Chemin Neuf Winnipeg has a new home

April 16, 2013

Ted Wood, Dominique Ferry, Sr. Sister CÚcile Fortier, Nancy Wood and Sylvianne Marchand.

By James Buchok

Chemin Neuf, an international Catholic community, has put down roots in Winnipeg thanks to the gift of the Missionary Oblate Sisters of Saint Boniface of their former residence to a group with a passion for unity, especially among Christians.

"It is a joy for me and the sisters to be here tonight to celebrate the transfer of this house to the Chemin Neuf community," said Superior General Sr. CÚcile Fortier at a celebration evening April 3. "May the spirit continue to guide you in your mission."

Chemin Neuf grew out of a prayer group in Lyon, France in 1973. It now has more than 1,500 members in 27 countries in Europe, Africa, the Americas and the Middle East. Its focus is on missions such as the Cana mission for married couples, sessions for young people, and spiritual retreats. It describes itself as "an apostolic community influenced both by the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola and by the Charismatic Renewal." At present Chemin Neuf in Winnipeg is inviting students or working young adults to join in a Year of Grace, to live together in a Christian community from next September to April.

There are now three Chemin Neuf houses in Canada, with a parish and retreat centre in Quebec.

The community came to Winnipeg in 2010 at the invitation of the Archbishop of St. Boniface and was originally looking for a facility in St. Boniface. It has now been given the sisters' former home in the Archdiocese of Winnipeg, which since the early 1980s had been the St. Charles Retreat Centre operated by the Missionary Oblates Sisters.

Deacon Ted Wood and his wife Nancy, who had lived in a Chemin Neuf community in London, England, are coordinators at Chemin Neuf, Winnipeg. Since June 2011, Ted Wood has also been the Director of Pastoral Services for the Archdiocese of Winnipeg.

"The generous gift of this house to the Chemin Neuf community is a huge moment that allows us to begin here in Manitoba," Ted Wood said. "This is a tale of two communities centered around this house."

Sr. CÚcile said she had first heard of Chemin Neuf in the late 1990s while working in Burundi. She said in the fall of 2010 the sisters began looking seriously at the future of the retreat centre, hoping to find a suitable group to leave it to. "We prayed to St. Joseph for help," she said. "We were looking for a group that could some how continue the spirit of our mission."

Wood said in many parts of the world Chemin Neuf "has been blessed by the gifts of houses, most coming from religious communities." In Europe many are old monasteries.

Special guests from other Chemin Neuf communities were in attendance, including Dominique Ferry from London. "God's plan is to make community life something that is possible for everyone," he said. "Today one of the great needs of the people is to find a place where they belong."

Ferry spoke of the Cana retread and how it allows "a husband and wife to minister to each other. It's where they can talk about their difficulties and tensions. Life does not provide a place to do that, for that you need a place of safety, of love and of prayer." The Cana retreat is offered in the summer and couples can bring their children, who are cared for by a team of volunteers.

Archbishop of Winnipeg James Weisgerber said the gift of the building, located in a peaceful and picturesque setting on the banks of the Assiniboine River, next to St. Charles School and across from St. Charles Church, combines old traditions of church communities such as the Missionary Oblate Sisters with the new represented by Chemin Neuf, "and we thank God for all of this."

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