The annual Men's Retreat sponsored by the Holy Name Society had a change in venue this year. Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora hosted 35 guests who learned about "The Blessed Mother and Her Apparitions" through talks and sharing.
The men who joined the retreat, held Aug. 26-28, heard from Father Paul Sabo, spiritual moderator for the Buffalo Diocesan Union of Holy Name Societies, and Father Peter Rowe, spiritual animator for the St. Catharines chapter, speak of their personal experiences visiting shrines where Mary has been said to have appeared.
"I wanted to share a little about apparitions in general. Why they are not necessarily part of our public requirement in terms of believing; we don't have to believe that they existed. They are private revelations. They really do help with the rejuvenation of our faith, I feel," said Father Rowe, who led the first half of the retreat.
He has been on several pilgrimages over the years and addressed his visits to Lourdes, France and Fatima, Portugal, mentioning the healings, both physical and spiritual, that pilgrims claim to have experienced at those sites.
"The healing happens to virtually everybody who visits there," he said. "There is the atmosphere, the reconciliation, the spiritual uplift that everybody gets. That's what I wanted to focus on."
Throughout his talks, Father Rowe focused on the message of mercy, light and peace that comes through when communing with saints.
"I wanted to do this because everybody asks questions in this day and age about the meaning of suffering, meaning of violence in our world. What's it all about? They ask questions about the global situation. Is there meaning in the global events going on? Does Mary have something to say about that?" he said.
Along with the talks, the retreats offer fellowship and camaraderie for the participants, who mostly come from Holy Name Societies. In the past few years, the members from the St. Catharines Diocese have been invited to come and be part of the retreat, which began over 20 years ago.
"I've been going to the men's retreat now since about 1995 actually," said Karl Spencer from Infant of Prague Parish in Cheektowaga. "I do it every year as a way of spiritual renewal, kind of reflect on my life, an annual life review. I've kept coming back because it helps me to keep my spiritual focus."
Work, family responsibilities and his involvement in his community can distract him from his spirituality, so he comes to the retreat to reconnect with his faith and make it a bit stronger.
"Sometimes it's just all my activities seem to pull me away from my spiritual foundation. I need this to reevaluate it and renew it," he said.
Spencer likes the retreat so much that this year he brought his father with him as a way of completing the circle of faith formation.
"It's a way for him and I to reconnect. He raised me and helped teach me my faith. This is sort of like a little tribute to him, to bring him here and give him a chance to renew his faith," Spencer said.
For others, it's a time to relax and get away from the noise of everyday life and make prayer a main concern.
"What do they say? 'Stop the world and let me get off.' That's what it is for me. Take a few days away from everything. You don't hear a radio, you don't hear any bad news. While you're here, it's well worth it," said Cliff Saxer from Sacred Heart Parish, Bowmansville.
Raymond W. Zientara, director of the Diocesan Union of Holy Name Societies, heard participants mention that they were leaving the retreat with a better understanding of the Blessed Virgin and the Children of Fatima.
"The Fatima apparitions instructed us about the terrible gravity of the world situation and about the true causes of our evils, as well as teach us the means by which we must avoid the earthly and eternal punishments that await each of us."
This is the fifth retreat Zientara has attended, and already is planning next year's.
"Personally, I think that the men that attended left with somewhat more spirituality and a better understanding of the many events that occurred many, many, years ago and how they still affect our daily lives sometimes we just take everything for granted and never thing about those things," he said.