Two Winnipeg sisters are helping the faithful stay physically and spiritually fit.
Natalie Marion, 34, and her sister, Valérie, 31, started a monthly Zoom workout group in January for francophone men and women aged 18 to 35 in their Roman Catholic parish.
"We heard people saying they were gaining weight and it was hard to stay physically and spiritually fit during the pandemic," said Valérie, an emergency physician.
"We thought they might be interested in a workout that combined fitness and faith."
The exercise routines are designed by Natalie, who is a physiotherapist and CrossFit trainer, while Valérie adds the spiritual dimension.
The sisters, who are members of Saint-Eugène Parish, part of the Archdiocese of St. Boniface, developed the final workout session together.
Each 45- to 60-minute session has a spiritual theme. In January, the focus was on new beginnings and resolutions to exercise and to pray and read the Bible regularly. In February, the theme was "loving God, loving yourself." During Lent, they used the Stations of the Cross for each exercise, reflecting on the spiritual dimensions of each station.
Participants are encouraged to take a prayer request to each session.
"It could be someone who is weighing on their hearts, or something in their own lives," said Valérie. "We ask them to keep it in mind throughout the workout."
The sisters open and end each workout session with prayer. During the workouts, participants are invited to offer their exercise to God — including when the routines are hard and they think they can’t go on.
Afterwards, during the cooling off and muscle-stretching period, the sisters offer reflections on the monthly theme.
For both women, excelling at physical exercise helps them stay spiritually fit.
"The workouts involve the whole person, physically, spiritually, emotionally," said Natalie, adding "God gave us one body and he wants us to take care of it."
"Everything in life takes discipline, including spirituality," said Valérie. "It takes discipline to pray and read the Bible every day."
"Being healthy is a way to serve God," added Natalie.
Although they started it for others, the sisters draw inspiration from the workouts as well.
"Sometimes we are so tired and have no energy, but this helps keep us fit physically and spiritually," said Valérie, adding they are also inspired by participants' stories about how they are growing in faith.
"It’s great to see how God is working in their lives," she said.
Natalie agreed. "It’s like how a teacher often says they get more out of it from their students," she said. "We are learning and journeying with the participants."
Although they started it for people in their parish, as word got out participants from other parishes, Quebec and even Costa Rica, joined in.
"There are no limits on how many can join or from where," said Natalie. "We just want to do everything for God’s greatest glory."
To join the group, send an e-mail to the Archdiocese of St. Boniface at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.