By Barb Arland-Fye
“Can you feel the love tonight?” Elton John asks that question in a song that plays in my mind as I reflect on a retreat I attended last weekend with my son Colin.
We felt love at the retreat for adults with special needs that Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport hosted Feb. 27 in its parish center. The retreat is an annual event parishioner Karen Kilburg organizes with help from the parish’s Christian Service Committee.
Nearly 90 people participated in this year’s retreat; 36 of them, including Colin, have special needs. The other participants were family members, friends, caregivers and volunteers.
Colin attended the first retreat five years ago, but because of other activities on Saturdays he hadn’t been back until this year. I thought it would be a great opportunity for Colin and me to spend time together and to celebrate our faith.
Volunteers greeted us warmly; some even recognized Colin from five years ago and others had met him at various places in the Quad-City community.
“Love in Every Language” was the theme of this year’s retreat and Karen promised that throughout the day’s activities of music, crafts, prayer and talks we would learn to say “I love you” in 13 languages.
When she introduced us to the Chinese phrase for “I love you,” she pinned a paper heart inscribed with the words on a world map. Then she asked all of the retreat’s participants to repeat the phrase. Most gave it their best effort. But Colin blurted out, “I don’t speak Chinese!”
Delivering the first talk of the day were two eighth-graders from John F. Kennedy Catholic School, the parish school. Sara Olds, 14 and Kate Friederichs, 13, shared their thoughts on how to show love to family and friends. Sara’s parents and her younger sister all volunteered at the retreat; her dad, Chris, played the guitar with great enthusiasm that pumped up the crowd. Colin loved it, and with Chris’ encouragement, he and others came to the front of the room to help lead the singing. Other parents and their children volunteered at the retreat, too. Whether or not they realized it, these families were living the message that Sara and Kate shared. “It’s so great to see the love,” Sara said.
Also giving talks tailored to the audience were Aaron Gunnare, who shared how to spread love in the church, and Tom Simmons, who spoke about spreading love in the community. As part of his talk, Aaron asked for six volunteers from the audience; he got seven. Not missing a beat, he arranged for the seven volunteers to spell out the six letters of the word “church.”
Deacon Stephen MacDonald of the Archdiocese of Dubuque led participants in a prayer service that included a wonderful skit with his puppet on the meaning of love.
While Colin enjoyed all of the activities, his favorites were the craft projects and singing. For me, the best part was the sense of love that emanated from this gathering. Nobody had to be here, they chose to celebrate faith, patiently and joyfully, with people who truly appreciated the commitment.
“It just touches my heart,” said volunteer Mona Lisa Kienzler, explaining why she helps out year after year.
“We are truly blessed to have so many people to share our love and faith with,” Karen said. “We can surely count our blessings on all the good the Lord has given us. It makes my job ‘to give back’ so much easier.”