By Ramon Gonzalez
Western Catholic Reporter
LAC STE. ANNE, ALTA (CCN)
Wanda and John Lazzari of Camrose took the advice of friends and spent the Canada Day weekend at the Catholic Family Life Conference.
“It has been an amazing weekend,” Wanda said.
The couple said the conference helped them understand “why we are Catholics and why Catholics are different.”
“It’s very inspiring; we get so much information from so many different speakers,” John added. “There are activities for the kids. I wish our grandchildren were here.”
As they have been doing for years, several hundred Catholic families came to the Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage grounds for a weekend of barbecuing, sharing with each other, playing games, praying, attending Mass and listening to Catholic speakers.
About 2,000 Catholics — nearly 500 families — from many parts of Alberta and Western Canada attended the 17th annual Family Life Conference, June 29 to July 2.
The event offered activities for everyone. Large white tents housed activities for children and youth while adults attended events at the shrine. During breaks families went to Confession or retreated to their campers to enjoy a meal. Young people played Frisbee on the field near the lake’s shore.
“Our own children have grown up with this and now they are in ministry; they are involved in cooking, ministering to the youth and in toddler care,” noted conference organizer Maurice Beier. “So they have grown up in service and they continue to serve and it’s a real blessing.”
Most of the families, he said, have been attending since the beginning. “Initially they came maybe by themselves with one or two kids; then they came with several kids. Now they are coming with grandchildren and that’s incredible.”
A lot of the young people come because their friends come, Beier pointed out. “It’s not like they are being dragged here. They are the ones who are dragging their parents here.”
This year the speakers included Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio, a theologian from Texas, a group of Dominican Sisters and Father Taras Kraychuk, a Ukrainian priest-monk from near Derwent. Shari-Anne Doolaege gave a mini-talk about the pursuit of wisdom and Suzanne MacDonnell spoke on how faith gives hope to global challenges.
This year, thanks to the good weather, countless campfires were seen burning in the evenings, Beier said. People would visit each other to talk, listen to music or play the guitar around the campfire.
Beaumont’s Norman Hebert and his wife Yvette have been coming for 10 years. The Family Life Conference is part of their annual vacation. Their four children enjoy the adventure as much as they do.
“The reason why we come is just for a strong Catholic family community and friendships that we have built here,” said Hebert. “We also come here for our spiritual growth. Our children love coming here every year.”
Yvette said she likes the formation they and their children receive at the conference. “We also like the fellowship with other families that are passionate about their faith like we are.”
Michelle Hiatt, from Edson, was having lunch outside her camper with sisters Renee Bilodeau, 13, Maria Bilodeau, 10, and brother Michael Bilodeau, seven — all three from Beaumont. Her six-month-old baby Miley napped inside the camper.
Hiatt started coming to the conference with her parents when she was a small girl and has missed only occasionally. Her husband Logan couldn’t attend due to work so she decided to come with her parents and her siblings.
“We come because it’s hard to meet nice people and here you find them in abundance,” she said half jokingly. “It’s nice to spend time with people who think like you.” Hiatt also likes the educational opportunities the conference offers.
“The talks make me think about a lot of things,” added her sister Renee. “It’s a good place to be; it’s a lot of fun.”
Maria said the conference is the biggest highlight of her year. “It’s an amazing place. It helps me meet new people and to grow up spiritually.”
What’s the best part? “The talks and the bonfires,” Maria replied without hesitation.