in Guatemala and 33 years in Honduras, for her work at the retreat and presented her with two books, and an Indians hat.
“People like Sister are heroes in the Church,” the bishop said.
Retreat participants sang a song to Donovan, Sister Patricia, Father O’Donnell and the bishop before he gave the final blessing.
After Mass, the bishop greeted the retreatants, their families, friends, volunteers and others, taking photos with some.
Walsh said about 50 retreat participants stayed on campus in one of the residence halls while others commuted.