Deb Wagner
Freelance Writer
April 17, 2013 // Local

Annual Disabilities Retreat honors ‘God’s Good Earth’

Deb Wagner
Freelance Writer

FORT WAYNE — St. Vincent de Paul hosted its seventh annual retreat for people with disabilities on April 13 at the St. Vincent de Paul Spiritual Center in Fort Wayne where 30 participants with developmental or physical disabilities ranging in age from 18 to 80 years old gathered to enrich their spiritual lives.

Participants arrived mid-morning for refreshments and social time before the opening prayer service that set the tone for the focus of the retreat, “God’s Good Earth.” Volunteers, retreat organizers and participants were introduced to a reflection on the story of creation, which concluded with a prayer asking God to bless the earth and its stewards.

The music was led by Tony Wagner, who along with a Boy Scout, played guitar. A sign language interpreter signed the words to the songs, including “All the Earth,” “Prayer of St. Francis,” and “Canticle of the Sun,” which were chosen as a complement to the theme. Amy Yablonsky, a participant from St. Vincent de Paul Parish, says she has participated in the disabilities retreats for several years and enjoys the singing and crafts.

Retreat participants were served meals and assisted by Boy Scouts from St. Vincent de Paul, who also helped with planting flower seeds in potting soil. Participants were encouraged to take the seed pots home and nurture the seeds into mature plants.

Boy Scout Alex Szaday, age 12, says that he “chose to come today because he likes helping out with everyone.” He has experience with people with disabilities because he has a friend at Leo Elementary who is confined to a wheelchair.

Ryan Richardson, also 12, and new to Scouting, says he is comfortable helping people with disabilities because his uncle has a disability.

Retreat coordinator Dorothy Schuerman spoke about Pope Francis’ name choice and how he brought attention to the disabled community by embracing a boy with cerebral palsy. Retreat participants also heard about the life of St. Francis and the religious order he founded as well as the women’s community founded by his friend St. Clare. A collection of legends and folklore concerning St. Francis’ connection with animals and creation that sprang up after St. Francis’ death was discussed as well.

Representatives from the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo provided education and up-close interaction with several animals from the zoo including a dingo, millipedes, a non-venomous snake, a parrot and a hedgehog.

After lunch, prepared by Rosie Munson and family, participants were reminded by Father Fernando Polycarp, parochial vicar at St. Vincent, that everyone is a gift from God. He joked that when God made him, He broke the mold because one was enough. Father Polycarp explained to the chuckling crowd that each person on the retreat was treated in the same manner and is loved by God.

Joe Celarek from St. John the Baptist Parish in Fort Wayne feels the message of this retreat was the “best ever because it has so much to do with loving the earth and God creating us and us taking care of God’s creation.”

Jane Sandor, catechetical associate for the diocesan Special Ministries of the Secretariat for Evangelization and Special Ministries, closed the retreat with a talk on how the Church is taking responsibility for recognizing the needs of those with disabilities. She shared information about her horse rescue and participants had the opportunity to pet Ringo, a miniature therapy horse who enjoyed feeding on carrots. Sandor also spoke on the initiatives of the diocesan ministry for persons with disabilities and said the Office of Evangelization and Special Ministries is forming a deaf ministry, among other things.

“Without you and your gifts we are not a Church,” she affirmed.

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