Tzaneen TOB for Teens Weekend Retreat

Marie-Anne te Brake

IMG_5048Twelve 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.

Small group sharing

Small group sharing

“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

The Team with Bishop Emeritus Hugh Slattery

The Team with Bishop Emeritus Hugh Slattery

Stations of the Cross by candlelight

Stations of the Cross by candlelight

In session

In session



Marie-Anne te Brake

About Marie-Anne te Brake

Happily married to Christo since 1980, mother of 4, and has half a dozen grandchildren! Enthusiastic Catholic, Lay Counselor, Sexuality Educator, Theology of the Body enthusiast and Chairperson of Foundation for the Person and the Family

Showing 2 comments
  • Megan

    Wow is all I can say about the weekend we spent at the Ave Maria Retreat centre with the young adults and youth of the Tzaneen Diocese. From the moment we met them on Friday evening the hunger that they were experiencing was palpable. Watching the change that came over them over the course of Friday and Saturday was amazing to watch especially the change in the attitudes of the young men and their attitudes to women and the plans for their lives. In the young women that I spoke to the hope for change in their communities was wonderful to see, especially in the realms of “dating” and pre marital sex. For many of them it is a foregone conclusion that you will need to sleep with your boyfriend and potentially have a child with him before marriage is even discussed is a reality.

    The message of TOB and it as an instrument of change has been heard in Tzaneen, now we pray that the change begins and spreads throughout the diocese, and then to the rest of the country.

    • Andrina Moodley
      Andrina Moodley

      My experience in Tzaneen has left me humbled and in awe. I have run and attended many youth retreats but there was something distinctly unique and special about this one. Upon reflection, it had all to do with the openness of the participants and their humility too. It was clear that they were “hungry” for truth. They are well catechised and yet things still had to move from a head level to a heart level. What made this weekend so fantastic was the fact that Bishop Emeritus Hugh Slattery and a few priests of the diocese were present for the weekend. One could see that they are passionate about the youth and are very involved in their respective parishes. This made all the difference to the participants.

      Many of the participants thanked our team for coming out to Tzaneen and blessing them, but little do they know that we were the ones that were blessed by them. A moment that stands out for me was the Stations of the Cross, as we journeyed up a mountain by candle-light. It got progressively more intense as we got higher and one could only imagine how much more difficult it was for Christ with the heavy Cross he carried for the world. It was a humbling and a spirit-filled evening.

      I have taken to the people of Tzaneen especially after knowing that the First South African Saint-to-be comes from a village nearby to where we were. The youth of the diocese of Tzaneen have adopted “Servant of God, Benedict Daswa” as their patron and I do believe that he is already answering many of their prayers and intentions. What came to mind constantly while in Tzaneen was the fact that he too came from humble beginnings like Christ. Many people said nothing good would come out of Nazareth – but Christ the King emerged from Nazareth. I think it is quite a God-incidence that the first Saint from South Africa also comes from a poor and humble background. He was a family man, a pillar to the community and a God-loving servant of God. His life is an inspiration to us all and the people of Tzaneen especially.
      I urge all young people to implore the intercession of “Servant of God – Benedict Daswa”. Who knows, he could one day be known as a Patron for youth or teachers in South Africa.

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