Diocese Of Wheeling-Charleston
Jun 6 2014 9:00PM to Jun 8 2014 5:00PM
Priest Field Pastoral Center
4030 Middleway Pike
Kearneysville WV, 25430
Because we took a short side trip, we recently just got home from our June 6-8 Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston Emmaus Ministry Retreat for Grieving Parents at Priest Field Pastoral Center in Kearneysville, WV. It was wonderful!
Members of the Retreat Team included Fr. Dennis Schuelkens, pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Wheeling; Rebecca Royse, Marriage and Family Life Coordinator for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston; Fr. Eric Hall of St. Joseph Church in Martinsburg; Brother David Schlatter, O.F.M. of Holy Name Province in Silver Spring, MD; Peggy Hassett, Spiritual Director for the Emmaus Ministry; Karen Kornegay, Emmaus Parent Companion, and Charley and Diane Monaghan. More than 500 people across the Diocese and Emmaus Parent Companions prayed our Novena for parents making the retreat, while two students from Shepherd University, a local college, kept vigil with the candles in All Souls Chapel throughout the entire night on Saturday and the early hours on Sunday.
Fifteen parents participated in the retreat. Children honored ranged in age at death from 17 years to 46 years old. Time since death ranged from 6 weeks to 20 years.
As the ministry evolves, it is always interesting to see how each site enhances the retreat with its own perspectives. This weekend was particularly beautiful, from the spectacular weather and amazing facility (both indoors and out), to the poignant reflections and new additions to the prayer services.
Our time together began with an optional Friday night social attended by virtually every retreatant and retreat team member, so people were able to get to know each other fairly quickly. Saturday morning the Opening Prayer Service began outside at the top of a small hill next to the chapel.
Br. David had painstakingly transported his absolutely beautiful Maryland-based “Bells of Consolation” to West Virginia for use in our prayer services. These four bells, ranging in size from 550 lbs. to 3500 lbs., were used only once before at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, Connecticut as part of the first anniversary memorial for the children, teachers, and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School who were killed in December 2012.
During the Opening Prayer Service, parents stated the names of their children, tolled the central 3500 pound bell, then lit Emmaus Memorial Candles for their children from the Paschal Candle. When all candles were lit, the group, led by Fr. Dennis, processed into the Chapel where the Opening Prayer Service continued. In explaining the use of candles and light in rituals, Fr. Dennis stated that the ongoing light of the red sanctuary candle represents the everlasting presence of the Eucharist in the tabernacle. The light of the Emmaus Memorial Candles arranged directly in front of the altar in the sanctuary, he said, represents the light of our children, who are joined in loving union forever with the Lord.
Br. David then gave a very moving reflection, during which he focused on the Emmaus Walk of Jesus and His disciples. Describing the walk of grief as long, winding, hard, and full of ups, downs, twists, and turns, he said there are also lots of huge tolls, as we all know. But, through it all, as in the original Emmaus walk, Jesus is with us, if we are open to His presence.
Jesus offers each of us, said Br. David, his great gift of Peace. When He says, “Peace Be With You,” Jesus isn’t referring to a quiet calm or a general sense of serenity. He is offering each of us a deeply profound sense of absolute Peace in which we truly know and believe in our hearts that God is love and that our children are with the Lord. What a gift! Br. David concluded his reflection with a wonderful reading and distribution of the book, “Just In Case You Ever Wonder,” by Max Lucado. The book concludes with the wish of each of us for our children…
“In heaven… It’s going to be wonderful. I will be there too. I promise. We will be there together, forever. Remember that… Just in case you ever wonder.”
After Br. David’s reflection, His Excellency, Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, who was at the Pastoral Center in preparation for confirmation the next day at a local parish, joined us for a short reflection, during which he exhorted us to “find joy in the living,” and to not lose track of the work we need to do among those who are still with us in this world. After his reflection, he gave a poignant blessing for grieving parents.
Earlier this month, Bishop Bransfield sent the Emmaus Ministry a strong letter of endorsement and appreciation for coming to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. We thanked him for this letter and promised to come back whenever we are invited.
After lunch, Charley Monaghan and Karen Kornegay served as Parent Witnesses, giving their perspectives on where they currently are in their spiritual journeys as grieving parents. Both detailed their daily struggle to focus on the spirituality of their grieving process. Mothers and fathers then met in small groups. Peggy Hassett offered parents their choice of “Hand Made Hugs,” which are beautiful shawls prayerfully knitted by members of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, several of whom are also grieving parents.
Later, as usual, we invoked the Holy Spirit and invited parents to a one-on-one Emmaus Walk. Because it was such a spectacular day, most parents did indeed walk the beautiful grounds of the pastoral center. Afterwards, parents took advantage of the Reconciliation and Spiritual Direction options or continued to walk the grounds.
During the very moving Evening Prayer Service, most retreatants wrote letters to their children, which were later burned, so that the ashes could be mixed with incense used during Sunday’s Mass. Parents were then invited to come up to the tabernacle, where members of the Retreat Team participated in a very moving “laying on of hands.” The Evening Prayer Service was followed by a much-needed social.
Sunday morning’s Mass for Pentecost was celebrated by Bishop Bransfield, and con-celebrated by Fr. Bill Linhares, T.O.R,, Director of Priest Field Pastoral Center, and Fr. Eric. Fr. Eric’s homily was particularly meaningful for grieving parents who struggle to feel the Holy Spirit every day. He included the following poem by Fr. Bede Jarrett, O.P.:
We seem to give them back to You, O God. Who gave them to us.
Yet, as You did not lose them in giving, so we do not lose them by their return.
Not as the world gives, do You give, O Lover of souls.
What You give, take not away.
For what is Yours is ours also if we are Yours.
And life is eternal and love is immortal
And death is only a horizon.
And a horizon is nothing, save the limit of our sight.
Lift us up, strong Son of God, that we may see further.
Cleanse our eyes that we may see more clearly.
Draw us closer to Yourself,
That we may know ourselves to be near to our loved ones who are with you.
And while you prepare a place for us,
Prepare us also for that happy place,
That where You are, we may be also… for evermore.
At the Closing Prayer Service following Mass, Fr. Eric invited parents to extinguish the flames of the Emmaus Memorial Candles while remembering that the light of the children lives on forever. As the candles were extinguished, parents heard the exhilarating pealing of the four Bells of Consolation. As they exited the chapel, each of them joined in the pealing, which conveyed a great sense of hope and healing.
Promising to keep in touch and expand the ministry throughout the diocese, parents and members of the Retreat Team departed early Sunday afternoon after lunch.
A sampling of what parents had to say about the retreat:
“The Holy Spirit was here with us – so much peace & love & mercy & even glimpses of joy throughout the weekend. The bells tolling for our children touched my soul & moved me.”
“I feel a new and more significant level of peace and healing and an increased desire and intent to let God’s joy return to my life more fully. Even so, the tears of love for my beloved son will continue to flow.”
“The reminder message of hope and the words of the “wounded healers” sooth the pain.”
“…Sharing time with those that are walking the similar journey is always helpful. I especially connected to the ceremonies.”