The Vastness of God’s Love

Blog by Candidate Shingai Chigwedere

I recently volunteered at a weekend retreat at the Dominican Retreat and Conference Center in Niskayuna, NY. The retreat was for persons with disabilities and the theme was, God loves you, based on John 3:16. Some of the retreatants were in wheelchairs due to cerebral palsy, others were hearing impaired, had Down syndrome, or had some memory issues. Each retreatant was paired up with helper/s to provide companionship and in some cases nurses to ensure correct medical attention. As an aside, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), they use the term, people of determination instead of disabilities. I like the term people of determination because it positively describes the lived reality that our retreatants push through every day.

So here I am in Niskayuna, awaiting the arrival of the retreatants. Suddenly, one of our fellow volunteers leaps from her chair and runs out the front door. My heart swelled with warmth as I watched her running exuberantly to greet the van that was transporting her wheelchair-bound friend. It was such a pure, holy moment. An hour later, I received a big hug from a retreatant with Down syndrome whom I had never met before. Her parents explained that she was excited to return to this retreat after a two- year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the weekend, this retreatant would give spontaneous hugs to others. It was always heartwarming and something about her carefree sharing of love stayed with me.

Throughout the retreat, scarves, and instruments (shakers, tambourines, etc.) were provided so that all could fully participate in the Eucharistic celebration. The music team selected upbeat processional and recessional hymns and lively arrangements of the Gloria, Gospel Acclamation, and Doxology to encourage self-expression. You could tell the priests celebrating Mass were touched in an extraordinary way and even joined in by clapping to the hymns. When one retreatant offered a comment after the priest finished his homily, the priest engaged in a loving and affirming manner that made the interaction seem like a regular part of the liturgy. The retreatants enjoyed being together, sharing stories during mealtimes and breaks. There was a real sense of fellowship, oneness, and genuine care for each other. God’s love was palpable and overflowing. It was a sacred space.

As the retreat facilitator talked about the theme, God loves you, I reflected on the big hug I got from the retreatant and how joyfully the volunteer greeted her friend. Is that how much God loves me? Does God delight in me with this exuberance I witnessed? Yes, John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” God gave up the life of His only child, for you and for me. Wow, that is beautiful and overwhelming! I thought I was there to help the retreatants and yet God used this retreat to remind me of the breadth, depth, and width of His love through my sisters and brothers in Christ.

If you are discerning religious life and would like to explore ways God is calling you to share this incredible message of love, please contact our Vocations team.

Posted in God Calling?, News, Vocations Blog

10 responses to “The Vastness of God’s Love

  1. I can imagine the joy of those children so free to love and be loved. I am sure You were truly a gift to them as they were to you… and am glad to call you Sister…

  2. The same retreatant who gave you hugs came up to me on the last night of the retreat and whispered in my ear “I can’t wait to dance the night away”, at the dance party that evening. The Holy Spirit was definitely present for us all that weekend ! It was such a pleasure meeting you, Shingai!

  3. God danced the day you were born, Shingai!!!
    Beautiful description of retreat and the new name of Determination!!!

  4. Thank you Shingai for the beautiful blog about the retreat for the determined .Theirs and your mutual love and respect is a blessings to all of us now..
    We are blessed that you are a candidate …and may that blessing continues for years to come.
    Peace, Catherine

  5. Thank you for your reflection Shingai. What a wonderful opportunity for people of determination to gather and pray together. Thank you for participating in the experience.

  6. Thank you, Shingai, for your beautiful sharing, and welcome to the DSOP Family!! I was thrilled when it was announced sometime back that you were joining us. Annie, Mary and I often pray for you and all our newest members.

  7. I was also blessed to have been there for much of the retreat. The participants were awesome.

    Jim W

  8. Shingai,
    What a special gift for you to assist with the Retreat for the determined and become aware of the many ways that Love can be given and received. Every person is a GEM. It is also wonderful to call you Candidate Shingai and see your photo.

  9. Oh, what a beautiful witness to our experience in Niskayuna. Thank you so much for sharing it. I agree the love was palpable. THIS IS CHURCH IN ALL IT’S GLORY. God bless you, Shingai.

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