The annual HeartSong Retreat at St. Benedict’s Retreat Centre in Winnipeg ministers to people living with HIV/AIDS and their caregivers. Funded by donations to St. Benedict’s Foundation, Inc., the retreat has been free of charge for 20 years.
WINNIPEG — “My need was peace and camaraderie with those who are understanding, and this need was met.”
This sentiment from one of the HeartSong participants echoes the sentiment of most of the 30 women and men who attended St. Benedict’s 25th HeartSong Retreat for persons living with HIV/AIDS and their caregivers.
Brought to Winnipeg from Texas by Rev. Vincent Herner and Sister Mary Coswin, OSB, in 1993, the retreat has been free of charge for 20 years due to the generosity of many groups and individuals; it is fully funded by donations to St. Benedict’s Foundation, Inc.
One guest said, “I’m thankful and I will pray for the people who donated to HeartSong.”
St. Boniface Hospital’s Pastoral Care Department and St. Benedict’s Retreat Centre saw the need for persons living with the then-deadly condition to gather for support. While the hospital is no longer involved, an interfaith team of dedicated women and men continue to lead the retreat, which involves a lot of singing, meals together, donations of therapeutic treatment — such a healing touch, reiki and haircuts — bingo, meditation and healing rituals. This year a group baked bannock while others prepared the vegetables for the soup at lunch.
“I see so much goodness in these men and women,” says Coswin, a Benedictine sister and director of the retreat centre.
Another team member says he “feels privileged to be here and to get to know their stories.”
The stories are sometimes full of pain, fear and rejection, yet everyone was able to identify many things to be grateful for, such as “being here on this earth, waking up every day,” or “being here and facing my ghosts of the past and not having people judge me,” and “taking steps to help others.”