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Spirituality’s healing ways aid cancer patients

  • September 15, 2022

For the 21 people who will participate in the Retreat for Cancer Patients and their Caregivers at Queen of Apostles Renewal Centre in Mississauga, Ont., Sept. 28, they will have an empathetic leader, one who has walked a mile in their shoes.

Anne Hales, a spiritual director and retreat facilitator who joined Queen of the Apostles in 1985, overcame her own battle with breast cancer 30 years ago, and she credits her prayers to the Lord for manifesting this miracle.

Hales hopes the spiritual dimension of this retreat will lead to positive health transformations for each of the attendees. She recalls her own experience after being diagnosed.

“One of my girlfriends told me we should go to a healing Mass in Oakville,” reminisced Hales. “I asked, ‘really?’ And she said, ‘I think you should.’ Off we went.”

Shortly after this experience, Hales had an appointment at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto. Perplexingly, she was asked by hospital staff multiple times to confirm her information and to present her health card to validate her identity.

“I thought, ‘what the heck is going on? Why are you asking me all these questions?’ They said, ‘because the first mammogram showed the cancer site was quite deep in the chest,” she said.

Things had changed, however.

“‘But as we look at this mammogram and X-ray, it’s almost surface,’ ” she was told. “I thought, ‘wow, what happened?’ ”

A special prayer that helped Hales in her journey was the Rosebud Prayer, and particularly the Footprints poem where a man who walked with the Lord asked why there was only one set of footprints in the sand during the most troublesome chapters of his life. The Lord replied: “My precious, precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

Queen of the Apostles is hosting this event approximately six months after leading a six-hour day retreat for cancer patients and their caregivers. Rapturous feedback from attendees convinced Hales and other retreat staff that this was a meaningful experience worth doing again.

“We asked our participants to write a line or two. The way I phrased it was, ‘the director would like to know if there is something more we could do to be helpful.’ The comments were something like, ‘this has changed my life,’ or ‘I didn’t even know this place existed, but I felt that something very beautiful has happened to me from attending this retreat,’ ” she said.

The formula to receiving this praise is not revolutionary or groundbreaking. Compassion, active listening and spiritual comfort are among the core ingredients behind the success of the retreat.

Hales said limiting the number of registrations was done for a purpose.

“With this retreat, a large crowd will not work,” said Hales. “With other retreats, we are able to host up to 60 people, but here it is too many as we invite everyone that comes to share and talk about their experience.”

St. Peregrine Laziosi, the patron saint for persons suffering from cancer, AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses, will be a presence throughout the day. In addition to offering up prayers to the Italian Catholic devoted to the Order of Servants of Mary during his life (1260-1345) on Earth, each patient and caregiver will be invited to hold a relic of St. Peregrine to foster a prayerful connection.

An opening prayer where the gathered beseeches the Lord to “open our eyes, help us to see Your face,” and “open our ears, help us to hear Your voice,” is instrumental in orienting everyone into the proper spiritual place to complete the retreat, said Hales.

Mass, led by an Oblate staff priest will conclude the retreat.

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