NORTH PALM BEACH | New Year’s Eve is celebrated around the world with fireworks and social gatherings with sparkly decorations and fancy food and drinks, but in one little corner of the Diocese of Palm Beach, people quietly ring in the New Year with Jesus Christ at the center of festivities.
“We haven’t missed one,” Jeannette Land explained about her participation over the years during the New Year’s Eve program sponsored by Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Retreat Center. “These events help set Christ-centered priorities, focusing on can dos instead of cannots. Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Center’s Christ-centered events offer hope and encouragement on holy grounds.”
Land and her husband, Jack, have attended the annual New Year’s Eve evening of reflection since it became an annual event. She said participation in the event on the grounds of the center in North Palm Beach helps the couple let go of the old year and welcome in the start of a new year, looking forward to possibilities.
“It is a way to celebrate the New Year on a spiritual note with a Christian community while enjoying good food, good fellowship and good fun,” said Land, a parishioner of St. Paul of the Cross in North Palm Beach.
The center’s Dec. 31 reflection begins with 6 p.m. registration at the facility on U.S. Highway 1. The event gives participants a chance to get away from all the stress of the holiday season and focus on beginning a peaceful new year with a ”spiritual reorientation,” said Dominican Sister Roberta Popara, who is part of the center retreat team.
“It comes in the midst of Christmastide, those 12 days of Christmas leading up to the Epiphany, when so many find this brief retreat the perfect opportunity to catch up with themselves when the holidays have been exhausting,” she explained.
This year’s program includes a dinner, a spiritual presentation by Passionist Brother Edward Hall and the celebration of Mass for the solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. The sacrament of reconciliation is available for retreatants, and at midnight a celebratory party is planned to welcome in 2019 on a joyful note.
“The New Year’s Eve retreat is a great way to end the old year and begin the new one with the opportunity for Mass, the sacrament of reconciliation and some quiet reflection time,” said Michael Stephan, a parishioner of St. Anthony in Fort Lauderdale, who drives to Palm Beach County for the special program. “I can’t think of a better way to spend New Year’s Eve or a better place to be than Our Lady of Florida.”
Betty Heaney, a parishioner of St. Paul of the Cross, always talked about attending the New Year’s Eve retreat with her husband, who was a regular retreatant at the center for more than 25 years. But because they always faced a busy holiday season, the Heaneys never managed to have time to participate as a couple.
“My husband and I often spoke of our hope that we could one day greet the New Year at Our Lady of Florida,” she shared. Heaney’s husband passed away before they could find time to attend, but she has since finally attended.
“With his presence alive in my heart, I participated,” she continued. “It was an uplifting, empowering, joyous entrance to the New Year that grounded me in the deep awareness of God’s all-embracing love and mercy for us all. These events and retreats give me a peace and strength to meet each day’s challenges. God also reminds me through each individual attending and staff of his loving, healing presence at work in our lives and in our world.”
Over the years, some people have opted to stay for the New Year’s Eve events and then returned home. Others stay the night in the center’s accommodations with beautiful sprawling grounds near the Intracoastal Waterway. The grounds are ideal for strolling, reflecting and praying, but it is also a great location for viewing the sun as it rises over the water welcoming in a new day.
On New Year’s Day, many participants rise early to take in the sunrise. This year, the center offers breakfast at 8:30 a.m. for those who stay overnight, and a 9:30 a.m. Mass is planned in the spiritual center chapel.
Sister Popara said the retreat appeals to people of various ages and from different locations. “Over the years, it has been fun to see that this event provides a place where everyone may feel comfortable to celebrate the New Year,” Sister Popara said. “It isn’t a couples-only event. Single people as well as priests and religious have taken the opportunity to come to this overnight retreat. All are welcomed in this spiritual home.”