Twelve team members left in 3 cars on Friday for the 4 hour trip to Tzaneen where we were invited to present a Theology of the Body weekend retreat for the youth of that Diocese. The Ave Maria Pastoral Centre was an ideal setting, out in the sticks, as they say, very peaceful and quiet.
There to greet us was Bishop Emeritus Hugh Slattery, Fr Tom Devoy (sps) and Fr Michael Bennett who all did their best to attend most of the talks. The hospitality of Sr Claudette Hiosan fdnsc and Sijin, the Administrator of the centre was greatly appreciated and they ensured all our needs were met.
While the numbers of attendees could have been many more than were present, we believe the Holy Spirit works with whoever is there. My take has always been never to be concerned about the quantity but it’s the quality – it takes only 1 participant to make a difference in the community.
Our speakers were well prepared with their talks and made every effort to illustrate the content through skits, song and other media. The most significant and powerful component of their talk as always, is each one’s own personal testimony – the same struggles they also face(d) and how they (still) try to overcome them but now all the more aware that with God all things are possible and confident in the knowledge that He has a plan for their lives. This was well received by the participants who especially enjoyed the singing and music headed by Dean Spiller.
Each team member co-ordinated smaller groups and it was here that bonds and friendships were made. These connections will hopefully bear fruit for the future of TOB in this area.
“Running a youth retreat can really be hard work. But watching the change that a TOB retreat brings to the youth over the course of a weekend is amazing and makes all the hard work seem like nothing. Young people are really challenged and confused by modern culture. It is really great to be able to bring them the truth that speaks to their hearts” Thanyani, TOB Leader
The highlights of a weekend like this is always the Retreat components that are included such as the silence on the Saturday afternoon during confession time right through till supper (no cell phones). Participants are encouraged to spend the time communing with the Lord. 5 priests, including the Bishop Emeritus availed themselves for this Sacrament, while the Leaders and I availed ourselves for one on ones – a very important time for the participants who just want to be heard. It is here that we emulate St John Paul II whose greatest gift was to listen to the youth. Many of them have no one to talk to.
Stations of the Cross (during this Lent time) was outdoors, in the dark with only candles as our guide. The centre has their own “Via Dolorosa” on a stony pathway leading up to a hill – the Resurrection, with a tall cross overlooking the valley behind. With Dean leading in quiet singing between each station, every person experienced something beautiful, deep and spiritual and as one participant put it “it helped me to connect with Christ”.
May God bless the participants and may the Holy Spirit guide them as we continue to pray for the conversion of hearts so that they become the vessels of Truth in their communities. Mary our Mother, watch over them. St John Paul II, pray for us all.
If you would like to know more about these weekends please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
About Marie-Anne te Brake
Happily married to Christo for 36yrs, mother of 4, grandmother of 3. Enthusiastic Catholic, Lay Counselor, Sexuality Educator, Theology of the Body enthusiast and Chairperson of Foundation for the Person and the Family