Women’s desire for community and faith renewal during COVID-19 sparks Arise Catholic Movement

Members of the Arise Catholic Movement hope to inspire new hope for women after this pandemic year. The group will launch an online Catholic women's retreat May 1. (Photos by Hannah Berry)

By Sharon Leyne, Arise Catholic Movement team member

Saskatoon’s new Arise Catholic Movement will present an online Arise: Put On the Armour of Light retreat May 1, hoping to bring light to all women who need to finally take a breath after a year of holding it with clenched fists. You are not alone, we see you, we hear you.

 Register for Arise: Put on the Armour of Light women’s retreat – LINK

It was October 2019 when the first Arise: My Beloved retreat took place at St. Therese School of Faith and Mission in Bruno SK. At that event, women from across the prairies were gifted with immense hope and a renewed love for the Lord and our faith, which made the events that followed, with a global pandemic declared a mere four and a half months later, so devastating.

With COVID-19 restrictions we were cut off from our families, friends, support networks, and to make matters worse, the place we found solace, the place we could go to seek peace, strength and comfort – our faith communities, our churches – were also not available.

“Maybe next week, next month things will get back to normal”… “I just have to get through this”…“I just have to survive”… “Once this is over things will get better” – many of us have been saying these sorts of phrases over and over this past year.

At the beginning of the global pandemic,  I found myself fearful of even leaving the house, scrubbing groceries down with disinfectant wipes before they entered my home, hoping my bagels wouldn’t taste like Lysol. As a mother, I felt the need to bottle my emotions up, and explain germs to my kids with a smile on my face, assuring them everything was going to be alright, but all the while wondering “How dangerous is this? Are my kids safe? Are my parents safe? I just had a baby, how do I protect a newborn? What is God’s plan in this? Where is He?” I recall the first time I left the house with my newborn for a check-up, and my heart was racing.

As the weeks went on, it became harder and harder to mask my fear from my children: it was written all over my face as the world, especially social media, seemed to be collectively losing their minds with anger and hostility. Every news article was grim; doctors and religious leaders had conflicting opinions: who could I trust?

The fire I had, the trust I had built, the faith I had strengthened at that retreat in October 2019 was now not only gone, but I had lost all hope it would return.

It was only on the day I was called with a request to join the Arise team that I felt a stirring that I had not felt since the last retreat. It was a stirring of the Holy Spirit that gave me no doubt that my answer had to be yes.

It was the first time I saw how much I needed to step outside, not just my home, but outside of myself. It was a realization that I had nothing to give anymore, except for my yes, much like the widow in the Bible, and at that moment it was all God needed. Since that day, because of that small yes, God has breathed life back into me – He has transformed me. My children see it, my husband sees it, I see it. God has restored my hope because it has been placed in Him, the One who strengthens me and I am so grateful.

As our team prayed and discussed what the next Arise retreat should be, we discovered that our entire team of women had experienced similar feelings and struggles, in one way or another, in varying degrees. If this was true for the eight of us – a diverse group of women from all different phases of life, some married with children, some grandmothers, some single, others students – then it would be fair to say that this was a reflection of the state of women in the greater Catholic/Christian community. If this were true, what was it that we needed? What was it that we could provide?

Pre-recorded recently at Saint Anne Parish in Saskatoon, the online Arise retreat will be launched May 1. (Photos by Hannah Berry)

The answer, we could feel, was much bigger than any of us had anticipated. Through discernment and prayer, God led us to a greater call, it was here that the Arise Catholic Movement was born and our mission “Encountering Jesus Together, Fostering Authentic Catholic Community” became clear.

We knew we were being called to provide an opportunity for renewal, support, and a strengthening of spirit to all women, but we could not wait for “this to be over” or “for things to get better.” We could not wait until it was safe to gather in large groups. The need was and still is urgent. Women were already reaching out for something – anything – that would help them reconnect with their faith, and give them the strength to continue: to not just survive through the rest of the pandemic but to thrive. Women are crying out to be restored.

It was no coincidence that as we prayed, St. Joan of Arc revealed herself as a model of perseverance, strength, faith, hope and trust in the Lord. The image of St. Joan riding into battle, surrounded by light, an army behind her looking for guidance, captured our hearts. So did the scripture from Romans 13:11-12: “You know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.”

It was not St. Joan’s will or strength that gave her the courage, trust and fortitude to continue to fight, it was the Lord’s will. It is His light and His armour that we need if we are to fight boldly through our struggle and pain, in order to come out stronger, not just for this year, but for the rest of our lives.

The Arise team, in partnership with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon and Saint Anne Parish in Saskatoon, is inviting all women to this year’s online retreat, Arise: Put On the Amour of Light.

Speakers include Heather Khym, Debbie Herbeck, Mary Bielski, Rachel Herbeck, Bishop Scott McCaig and a special message from Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Diocese of Saskatoon.

Through the gift of technology we are able to offer this one day retreat, to be launched May 1, 2021, across Canada and the United States. As a pre-recorded retreat, it sill give women the flexibility to take part at any time that is convenient to them.

We know community is vital, not just for our faith life, but for our mental health. This has been one of the biggest lessons I have learned this year. So although you may journey through the retreat day on your own, we are encouraging women to re-introduce community back into their lives.

We have a special invitation to experience this retreat with other women as a small group, or as a parish event (following all Covid-19 regulations in your area at that time). Through special Zoom calls, our team will encourage, support and equip all hosts with some tools and guidance.

We also felt that a retreat of one day, after a year of isolation, was not enough. When you register for the Arise: Put On the Armour of Light retreat, you will also be gifted with our 5-week Arise Armour Series, which dives deeper into the theme of our retreat so that you may continue your conversations, and strengthen not just your armour but your community as well.

The online Arise retreat was pre-recorded by On Reel Media. (Photos by Hannah Berry)

Having recently filmed the retreat with the help of the incredible On Reel Media team from Regina, the Arise Catholic Movement team cannot wait to get this retreat into the hands of every woman. Now is the time for us to cast off the darkness and put on the armour of light.

If you would like to learn more or register for Arise: Put On the Armour of Light visit the website:  arisecatholicmovement.ca