By Joan D. Warren

EAST SANDWICH — Many women typically spend the last remaining weekends before Christmas getting ready for the coming of Christ with shopping, wrapping gifts, writing cards, baking and the never-ending cleaning. The hectic time of year can be harrowing and take the joy out of the time of year meant for peace and preparing for the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ.

Sharon Blanchard, Susan Kulik, Maria Bess, Joni Phelps, Liana Damotta-Santos and Joan DeSousa at the recent Advent Women’s Retreat at Corpus Christi Parish in East Sandwich. (Photo by Joan D. Warren)

In East Sandwich, 200 faithful women from the diocese broke that stereotype by spending the day in the presence of the Lord.

The Women’s Advent Retreat, sponsored by the Diocese of Fall River, was held at Corpus Christi Parish from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. on December 9.

The day was filled with prayer, reconciliation, song, fellowship and adoration.

The event entitled, ”Overwhelmed by Joy,” began with a Mass in the church followed by various activites in the church hall. 

Upon entering the hall, gift bags and name tags were available as well as a continental breakfast with fresh fruit, baked goods, juice and plenty of hot coffee and tea.

Tables of eight were quickly filled with women of all ages — many dressed in holiday attire.

All eyes were on the stage where Father John Garabedian gave the opening blessing and prepared the women for the day ahead.

“The Holy Spirit loves to bring people together. You are sitting with those who the Holy Spirit put you with,” he said.

One such table consisted of a pair of sisters, a pair of former waitresses who worked together 40 years ago and recently reconnected, a pair from Taunton who worship at different parishes and a North Andover woman who was visiting her parents who live in Falmouth.

The ladies became fast friends after introductions and learned they have a lot in common. They all have a deep faith in God and believe in the power of prayer.

Karen St. John, from North Andover, was so happy to be with her table mates.

“I was looking for a group of like-minded catholic women to share and grow with,” she said.

Master of Ceremonies and speaker Allison Gingras greeted the crowd of women, and explained the agenda for the day and offered a bit of wisdom.

“When we become overwhelmed, we miss God’s movement in our lives. We need to trust God in his timing. Waiting for that can become paralyzing. Don’t be afraid. Keep praying and be patient. Good things come to those who believe in the Lord,” she said.

Deacon Christopher Paul, Director of Adult and Child Discipleship for the Diocese, praised Mrs. Gingras and her commitment to sharing her faith with others.

“Allison Gingras is an indispensable resource, especially to the women of our diocese. She never says no to an opportunity to bring the love and mercy of Christ to others. Her husband, Deacon Kevin Gingras is always a big help, working behind the scenes on the day of the event,” Deacon Paul said.

Keynote speaker Danielle Bean kept the crowd informed and entertained with practical advice and how the power of prayer can bring miracles to life.

“Joy is something we can choose. We are all running around at this time of year. Jesus can be a guest that we are preparing for but forgetting that the relationship with him is more important. The outside things that you do aren’t what God wants.  Christmas isn’t something you create,” she said.

We should make time for daily prayer in a practical way. Your presence here shows you came to be around like-minded people.” Bean said.

She talked about the power of prayer and shared a story about how God answered her call.

“I was pregnant with our fourth child and prayed for a minivan that the family could travel in together. I prayed and prayed — almost in a bratty way, like a spoiled child. Then one day out of the blue my husband called and said someone wanted to give us a minivan. I knew God had heard my prayers and answered them,” she said.

During lunch, catered by Roche Bros. and served by a team of men from the office of Adult and Child Discipleship, the women at the table had a chance to share their stories of how God has touched their lives in profound ways.

Sharon Blanchard, a parishioner at Corpus Christi, told the others her story about the power of prayer.

“I had a skin cancer on my chin that has vanished. I went to doctor after doctor who said it needed to be removed with surgery. I prayed to Mother Angelica and her intersession healed me. Miracles do happen,” Blanchard said.

Maria Bess, also from Corpus Christi, told a story about her mother who suffered with COPD and went from using oxygen daily to not needing it at all.

“I prayed the Divine Mercy prayer and my mother miraculously got better. I truly believe that miracles can happen when you pray” she said.

Six priests were available for reconciliation and for most of the day, a line formed as women waited their turn to make their confession.

The day concluded with adoration lead by Deacon Paul.

After the retreat, Deacon Paul was pleased as to how the day proceeded.

“This is an annual event, usually held on the first Saturday of December.  

Based on the feedback we have been receiving, we feel the event went very well.  Two hundred women from all over our Diocese came together to be inspired with a lively presentation of the Gospel message geared specifically to women.  Many were able to encounter the mercy of our Lord sacramentally in Confession. It doesn’t get much better than that,” he said.

 He added that Bernadette Nelson, volunteer director of our Advent Women’s Retreat, worked tirelessly to organize volunteers, set up for the event, helped ensure that the day ran smoothly and cleaned up afterwards.  

In addition to this event specifically for women, David Carvalho and his team in the Secretariat for the New Evangelization offer several events annually for parish leaders, including a fall Convocation, a day for the youth of the diocese, a Pro-Life Conference, and a RCIA Retreat.  They also offer an annual men’s event called a “Meat and Greet” on the first Saturday of May.