The Gabriola Ecumenical Society (GES) waited two years before Paulist Father Frank Desiderio of Los Angeles, California, could come to Gabriola Island for one of his world-renowned “Forgiveness Retreats” ( And when he did, he changed for many, their understanding of why it’s important to let go of old hurts and emotional wounds.

His five step mantra: LET GO: “Look deeply at what went wrong; empathy for the other; tell the story differently; give forgiveness freely; one day at a time and keep forgiveness strong”. Perhaps, if we don’t, our thoughts may ‘fall down, go boom!’, he said.

The retreat began on a recent Friday evening at The Roxy, viewing “The Big Question”, accepted at 19 film festivals, and winner of Best Documentary at Breckenridge and Santa Fe Metaphysical Film Festivals. The question posed in the film: “How do you get beyond hurt and anger and find peace of mind” drives the film with stories of people who have overcome great hurts and become greater human beings. The film examines scientific evidence of why forgiveness is good for you.

Featured in the film are some of the world’s greatest spiritual teachers: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Anti-Death Penalty activist Sr. Helen Prejean; Co-Founder/President Emeritus Southern Christian Leadership Conference Rev. Joseph Lowery; and World-renowned Buddhist leader Peace and human rights activist, the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh.

Two comments about the film from the retreat brochure supported the feelings of many GES participants: “It’s a film, that shows the incredible cost of forgiveness, and it portrays some who found the strength to forgive”. And “I cried through the film and the next day, called my mother to have the talk I’d been putting off”.

Laughter was also a product of Desiderio’s presentation. If you treated your friends the way you treat yourself, he asked, would you have any friends? In response to feeling angry at being repeatedly judged by another, he said: “It’s like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies”!

The job of justice is to heal hurts and right the wrong, Desiderio said. He said that today we have restorative justice, in which a relationship/equilibrium in society is restored, as opposed to retributive justice, or getting even and settling the score.

In closing, Desiderio hailed “beauty” as the centre of one’s ability to heal the body; empathy and compassion for the mind and soul.

After gathering in the Gabriola United Church sanctuary to sing a hymn of praise and bid farewell, Imelda Cuthbertson, who organised the event along with Del McCarthy and many GES members, presented Desiderio with a cup and bowl made by Potter Howard Houle. Those articles were chosen because the priest cum film producer liked porridge. Cheers raised the roof; spirits went higher.

~ written by Denese Izzard-Ferris

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