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GLBTQ retreat builds on community, faith

Aaron Steiner | Friday, February 23, 2007

While public debate often places the views of Catholicism and those of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning (GLBTQ) community in opposition, organizers of the 10th annual GLBTQ Retreat say that is not an issue in this weekend’s event, which begins tonight.

Notre Dame’s Core Council and Campus Ministry hope their joint effort will provide community and an opportunity for spiritual development – in a Catholic faith context – for members of the GLBTQ community and their friends.

The theme, “Never Alone,” was chosen by student leaders and addresses several different issues, said Campus Ministry intern Madeleine Heck, who helped organize the retreat. “Never Alone” stems from the idea of the Christian “footprints” prayer, which describes Christ’s presence in difficult times. The prayer has special meaning for those who struggle often, Heck said.

“We hope it speaks to the feeling of loneliness sometimes felt [within the GLBTQ community],” she said. “This year the retreat is geared for the GLBTQ community and their friends.”

Both students who are members of the GLBTQ community and their friends are welcome, Heck said. Having friends present will help to show that there are people “to walk with these students on their journey at Notre Dame – both in regard to their sexuality and their faith,” she said.

In addition, Heck said, the retreat will attempt to show students that not only do they have friends on their journey, but they are also “always joined by Christ.”

For Father Joe Carey, assistant director of Campus Ministry, the theme of this year’s retreat is about providing support.

“The theme is based on the need for community, and support within the community through faith,” he said. “Having friends attend makes a connection to the whole community, and makes people realize that there’s acceptance where ever they are on their life journey.”

That’s a kind of acceptance that isn’t always felt within the Catholic community, due to a lack of awareness and understanding, Carey said. However, he emphasized that the Catholic Church “does not reject anyone based on orientation.”

More important than orientation is personal worth as a human, Carey said.

“One of the things … is realizing the dignity that everyone is created with, within God’s image,” Carey said. “That dignity is to be lived out within the Notre Dame community.”

Both Carey and Heck said the retreat’s emphasis would not be specifically on Catholicism, but rather on considering faith in a personal journey. Organizers also hope to help students “explore the inclusive spirit and each student’s identity,” Heck said.

Carey said retreat participants will look at “the image they have of themselves, the community’s image of them, and how their faith helps them.”

Aiding students’ faith development, “wherever they are on their spiritual journey,” is always a goal of Campus Ministry retreats, Carey said.

“In many ways, it’s quite similar to all the other retreats,” he said.

The retreat will feature three different presentations, including talks by a student member of the GLBTQ community and a friend, Carey said. Students will also be encouraged to use time for discussion, reflection and Mass.

As of Thursday, 16 students had signed up for the event, Heck said. Any interested students should call Campus Ministry for more information.