WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
About 500 families from across Western Canada came to Lac Ste. Anne for a weekend of renewal.
LAC STE. ANNE — Hundreds of Catholic families spent the Canada Day long weekend sharing with each other, barbecuing, praying, attending Mass and listening to renowned speakers from Canada and the United States.
The Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage site was teeming with activity as more than 2,000 Catholics, about 500 families, from across Alberta and Western Canada descended on the site for the 16th annual Family Life Conference June 30-July 3.
The background was filled with campers and tents as pilgrims made the conference part of their holidays. Large white tents housed activities for children and youth while adults attended events at the shrine.
There was ongoing adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the chapel nearby. People lined up for Confession in front of a teepee-like structure near the shrine.
During breaks, young people played football on the field near the shore. Others just lay on the green grass under the sun. The whole weekend was about faith and family.
Those that attend the conference are Catholic families that "know they will receive the truth here," said conference organizer Maurice Beier.
"Sometimes our faith seems to be a little watered down but they know that the speakers that come here speak with the fullness of truth.
"They also know that they'll find other like-minded families here that are pro-life, pro-traditional marriage and pro-family."
Many families come back to the conference year after year and sometimes bring other families with them. A lot of new participants don't know what to expect but once they get to the site, the joy of families sharing and children playing seems to infect them.
"If you talk to the kids they can't wait till next year," Beier said. "Every year, they can't wait for the family conference because they get to meet friends they haven't seen for a year."
Some families have been attending for all 16 years of the event. "It's something they wouldn't miss; a lot of families plan their summer holidays around the conference."
WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Paul and Barb Moroney, family friend Julie Moore and daughters Mary (hidden) and Amy Moroney have been coming to the family life conference for 15 years.
For couples with large families, the family conference is the place to be. "This is a place where they are accepted. In society today a lot of times large families are frowned upon but here it is such a joy to see large families."
Organizers wouldn't say how much it cost to put the conference together but said renting the tents costs $18,000, renting the grounds, $5,700 and portable toilets, $5,700. Families pay a registration of $175 each and the ministry also receives donations.
Barb Moroney and her husband Paul have been coming to the conference from Calgary for 15 years after they read about the weekend in the WCR.
"It's the first thing we plan our summer around," said Barb. "It's so important; we have so many friends here and it's like it's become our family in a way."
Every year the Moroneys try to bring a new family from Calgary and "so now there are lots of families from Calgary that come; now they bring (new) people."
This year the Moroneys again brought their eight children plus some friends.
"As parents we have been coming to get our own education so we can pass it on to our kids," said Barb. "The kids enjoy meeting friends from all over the province when they come here.
The Moroneys also enjoy the Masses and the celebration of family life that's imbued in all conference activities.
"I think this conference is for anyone. It blends all kinds of Catholics together," Barb said. "We find that no matter whom we invite, whether they are charismatic or not too sure about their faith, they just love the environment here and almost all of them come back."
Jessica and Joseph Cyr, also of Calgary, have been coming to the conference for 12 years and five years respectively. This year they brought their 16-month-old son Patrick.
Jessica said the conference has been a source of renewal for her own family.
"It's a kind of haven for a lot of people who come for renewal and to experience God's love in a community of Catholics where you can freely worship God and freely be a Catholic."
Joseph enjoys the friendship and the fellowship. "I enjoy coming for the community primarily," he said. "I enjoy the talks as well but I like to come for the visiting and just discussing the issues of the day with other Catholic couples."
John and Pat Mayko of Mundare have been attending the conference for 14 years. They used to come with their four children when they were smaller. This year they came by themselves.
The attraction for the Maykos is that the conference strengthens their faith and offers them guidance for living.
Having it in the summer at Lac Ste. Anne means not having to deal with traffic and the other "hassles" of the city, said John. "Here you just get a chance to set up your camp and just relax and be in the presence of the Lord."