Bethlehem Retreat celebrates 25 years in Nanaimo

Bethlehem Retreat Centre celebrates 25 years in Nanaimo.

Mary Ann Gisler

Mary Ann Gisler

People can contemplate almost anything as they walk the path constructed from 7,000 stones at the Bethlehem Retreat Centre.

The stones were handmade and laid in the exact pattern of the pavement labyrinth on the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France.

People come from all over the world to walk the labyrinth constructed on the grounds of the retreat, said Lucia Gamroth, a Bethlehem centre volunteer.

The labyrinth is one attraction people can experience during the retreat’s 25th anniversary open house July 29, from 1-3 p.m. The event will include musical entertainment, guided tours of the centre and a chance to learn its history.

Mary Ann Gisler, retreat director and a Benedictine sister, said people often walk by on the Westwood Lake trails and see the retreat, but some don’t know what the centre is.

“This is going to give everyone the opportunity to see it from the inside,” she said. “It’s a wonderful moment in our history because you have this sense of gratitude, because over these 25 years there have been thousands of people who have come through here.”

The retreat was founded in 1987 under the leadership of Benedictine sister Jill Aigner.

The Benedictine sisters purchased the retreat property from the Catholic diocese of Victoria in 2002. It grew from a single building, which was used to host meetings and spiritual observances, to a centre with a chapel, two accommodation buildings, a garden area and several conference rooms.

Gisler said people come for various reasons. Some are searching for peace or meaning in their lives and others just want a quiet place to connect with nature.

“They always drink in the energy of nature that surrounds this place,” she said. “You can be led by your spirit and heart [here].”

Gisler said the retreat is open to people from all walks of life and all faiths. The retreat often hosts meetings and conferences or hosts people who just want to enjoy the natural setting for a day.

The retreat already started the celebrating its anniversary.

Earlier in July, about 200 people who had been guests, volunteers or worked at the retreat were invited to share stories. Gamroth said it was wonderful to hear the experiences of people involved in the retreat and what the centre meant to them.

“It’s just an amazing experience,” she said.

Bethlehem Retreat Centre is located at 2371 Arbot Rd. For more information please go to www.bethlehemretreatcentre.com, call 250-754-3254 or e-mail bethret@haw.ca.

reporter3@nanaimobulletin.com

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