Eleven Campus Ministry pilgrims, including four MCCN students, journeyed from Columbus to join students from the University of Cincinnati to spend the day and night October 4 and 5 at the Cincinnati Zoo. The purpose of the event was to celebrate the wonder of God’s creation in honor of the Feast of St. Francis, who is the patron saint of animals. Representing MCCN were Yuliya Fonin, Maria Moser Arteaga, Jessica Handa and Kelly Schwendeman accompanied by Ellen O’Shaughnessy, DMin, Director of Campus Ministry for MCCN and the Downtowners Campus Ministry.

The prayer walk asked students to open their hearts to an animal of their choice and allow their hearts to listen to the animal as St. Francis often did, so as to remind them of the love of God for all creatures. Francis would often address the animals: “You can neither spin nor sew, but God provides garments for both you and your little ones. Your Creator loves you dearly…”

Yuliya Fonin reflected, “We partnered up at the zoo and began our spiritual journey through animal kingdoms. My partner and I began with the small things: birds and bugs. We marveled over a Hornbill bird as it called out to the room. It was incredible to see God’s creations that do not exist in our back yards. As we walked on, we enjoyed the view of proud penguins, sharing their ecosystem with flying birds. My favorite was the screaming hairy armadillo. I received the opportunity to touch him and I even got to hold him. I felt so connected with that animal and such an immense feeling of love for it. Later on, we went for a night walk— on our own with no public patrons around. We learned about the animals, especially their nocturnal habits. I was able to get to eye level with some animals and I particularly enjoyed the adorable snow leopard. Waking up to an early morning of reflection and spiritual singing, I felt renewed, inspired and intrigued by life. I realized that there is a lot to be happy about, a lot to love. Sometimes these feelings take a back seat, but they are so pleasant when they come back. The experience was absolutely indescribably amazing.”

The retreat was made possible by a grant from the Southern Ohio Episcopal Diocese to the Downtowners Campus Ministry.

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