Sabeena and Felix David and their two children of Sherwood Park took part in the Catholic Family Life Conference.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Sabeena and Felix David and their two children of Sherwood Park took part in the Catholic Family Life Conference.

July 15, 2013
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

While many stayed in the city to partake in Canada Day celebrations, several hundred Catholic families spent the Canada Day long weekend at Lac Ste. Anne barbecuing, playing games, praying, attending Mass and listening to speakers.

About 2,600 Catholics – 630 families – from many parts of Western Canada attended the Catholic Family Life Conference at the Lac Ste. Pilgrimage site from June 28 to July 1. The number included 150 pregnant women.

"This is our biggest year," said Maurice Beier, one of the conference organizers.

The annual event offered activities for all ages. Large white tents housed activities for children and youth while their parents attended events at the shrine.

During breaks people went for Confession or retreated to their campers to enjoy a meal. Young people played soccer, football or frisbee on the field near the lake's shore.

This year the lineup of speakers included Dr. Peter Kreeft, a renowned American apologist, theologian and author, Deacon Alex Jones, a former Pentecostal preacher from Detroit who became Catholic with his family, and Sister Catherine Marie, one of three Sisters of Life who attended the conference.

Saskatchewan visitors Eugene and Bernadette Slager.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Saskatchewan visitors Eugene and Bernadette Slager.

Archbishop Richard Smith celebrated Mass at the shrine on July 29 and St. Paul Bishop Paul Terrio celebrated Mass the following day. Music was provided by the group Anaphora.

Beier said people come to the conference to hear good speakers and to deepen their faith. "Families are coming here because they are being fed here," he said. "They are being encouraged to raise Catholic families."

Some of the families that attend the conference have from 12 to 14 kids. "They come together to support one another," Beier said. "Maybe their parish doesn't understand why they are having so many kids but they come here and everybody is alive; they believe in what the Church teaches."

Felix David and his wife Sabeena came to the conference from Sherwood Park with their two small children. Last year Felix came alone and liked the experience so much he brought the whole family this time.

"It's a good chance to renew the vocation to family," he said. "The other thing I like is spending time with the bigger family, with the parish and good friends." Felix also liked the good choice of speakers.

Sabeena was impressed by the sacrifice many families go through to attend the conference.

"It's challenging but they do it and I can feel the Holy Spirit move," she said. "When I went for adoration, there were families with little kids coming and spending time with the Lord in the chapel. I don't see that very often."

Mitch and Teresa Woudenberg and their son Kieran of Edson.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Mitch and Teresa Woudenberg and their son Kieran of Edson.

The couple plans to return next year and bring more people.

Eugene and Bernadette Slager of Prince Albert, Sask., have being attending the conference with their daughter Holly, 13, for the past five years.

Bernadette said her family started to come because they heard there was a place in the conference for their daughter. "I was just amazed at the speakers that they get; I'd never heard of these guys."

What keeps bringing the Slagers back is "the fact that there are all these Catholic families," Bernadette said. "We don't feel alone."

Eugene said the conference lifts his spirit. "It's a sharing of joy and love and hope; that's the way I see it."

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Mitch and Teresa van Woudenberg came from Edson with their son Kieran, 2. Teresa has been coming for 18 years. This is the third conference for her husband.

"We like to be around good Catholic and Christian people," Mitch said. "It's a place for spiritual recharge and renewal. We are always being bombarded by the secular side of life and it's nice to come here and be able to speak freely about religious things."

Teresa said she really feels Christ at work at the conference. "Living your daily life can get monotonous and is nice to come and actually feel the Holy Spirit at work in your life."

She said the conference helps prepare her "to go out and actually show the world Christ's love by my actions."