GATES — Saulo Hidalgo implored the crowd of people gathered before him to never stop showing love and affection for their spouses and children, because the first step to uniting families begins with following Jesus’ example of loving unconditionally.
"Love is giving of oneself completely," he said. "Open your arms again. Believe again. Love again. … Don’t focus on the harms others do to you. Heal yourself."
Healing was the theme of the retreat led by Hidalgo Nov. 6-7 at the Bishop Hickey Conference Center, located at the diocesan Pastoral Center. Groups from Albany, Buffalo and Philadelphia and even visitors from Puerto Rico attended the retreat, which included songs, shared meals and praying over participants. This was Hidalgo’s second visit to Rochester; he also was part of a regional Catholic charismatic convention two years ago.
In an interview prior to the retreat, Hidalgo explained how he experienced a life-changing moment in his life many years ago when he suffered a horseback riding accident that drowned his horse.
"In that moment under the water, I heard the voice of God who told me, ‘Do not fear. I need you.’ "
During the retreat, the native of the Dominican Republic added how he left a financially secure job to follow that call to spread God’s word all over the world.
"God’s Word is powerful," he said. "How much we believe that is the problem. … In that word, you’ll know the glory of God. That word has power. And now I tell you, your word has power."
Carmen LeBron, a parishioner of Holy Apostles Church, said that she enjoyed Hidalgo’s dynamic preaching style, which included humorous anecdotes and asides as well as thunderous declarations of the need for Catholics to stop the hypocrisy of judging others while not considering their own actions.
"He’s hilarious," she said. "But everything he says is right on point."
She especially took heart in his advice to help teenagers stay on the right path by talking to and listening to them, LeBron noted. But she added that she also had a personal reason for attending the retreat.
"I want to get into more of a spiritual life and see what I can do," LeBron said.
The people also in need of spiritual healing are those that choose to focus on criticizing others, Hidalgo explained, and they need to look to Jesus to find love. Because once a person can find love within his or her own heart, Hidalgo added, he or she can then share that love with others. Families who fight — especially parents who get into arguing matches in front of their own children — also are failing to set the example of caring that Jesus wants them to do.
"He who doesn’t respect others … has a sickness," he said. "(But) the Bible says that ‘one Word’ … is all that’s needed to save you."
Salvation begins with inward examination, Hidalgo noted.
"Jesus wants to fix you on the outside, but first he wants to fix you on the inside," he added.
Tata Figueroa, who was in Rochester from Villalba, Puerto Rico, visiting with her daughter and grandchildren, heard about the retreat from Candy Berrios, who with her husband, Deacon Jose Berrios, helped organize the event.
Throughout Hidalgo’s talks, Figueroa held a cross in her hand and would shout out words of praise. It was the first time she had heard him preach although she has attended many charismatic retreats.
"His message is amazing," she said. "He helps us see how every word (of God) shakes us to our very core."