Olivia Stocking-Lopez, left, and her cousin Amy Stocking harvest some of the organic vegetables to be eaten during the Food Family Faith weekend retreat in Sharon, Ont. Photo by Luke Stocking

A celebration of food, family and faith

By  Luke Stocking, Catholic Register Special
  • September 27, 2015

SHARON, ONT. - A group gathers under the full moon at Regina Mundi Renewal Centre on a Saturday evening in late August. They light up the night with candles. The flames illuminate faces that include a grandfather and granddaughters, teens and their parents, small families and large ones — people of all ages.

They begin to sing their candlelight prayer service. “All I really need is a song in my heart, food in my belly, and love in my family…” This is the Food Family Faith weekend, an annual retreat held each summer near Sharon.

Food Family Faith is a retreat experience in a family atmosphere that is centred in Jesus and Catholic social teaching (e.g. human dignity, the option for the poor, the sacredness of creation and solidarity).

The program of shared meals, fun and educational activities, guest speakers, group discussion, music and liturgy aims to help people cultivate a sense of service that is rooted in justice and love. In this way we seek to become a stronger family of faith that contributes to the common good, both locally and globally.

I was inspired to create the retreat by Fr. Tom McKillop, who for years ran Youth Corps in the Archdiocese of Toronto. One of the ministry’s that grew from Youth Corps was the Sharon Family Peace weekends, which I grew up going to. They were held at Regina Mundi but ended years ago when I was a teenager. I wanted the same for today’s families and the community of people I work with at the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace made it possible.

Development and Peace, the international social justice arm of the Church in Canada, wants to engage families to reflect on the world we live in and build a brighter future for everyone we share the planet with, including future generations. Food Family Faith aims to do this. Today many of our children and even adults do not really know where our food comes from. To help build the connection with God’s nourishing creation, the weekend begins with an optional visit to Willo’Wind farm where people participate in harvesting the organic vegetables we will eat over the weekend. They even collect their breakfast eggs from squawking hens!

Everyone helps out with everything at Food Family Faith. We work together to prepare the food and clean up together too. The co-operative spirit that holds families together is very present. People take turns at different meals sharing different graces.

Little Eva volunteers at Saturday lunch. “We love our bread, we love our butter, but most of all we love each other.”

The act of sharing meals together is sacred and at Food Family Faith they are integral to the retreat experience. Mass on Sunday is celebrated outdoors.

“The weekend is like the Holy Mass,” said Dolly Ducepec from Toronto’s St. Cecilia parish. “We have the common faith, the community and the meal to celebrate.”

The program reaches our hearts out to other families around the world that we share the planet with, especially the poorest of our brothers and sisters and those who suffer injustice. The grounds feature a beautiful outdoor stations of the cross and this year we prayed a special stations in memory of Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was beatified this year. We prayed especially for those suffering from violence in El Salvador today. In the evening after the children had gone to bed, the teens and some of their parents watched the captivating film, Romero.

Is it possible for young and old to discuss a papal encyclical together? Well, at Food Family Faith it is. Parents and children discussed our lifestyle choices as families together — choices that the Pope invites us to reflect on in caring for our common home in his encyclical Laudato Si’.

There is no separate programming for different ages — which makes the Food Family Faith weekend different. There are tables full of crayons, paper, Play-doh and other fun things beside the circle where we meet instead of in another room. There are times for quiet, but Food Family Faith is not what most people think of when it comes to a retreat. It is definitely a family atmosphere, but it is no less holy. As Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.”

“It was a very memorable experience for my children and me,” said Danny Torchia from Sacred Heart parish in Uxbridge. “The Regina Mundi facility is spectacular and the programming allowed us to bond as a family while broaching some of the major lifestyle and social themes of our day in a way that was very friendly for children. It was also a great way to open up Laudato Si’ and jump right into its inspiring teaching.”

We hope you will join us next year.

(Stocking is Central Ontario animator with the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.)

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