Retreat to help cancer-afflicted ‘face their immortality’

Aaron Lambert

When Denise Archuleta was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009, her life changed drastically.

“When you get cancer, you get thrown into chaos,” she told the Denver Catholic.

Archuleta, a devout Catholic and current parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes in Denver, found refuge in her faith and the Church as she battled her cancer. Now, as a two-time cancer survivor, she hopes to help others in a similar situation by providing a spiritual retreat for women who have faced or are facing a difficult diagnosis such as the one she did.

Formed in partnership with Sister Anne Marie Walsh, a nun of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity in Iowa and a cancer survivor herself, the retreat is called “Facing Our Immortality” and will take place at Mother Cabrini Shrine June 1 – 3. It will be the third retreat the women have done together and the first in Colorado.

“I really believe this retreat [is] essential for people needing something specific to help with their spiritual needs when it comes to cancer,” Archuleta said. “There’s a need for this.”

Denise Archuleta and Sister Anne Marie Walsh offer the “Facing Our Immortality” retreat for women who have endured the challenges of a cancer diagnosis. (Photo provided)

The retreat will be led by Sister Walsh, who before partnering with Archuleta did similar retreats for those afflicted with cancer. The name of the retreat is meant as a rebuttal to the idea of mortality connected with a cancer diagnosis.

“One of the first things people say when you have a serious diagnosis is, ‘Now you have to face your mortality,’ and everything within you rebels against that, and it’s partly because we’re not mortal – we’re immortal,” Sister Walsh explained. “We don’t ever come to grips with that, so when something like this comes up, you really have to face the reality that this isn’t as dark as it seems.”

One aspect Sister Walsh likes to focus on in the retreat is God the Father’s dream for the lives of the women there and his promises to them. A cancer diagnosis doesn’t change the Lord’s plans for their lives, Sister Walsh said.

“Because we are immortal, God has known for all eternity that this was going to happen, and he knows what he wants to come from it,” she said. “His love for us and his dream for our lives is still the same as it ever was, so we spend a good part of our time exploring that.”

The retreat is designed for any woman who has had to deal with cancer in any capacity; whether they’re newly diagnosed, in treatment, in remission or near the end of life, all are welcome, Sister Walsh said. In the past, she’s even welcomed a man who was grieving the loss of his wife to cancer into a retreat. While that’s a special case, Sister Walsh and Archuleta are hoping this will be that start of something new in Denver and they’re actively discerning how else they can extend this ministry to people who need it.

The response to the retreats has been “so, so positive,” Sister Walsh said. She encourages those who attend to ask God for the grace they need most, and that “He just pours whatever grace they really [need] in abundance upon them.” Some people find there are gifts that are given from the Lord in the midst of having cancer, Sister Walsh continued, and they’re also surprised to discover those.

For Archuleta, she hopes the retreat will provide a sense of community for the women who attend and help them to find meaning in their suffering. Imparting a renewed trust in the truth and sense of joy onto the women who attend this retreat is more than just a passion for these ladies.

“It’s a call of the Lord,” Sister Walsh said. “We really believe he wants this.”

Facing Our Immortality

June 1 – June 3

Mother Cabrini Shrine

$75 per night, plus fee for Sister Anne Marie (TBD)

If you’re interested in providing a scholarship for women to attend the retreat, and for more details, contact Denise Archuleta at 206-779-0691 or servivorgirl@gmail.com.

COMING UP: The Pell case: Developments down under

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In three weeks, a panel of senior judges will hear Cardinal George Pell’s appeal of the unjust verdict rendered against him at his retrial in March, when he was convicted of “historical sexual abuse.” That conviction did not come close to meeting the criterion of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is fundamental to criminal law in any rightly-ordered society. The prosecution offered no corroborating evidence sustaining the complainant’s charge. The defense demolished the prosecution’s case, as witness after witness testified that the alleged abuse simply could not have happened under the circumstances charged — in a busy cathedral after Mass, in a secured space.

Yet the jury, which may have ignored instructions from the trial judge as to how evidence should be construed, returned a unanimous verdict of guilty. At the cardinal’s sentencing, the trial judge never once said that he agreed with the jury’s verdict; he did say, multiple times, that he was simply doing what the law required him to do. Cardinal Pell’s appeal will be just as devastating to the prosecution’s case as was his defense at both his first trial (which ended with a hung jury, believed to have favored acquittal) and the retrial. What friends of the cardinal, friends of Australia, and friends of justice must hope is that the appellate judges will get right what the retrial jury manifestly got wrong.

That will not be easy, for the appellate judges will have been subjected to the same public and media hysteria over Cardinal Pell that was indisputably a factor in his conviction on charges demonstrated to be, literally, incredible. Those appellate judges will also know, however, that the reputation of the Australian criminal justice system is at stake in this appeal. And it may be hoped that those judges will display the courage and grit in the face of incoming fire that the rest of the Anglosphere has associated with “Australia” since the Gallipoli campaign in World War I.

In jail for two months now, the cardinal has displayed a remarkable equanimity and good cheer that can only come from a clear conscience. The Melbourne Assessment Prison allows its distinguished prisoner few visitors, beyond his legal team; but those who have gone to the prison intending to cheer up a friend have, in correspondence with me, testified to having found themselves cheered and consoled by Cardinal Pell — a man whose spiritual life was deeply influenced by the examples of Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More during Henry VIII’s persecution of the Church in 16th-century England. The impact of over a half-century of reflection on those epic figures is now being displayed to Cardinal Pell’s visitors and jailers, during what he describes as his extended “retreat.”

Around the world, and in Australia itself, calmer spirits than those baying for George Pell’s blood (and behaving precisely like the deranged French bigots who cheered when the innocent Captain Alfred Dreyfus was condemned to a living death on Devil’s Island) have surfaced new oddities — to put it gently — surrounding the Pell Case.

How is it, for example, that the complainant’s description of the sexual assault he alleges Cardinal Pell committed bears a striking resemblance — to put it gently, again — to an incident of clerical sexual abuse described in Rolling Stone in 2011? How is it that edited transcripts of a post-conviction phone conversation between the cardinal and his cathedral master of ceremonies (who had testified to the sheer physical impossibility of the charges against Pell being true) got into the hands (and thence into the newspaper writing) of a reporter with a history of anti-Pell bias and polemic? What is the web of relationships among the virulently anti-Pell sectors of the Australian media, the police in the state of Victoria, and senior Australian political figures with longstanding grievances against the politically incorrect George Pell? What is the relationship between the local Get Pell gang and those with much to lose from his efforts to clean up the Vatican’s finances?

And what is the state of serious investigative journalism in Australia, when these matters are only investigated by small-circulation journals and independent researchers?

An “unsafe” verdict in Australia is one a jury could not rationally have reached. Friends of truth must hope that the appellate judges, tuning out the mob, will begin to restore safety and rationality to public life Down Under in June.

Featured image by CON CHRONIS/AFP/Getty Images