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Walk with the saints, sip 'cafecito' with Jesus

MorningStar Renewal Center's many online offerings extend its outreach beyond South Florida

A screengrab from MorningStar Renewal Center's website shows some of the innovative programs being offered online in response to the social distancing required by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photographer: Via morningstarrenewal.org

A screengrab from MorningStar Renewal Center's website shows some of the innovative programs being offered online in response to the social distancing required by the COVID-19 pandemic.

PINECREST | Thanks to MorningStar Renewal Center's pastiche of new online offerings, the people of God can: sip a noontime Cafecito with Jesus for spiritual refreshment; walk through their neighborhood with saints from St. Martin de Porres to St. Juan Diego; exercise body and spirit through SoulCore; and manage stress in Christ amid COVID angst.

As the pandemic halted in-person offerings in March, MorningStar marshalled its resources and initiated creative online ministries. Since then, only a few groups have met on campus — through Herculean sanitation labors — but the archdiocesan retreat center’s virtual ministries have proliferated through Zoom, Facebook Live and its YouTube channel, expanding the retreat center's outreach beyond South Florida.

“It’s been a really exciting venture," said MorningStar director Sue DeFerrari, noting "we’ve had a lot of fun creating it."

And although nothing is going to replace in-person, "it is meeting a need in our current social situation to stay connected even though we’re apart," she noted. "We meet people where they are hurting and where they are longing for something.”

For the five-minute Cafecito, which takes places on Zoom Monday through Friday at noon, DeFerrari leads an invocational prayer followed by silence and a participant’s spiritual reflection. One woman recently reflected on receiving the Eucharist after months.

“It’s like a little coffee break with Jesus,” DeFerrari said. “There has been a core community that has developed primarily from the South Florida area, but we also have people joining us from Central and South America, from Canada and Europe... People text me, email, call me and say I’m so grateful for this time of prayer.”

MorningStar also developed a weekly podcast for walkers featuring a different saint each week. Amid the Black Lives Matter protests, the summer series featured saints of color.

“Built into the podcast are prayer prompts, questions that come out of reflecting on that life," said DeFerrari. "So it’s being able to glean the wisdom from this saint’s life and bring it to your own life and where do you find these things happening and how do you want to pray as a result of this?”

 

CELTIC SAINTS AND ICONS

Another journey with the saints began Sept. 8 and will continue through Oct. 13. Ann Rose, who taught English for 11 years at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, teaches the series on Celtic Christian Spirituality, featuring saints from Patrick to Brigid.

In this file photo from 2017, Susan DeFerrari, director of ministry at MorningStar Renewal Center in Pinecrest, emcees during the dedication of its new labyrinth. Behind her on guitar is her husband, Michael.

Photographer: JIM DAVIS | FC

In this file photo from 2017, Susan DeFerrari, director of ministry at MorningStar Renewal Center in Pinecrest, emcees during the dedication of its new labyrinth. Behind her on guitar is her husband, Michael.

Starting Oct. 1, participants in the "viseo divina" series can meditate on the lives of four other heavenly hall of famers with iconographer Christine Hales. She will discuss the spiritual symbolism of icons, their use in Orthodox prayer and contemplate the iconography on four carefully curated saints who speak to today’s cries for justice, peace and pandemic relief: St. Francis of Assisi, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Kateri Tekakwitha and Dorothy Day.

“Each has a different angle to share with us, especially during this time with the challenge that we face and the invitations we have in front of us,” DeFerrari said. And through iconography, “we’re going to learn to gaze into that window and see something of the character of God.”

In November, grief minister Ligia Houben will lead a seminar based on her book “Transforming Grief and Loss” while Hales will invite artistic souls to prayerfully paint their own Madonna and child in preparation for Advent.

In another holistic workout, therapist and certified SoulCore instructor Melissa Tablada leads ongoing 30-minute weekday sessions of stretches and rosary recitation. Lutheran Rev. Kathryn Carroll led a series on spirituality and stress relief. DeFerrari and Rev. Carroll, who helped develop MorningStar’s labyrinth, will co-lead a follow up.

“MorningStar has tried to look at how do we integrate this need for community and this need for caring for our body and our health with our spirituality,” DeFerrari said.

 

RECONNECTING

Maureen Osborn, an over 30-year member of St. Louis Parish who relocated to Dunedin, Florida, said she reconnected with her Miami faith community through Cafecito.

“For five minutes you stop and focus on your faith,” she said. “There’s a sense you can lift each other up and recognize yourself in other speakers or take away something that helps you.”

Then she began "walking with the saints," including St. Josephine Bakhita of Sudan, who overcame terrible suffering to find goodness, not letting the past define her.

“It’s been very centering for me,” said Osborn. “I find myself talking to the particular saints and looking at the same sky they must have looked at, noticing the foliage. It ties you to them and to creation. It’s a very humbling experience.”

Kathleen Gunn of Miami Beach spoke on faith in Cafecito, exercised with SoulCore, and took the Christian stress management seminar, which included diverse perspectives from Joseph Campbell to Carl Jung.

MorningStar Renewal Center came up with a circus-themed online "fun-raiser" to offset the loss of retreat revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photographer: COURTESY

MorningStar Renewal Center came up with a circus-themed online "fun-raiser" to offset the loss of retreat revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The seminar "helps take people out of that isolation and connect them with people who are interested in the same kind of thing," she said. "It’s a safe space for talking about those things that are really at your core.”

With her stressful schedule, Gunn said she appreciates the online endeavor.

“It’s really important for me to stay connected to that message of Christ, of peace and nonviolence," she said. "So that’s the way I keep myself grounded and connected so that I’m better able to respond to all the societal challenges, heath challenges, personal challenges.”

She added that programming that's accessible to people of all faiths is better for everybody, "because maybe people who wouldn’t otherwise see each other or interact are doing that in this online space.”

 

NOT JUST 'WAITING FOR NORMAL'

“There are so many ways to companion each other in suffering on the road to the cross,” DeFerrari said. “It’s not just waiting for the normal to come back but looking at the times and saying we’re here to serve, pandemic or no pandemic.”

MorningStar’s book club and ecumenical Bible study also have gone virtual but the grounds remain open. The center recently resumed its full-moon prayer and labyrinth walk in the evening. Through it all, DeFerrari said, the center strives to “offer something different that could send them back to their community of faith in a little more empowered way.”

As conditions improve, MorningStar looks forward to welcoming more retreatants to campus.

“We’re grateful that although it’s still a very, very challenging time for the physical retreat house we’re still working very hard and engaging a lot of people in the spiritual mission. We’re just waiting for the time we can be back in person,” DeFerrari said. “We’ll have a new normal and it will be in person and online.”

“They just stepped up and thought of ways to reach people,” said Osborn. “We need it more than ever.”

CIRCUS FUNDRAISER

  • With all the pandemic losses, including of retreat revenue to cover expenses, MorningStar Renewal Center director Sue DeFerrari hesitated to ask people for money.
  • To generate funds, the center came up with an online, circus-themed “fun-raiser” which runs through Sept. 13, 2020. Participants can enter under the big top and click on seven virtual tents where they can play bingo with friends, play cards with a corporate magician, watch concerts and devise an escape route through playful, interactive activities.
  • In the wishing room, supporters can purchase something from MorningStar’s wish list.
  • “There are a lot of really fun things. We’ve worked really hard with people all over the country to create this virtual event and it’s one of a kind,” said DeFerrari.
  • She also shared the model with the Retreat House Collaboration, a group of retreat directors nationwide who meet biweekly. “It looks like we’re creating something that might be able to be replicated and help other people,” she said.   

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