MARTENSVILLE, Sask. — Encounter, Empower, Evangelize: that is the new mission statement being lived out at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Martensville, Sask., just north of Saskatoon.
Presently in the process of completing a major renovation and expansion of its building, the community recently held its first event in the new space: a one-day Revive retreat focused on getting to know God in a deeper, more personal way.
Rev. Patrick Ampani beamed with joy as he welcomed participants into the newly constructed sanctuary March 12.
“This is still a work in progress,” Ampani said of phase 1 of the parish building and expansion project, pointing to some of the features still to come, such as the stations of the cross and a new altar. Ground was broken for the $1.3-million expansion in May 2015, with an official dedication of the new worship space to be held later in the year.
“We are still working here, and Jesus is at work,” Ampani said, opening the retreat day with prayer.
The one-day event is the latest undertaking in a parish revitalization that includes a range of initiatives and new directives sparked after Ampani and several parishioners attended an Amazing Parish conference in Denver, Colo. in the summer of 2015.
On their return from the conference, they felt strongly that they should put all their efforts into making the parish an evangelistic hub, a place where people would feel drawn to come to know Christ in a deeper way, explained parishioner Christy Dupuis. “We drafted a mission statement: Encounter, Empower, Evangelize. Our hope is that all who attend our parish would encounter Jesus, be empowered to be disciples of Jesus, and go forth to evangelize everyone they meet.”
Revive retreat organizers strived to make the day as accessible as possible, with child care provided and a children’s retreat running in conjunction with the adult event.
“The response was amazing,” reported Dupuis. A men’s breakfast opened the day, with some 45 men attending. “Our retreat, which started at 1:00 p.m. and went until 8:30 p.m., had 165 adult participants, 75 children between kindergarten and Grade 6, 20 children three years and under in child care, and about 15 teenage volunteers.”
The parish’s recently hired youth minister, Amanda Gaudet, facilitated the children’s retreat with the help of four youth ministry colleagues and the senior youth volunteers in a program that garnered high praise in online evaluations.
The Revive retreat itself included several inspirational reflections by guest speaker Brett Powell, a longtime Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) missionary born and raised in Saskatchewan, who presently serves as director of development for the Archdiocese of Vancouver.
Exploring Scripture and sharing personal experience, Powell brought insights into the profound love of God, and the urgent need to really get to know God, and what he wants for us.
“There is a big difference between knowing about something, and experiencing something,” Powell pointed out. “So it is with our faith. There is a difference between knowing about God and having a profound personal encounter with the living Lord.”
God is “not playing hide and seek,” Powell stressed. “He is the one seeking us. He is looking for us. We have a seeking father, a seeking Saviour.”
If we have difficulty responding to God’s search, it may be that our image of God is mistaken, he said. “If the ideas we have of God are wrong and deficient, our relationship will lack much of the depth and the intimacy that we so desperately need, and that God wants.”
Powell walked through Scripture stories and parables, shining new light on who God really is — a welcoming, merciful and loving father, and not a wrathful, angry judge.
“Jesus is the Word of God, he is the fullness of the revelation of the Father . . . he is God in the Flesh and he wants a relationship, he wants to come in,” Powell added.
He also stressed that “we are not designed to live on borrowed faith,” and encouraged his listeners to follow the apostle Thomas in asking Christ to reveal himself. “I think that’s a prayer that Jesus loves to answer.”
Powell pointed to Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, which reveals the merciful father: an image of God’s faithful, searching, endless love that we can trust is also there for us.
“It is precisely my sin which attracts his merciful heart,” said Powell. “God is holding nothing back and we know this because Jesus went to the cross — he gave everything — to convince us that God’s heart is good.”
Five priests were on hand to offer the sacrament of reconciliation during the day. “In total they heard confessions for four hours with constant lineups,” said Dupuis, describing the positive response.
In addition, prayer teams offered to pray individually with anyone desiring prayer for any personal request. “It seemed as though all who took part in the prayer ministry came away with a positive experience,” noted Dupuis.
Written testimonies collected from retreat participants reveal the day’s impact. “Today touched me deeply,” wrote one participant. “I felt the real presence of God, so much so it made me weak in the knees.”
Another wrote: “I was reminded that I need to invite Jesus in to restore me when I feel inadequate or the pressure is too high. I learned from Brett’s stories that God didn’t come to take away my suffering but to fill it and be present in it.”
Dupuis concluded: “We were thrilled to be able to offer an event that seemed to appeal to so many people who had never been to a retreat before. Our hope at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish is to continue to offer programming, events, formation, and community experiences that seek to help people encounter God in ever new and deeper ways.”