In 2005, I was participating in a retreat on the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits) in Milford, Ohio. The retreat leader was Father Bill Creed. He told us that he was beginning to offer retreats to the homeless in Chicago. I tucked that interesting piece of information into the back of my mind.
Fast-forward to McAnthony Window and the growing number of things we as a parish are doing for our patrons. I floated the idea of a homeless retreat to Father Apo and he said, "Go ahead, I like that thinking outside the box." Father's "yes" to this retreat was an act of faith and everything that followed was an act of faith that culminated in our 1st ever homeless retreat last Saturday.
How many would come? How many would stay? How many would get anything out of it, other than 3 great meals? How do we get them here? How many people would volunteer to help? How do you put together a retreat for people when you don't even know what they believe?
Through faith and a real team effort (parishioners and Eagles Wings ministry members), we were able to pull off a successful retreat last Saturday. We talked up the retreat at McAnthony Window, we advertised at the shelters, and we visited the shelters to invite people in person. We ended up with between 25 and 30 participants throughout the day which began at 7 a.m. and last until 6 p.m. Some came and went, but the majority stayed for the entire day.
You could really see and sense those that were really wanting to get the most of out of this retreat. Ray, one of the retreatants shared with a volunteer that it was all he could do to get through the day without a drink...he ended up being one of the last to leave. He said, "I just kept praying for God to give me the strength to stay for the whole day." Our youngest person was 19 year old Tobyas. He said, "I want to get something out of this day to help me with my life."
One critical activity of the retreat was the reading of a long prayer of healing that takes those listening from their conception through life with a focus on healing memories. It was a prayer that I'm told the late Monsignor Mottett used in his healing services. After that treatants were paired up one-on-one with volunteers. I was worried that we wouldn't have enough volunteers to sit with each person. God provided 19 volunteers at that moment in the day to sit with exactly 19 retreatants.
We needed someone to close out the retreat with motivation and encouragement to make changes. We struggled to get someone. At the last minute (Friday night) I reached out to a nationally known motivational speaker
Dave "The Shef" Sheffield
. He just happened to be free and in town and came and gave a wonderful parting message of motivation. Dave is paid thousands of dollars for his talks and he like the more than 30 volunteers who cooked, listened, gave presentations, drove people to the retreat etc...all donated themselves to the cause.
I discovered in preparing that Father Bill Creed had founded the Ignatian Spirituality Project, a network that offers retreats to homeless in 30 locations around the country. Those who run the program, worked with us on what to cover in the retreat. The exercises and activities all focused on the goal of "
seeking to inspire greater knowledge of one’s self and one’s relationship with God as an agent of change within one’s life."
Overall, it was a very "heavy" day listening to and feeling the pain of so many. Pain that a listening ear, a word of encouragement, or a day of retreat couldn't completely heal in and of itself. In the end, we simply shared their pain and challenges and hopefully lightened their load just a little bit. Would we do it again? Yes.