Q&A: Awakening Love, making a retreat amid daily tasks

Father Gregory Cleveland, author of Awakening Love: An Ignatian Retreat with the Song of Songs, belongs to the community of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary and is the executive director of the Lanteri Center for Ignatian Spirituality. He conducts a ministry of spiritual direction, including training and retreats.

DC: What inspired you to write Awakening Love?

Father Cleveland: I wanted to explore the profound connections between the mysticism of the Song of Songs and the Spiritual Exercises [of St. Ignatius of Loyola]. I’ve been formed in [his] spirituality and his Spiritual Exercises… As I prayed with the Song of Songs, I realized many of the themes parallel the themes of the Spiritual Exercises. The Holy Spirit has certainly inspired me to make the connections between the two books.

DC: What will someone gain from reading this book?

Father Cleveland: Anyone who reads this book will gain a wealth of knowledge about the interior life of prayer. The Spiritual Exercises are a kind of complete manual of the spiritual life that tell us so much about the journey to sanctity. Most importantly, the book helps to dispose the reader to the experience of God in prayer.

DC: How can the lay faithful make a retreat amid their many responsibilities?

Father Cleveland: St. Ignatius, in his brilliance, created a way to adapt the retreat experience. Instead of going away for a set period of days, he said that someone could make a retreat in daily life over a period of weeks… That requires a strong commitment on the part of retreatant to pray for a solid hour each day and meet with a spiritual director on a regular basis.

DC: Can Ignatian Spirituality be incorporated into a layperson’s life?

Father Cleveland: [Many believe] Ignatian Spirituality is more fitting for priests and religious. Actually, [it’s] tailor-made for the active individual with its goal of finding God in all things, whether in prayer, apostolic activity, or our daily routines… We withdraw from the world for a retreat, or period of prayer in our home, to concentrate entirely on Christ. We return to the world renewed in the Spirit to serve Christ in our work, play, study, family life and socializing with others.

COMING UP: Centro San Juan Diego to celebrate its ‘Quinceañera’ Oct. 11

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“The more prosperous nations are obliged… to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin” (CCC 2241).

With the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in mind and the vision and mission of answering the Church’s call to welcome and aid the newcomers, Archbishop Charles Chaput and Monsignor José Gómez created Centro San Juan Diego in 2003.

Fifteen years later, the mission of Centro continues more urgently than ever. On Oct. 11, the institution will celebrate its 15th birthday — or as it’s called among Hispanics, its ‘Quinceañera.’

Centro was created to meet the urgent needs of the growing Hispanic immigrant community in Colorado after the arrival of what was considered one of the largest wave of immigrants to the U.S. between 1996 and 2004, explained Juan Carlos Reyes, Executive Director of Centro San Juan Diego.

“The creation of Centro was necessary, not only so Catholic immigrants could find the Church welcoming them, opening its doors and helping them to actively participate in the Church’s life, but also, for the immigrant community in general, regardless of their faith, to offer them an area of social work,” Reyes explained.

Since its creation, Centro has helped thousands of people. In fact, nearly 5,000 Hispanics reach out to Centro every year to receive faith formation and educational services. With the Pastoral Institute, the family, children’s and young adult’s ministries, and the educational and leadership programs, Centro has become the main resource center for both long-term residents and newcomers in Colorado.

At Centro, students start by learning English, preparing for their citizenship, and/or becoming entrepreneurs by attending small business classes.

Twice a month, Centro offers a legal night (Noche Legal) to provide legal advice from lawyers in different areas of law to those seeking help but with no financial means to do so.  During tax season, Centro provides tax preparation services at a low cost. Additionally, a tax preparer certification is available for those who want to pursue it.

“One of the programs that has given us more recognition is the partnership Centro has with Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla (UPAEP), a university in Puebla, Mexico that offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Spanish that are valid in both countries,” said Reyes. This partnership began in 2012 and provides online education at low cost to any Spanish-speaking individual, regardless of their citizenship status.

A positive effect on families

One of the most touching testimonies shared by a Centro student came from Monica Chavez, who was the first graduate from the UPAEP program.

“During her graduation ceremony speech, she paused and, addressing her children, she said, ‘There are no excuses now [for them not to graduate],’” recalled Reyes. “The services at Centro are offered to help families, to help parents be the best parents they can be. The education this student [received] has had a direct effect on her life. We are almost certain that her children will graduate [due to her mother’s example].”

Centro San Juan Diego’s mission is continuous. Earlier this year, the “Sister Alicia V. Cuarón Education Fund” was created to honor the legacy of Sister Alicia V. Cuarón, the founder of the previous family services program and a lifelong advocate for Hispanic issues in business, leadership and empowerment. The education fund supports the family services and programs at Centro.

“This education fund is an effective tool to respond to the Church’s call to help immigrants, regardless of their ethnicity or economic status,” stated Reyes.

The future of Centro

When asked about Centro’s future, Reyes enthusiastically responded that among its promising plans, there is a great opportunity “to establish regional offices on the Eastern Plains and Western slope to reach the immigrant community in those areas.” They also plan “to extend vocation and education courses through the archdiocese and create new programs that will address the growing and diverse needs of immigrants, such as education, leadership development, job training and readiness, while ensuring easy access to its award-winning services.”