SASKATOON — A summer vacation experience with a spiritual dimension is helping families reconnect more deeply, away from everyday cares and interruptions.
Cana Continues family camp is an initiative of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon offered at St. Michael’s Church Camp at Madge Lake, Sask., in Duck Mountain Provincial Park, about 35 minutes from Kamsack. Designed for families with children still living at home, Cana Continues will be offered again Aug. 13 - 19.
The Saskatchewan family camp is modelled on the Cana Colony pilgrimage camps offered by the Madonna House Apostolate founded by Catherine Doherty at Combermere, Ont.
Teresa Hiebert has worked on launching the program in the eparchy after experiencing the Madonna House family camp in Ontario as a pilgrimage with her own young family — first in 2009 and then again in 2012 and 2014. It has been a life-transforming experience.
“It was a beautiful turning point for us as a family. It was like we started coming out of some quagmire, out of the muck, out of the post post-partum depression mess that we had (been in),” she said.
“I’m an RN. I work in an ICU — shiftwork, weekends, holidays. My husband is a refrigeration mechanic — works weekdays Monday to Friday, and also on call after hours and weekends. For many years, when the kids were little, we only ever had one weekend off together as a family, all five of us (that was, if he didn’t get called in),” she said. “Cana was an enormous change from home, just being able to eat all our meals together . . . I’d never realized how apart we were, till we started being together.”
Walls came down during the time at Cana Colony, she described.
“I think my heart was nearly a heart of stone by the time I got to the first Cana. And there my heart cracked a little. It’s not bad to realize you’re broken. It is painful. I could start to feel again . . . and that is how the light gets in and those stone walls come down,” she said.
“That was a huge spark — the meals together, not having contact with extended family/friends — just being us; a mom, a dad, and kids. No phones ringing, no pagers going off, no shiftwork — just nature, and sacraments, other nuclear families, and each other.”
The experience of the Cana camp continued to resonate when the Hiebert family returned home.
“Little things started to change — the meals were a big change. We prioritized eating together. We started turning to each other more,” said Hiebert.
“One other big thing we learned is how to guard your family from outside influences, how to protect your Nazareth, how to be in the world, but to still be yourself, in Christ, in the world — not to lose sight of your faith or each other,” she said. “It was pure and simple grace. It was Mary, Joseph and Jesus, with their donkey, going in a different direction after having a dream. Our domestic church needed rebuilding.”
The family’s spiritual growth received further boosts at subsequent Cana experiences, which were different each time. Challenged by a book by Catherine Doherty (now reprinted as Beginning Again), Hiebert returned to confession after years away.
“It was so beautiful. It was pure Holy Spirit, grace, healing,” she said. “I know my family could sense the change in me. I’d started to lose that edge of bitterness and anger; I started to soften. Some of that stone in my heart changed to beating flesh again.”
For Hiebert, this second Cana experience came in the summer between her experience of Year 1 and Year 2 of the Eparchial Lay Formation program. “I needed that grace, that healing, through confession. I needed to fall in love again with confession and not be scared of the sacrament.”
As her children grew, the challenges and blessings of Cana also changed. In 2014 it was easier to set aside electronic devices, she noted. “We reflected a lot on how much our little family had transformed over the years, nourished, grown . . . It was very fruitful!”
A 2014 Sobor in the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon identified the call for “families evangelizing families,” and as one response, Cana Continues was launched here in August 2015.
“The first Eparchial Cana was a blessed week of training, learning and orientation at St. Michael’s Camp at Madge Lake. The camp was still a flurry of building and construction — a beautiful new facility in progress. Rev. Basil Malowany and Rev. Ivan Nahachewsky were camp pastors,” described Hiebert.
“We had daily divine liturgies at the Holy Eucharist Catholic Church in the mornings (the church is located right on the campsite), parent sessions with the priest every afternoon, and a prayer service every evening. Every evening was a different service, either at the dock, by the fire, or in the hall, she said. “We sang divine liturgies (in English) together, shared mealtimes, shared stories and encounters. Yes, we evangelized each other. We inspired each other.”
Some think the week is only about preaching and prayers, but Cana Continues is a rich and varied vacation experience. There is fishing, kayaking and canoeing. The public beach is a 15-minute walk away. Adults who want to get up early to go for a round of golf in the provincial park can do so, she noted. There is a large campfire area, basketball/tennis outdoor court, and plenty of open space for playing.
The newly constructed camp building includes hotel-style accommodation, with bathrooms, tubs and showers in each room (there is also one wheelchair-accessible room.) The facility features a large hall with a common dining area. Families bring their own food, preparing and eating meals as a family unit. Laundry is available on site.
There are two scheduled events each day: divine liturgy in English is celebrated each morning, and every afternoon there is a priest-led conference with the parents (an activity co-ordinator is provided for the younger children).
A Ukrainian Catholic priest and a host family are present with the families for the week: Bayda is scheduled to attend the 2017 weeklong camp. There are also opportunities for sharing among families.
“You learn so much being able to talk to other families,” Hiebert noted. “The kids mingle with other kids; the parents meet other parents.” It’s an opportunity to talk about challenges, share ideas and insights, and support each other in prayer.
At its heart, however, Cana Continues is a chance for a family to withdraw and reconnect with each other spiritually in a natural setting, away from daily pressures and interruptions.
Registration for Cana Continues begins in January. There is a $50 registration fee, with the rest contributed according to each family’s need and ability. For more information see www.skeparchy.org/familyandlife.