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Retreat for People Facing Serious Illness returns to diocese in September

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More than 1,000 seriously ill people have sought rest and comfort at the Retreat for People Facing Serious Illness since it began in 1978 at the Dominican Retreat house in McLean. They came in wheelchairs, with walkers, one came on a stretcher.

The retreats ended in 2015 when the retreat facility closed, but with the help of diocesan Catholic Charities, a Retreat for People Facing Serious Illness will be held at the San Damiano Spiritual Life Center in White Post Sept. 22-24.

Art Bennett, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, said when Father Robert C. Cilinski, pastor of Church of the Nativity in Burke and program director of the retreat, said they needed another organization to work with, it seemed like a natural fit for Catholic Charities, which works to help marginalized populations.

This year’s theme touches on to what so many need — rest. “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened. And I will give you rest.” (Mt 11:28).

The retreat team consists of priests, doctors, nurses and helpers.

Mary Flaherty, retreat coordinator, said some people worried the retreat would focus on death and dying. She said that is not the case.

“We are going to talk about the love of God and the strength the Lord gives,” she said.

Retreatants come as strangers and many feel isolated in their experience. By the second day, people who can barely walk are pushing wheelchairs for others, said Esther Silva, a past retreat coordinator and member of this year’s team.

“It is a beautiful thing to watch,” she said. “They take care of each other.”

Facing a serious illness, Silva was encouraged by fellow members of the Cursillo Movement in Arlington to attend the retreat. She was interested but wanted to be left alone at the retreat. She was told, “If you want to be alone, you can be left alone. We will let you be.”

The experience was powerful enough to lead her to encourage her husband, Tom, to volunteer in some way the following year. They have been volunteering since.

The relaxed retreat schedule accommodates the needs of the retreatants who can meet priests or team members during free time, and with counselors from Catholic Charities.

Nurses will ensure they can meet the needs of the retreatants when they register.

The retreat includes talks, daily Mass, anointing of the sick, meals, sharing, Holy Hour and Benediction.

The original retreat in 1978 was the first of its kind in the United States, according to Father Cilinski. It was founded by Missionhurst Father Paul Wynants, Dorothy Garrett, Jo Magno and Steve Kulenguski and was supported by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine de’ Ricci who ran Dominican Retreat. The Cursillo Movement continues to support the retreat through prayers, financial assistance and letters of support to the retreatants.

Everyone leaves the retreat feeling better at different levels, according to Father Cilinski. “Sometimes the healing we need is physical, but God wants to give us inner healing,” he said. “Serious illness can be isolating, but the retreat has a joyful aspect of people being in community. It is a sharing of God’s love.”

If you go

To register, email contact information to Retreat@ccda.net or call 703-841-3830

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017