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6/27/2014 1:35:00 PM
Ashland Catholics find unity, fellowship in ACTS retreats
ACTS photos
The men retreatants at a recent retreat in Gold Hill.
ACTS photos
The men retreatants at a recent retreat in Gold Hill.
Women retreatants in 2013.
Women retreatants in 2013.

ASHLAND — For many years, Carolina Senestraro said, she went to Mass at Our Lady of the Mountain Parish and felt like she was surrounded by acquaintances. Now that she and more than 100 other parishioners have gone on ACTS retreats, Senestraro said her church community feels more like an extended family, with people lingering on Sundays long after coffee and donuts is scheduled to end.

“You can’t get rid of us,” Senestraro said.

Coordinated by a team of leaders at Our Lady of the Mountain, ACTS retreats are held twice a year – once in the fall for women and once in the spring for men.

The goal is to allow an opportunity for women and men to build purpose in their prayer lives, increase their presence at the liturgy and cultivate friendships in their parish community.

Created by Texas-based Cursillo instructors in the late 1980s, ACTS is connected to the themes of adoration, community, theology and service.

In 2011, a group of Our Lady of the Mountain parishioners attended an ACTS retreat in Texas along with then-pastor, Father Sean Weeks. Father Weeks’ parents were involved in the program and kept telling their son what a great tool the retreats were to evangelize and build community.

“When they returned, they were on fire,” Senestraro said.

They were so moved by the experience, that the five men and Father Weeks invited team leaders from Texas to teach Ashland Catholics how to organize their own retreats. After several years of coordinating the weekends, Ashland’s ACTS leaders hope to take their show on the road as early as next year, leading retreats for people in other areas of Oregon.

“This isn’t like going to a retreat to sit all day and listen to a presenter,” Father Weeks said. “Instead, it’s men speaking to men about their relationship with Christ, and at the end of the retreat they come back to the parish with a strong sense of community.”
Retreat organizers keep mum about what exactly happens at the retreat. Not knowing what to expect helps attendees keep open minds and hearts.

Karl Kemper, an athletic director and assistant principal, said the experience changed his life and relationship with the Lord.

“Today, I don’t get out of church without getting about 30 hugs on Sundays,” Kemper said. “It’s really all about being joyful Christians.”

Kemper said the ACTS weekends he’s attended as a retreatant and as a leader, have been some of the best days in his life.

A parishioner at Our Lady of the Mountain for more than 30 years, Louann Rasmussen said their parish had always struggled to get young people involved in ministries. That has all changed.  People of all ages are stepping forward to help at bake sales or to serve on the funeral committee.

Currently, there is a waiting list to participate in the women’s retreat. However, there are still openings for the men’s retreat next spring. For more information, contact Donald Senestraro, ACTS core team facilitator, at 541-261-8373.

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