Cathedral hosts new series connecting faith to fitness

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Cathedral hosts new series connecting faith to fitness

The Faith and Fitness Ministry, led by Spiritual Theologian Father Louis Cameli and certified personal trainer Michele Sotak, met to discuss nutrition on May 5, 2024 at Holy Name Cathedral. The ministry aims to educate and motivate individuals to appreciate the gift of our bodies and the significance of stewardship. The ministry emphasizes the importance of maintaining a balance of physical, mental and spiritual health. The Faith and Fitness Ministry, launched in December 2023, is open to people of all ages who aspire to achieve a balance in their well-being. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Lou Cameli speaks about the relationship between Scripture and nutrition during Faith and Fitness at Holy Name Cathedral on May 5, 2024. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Joann Simatovich looks over a handout during the session. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Certified personal trainer Michele Sotak speaks about nutrition. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A screenshot from a video Cameli and Sotak created about Faith and Fitness. (Screengrab)
A screenshot from a video Cameli and Sotak created about Faith and Fitness. (Screengrab)

For the past six months, Holy Name Cathedral Parish has explored the connection between spirituality and wellness through its “Faith and Fitness” series.

The hourlong sessions are the brainchild of Father Lou Cameli and Michele Sotak, the parish’s service ministries coordinator and a certified personal trainer.

The idea came out of discussions the pair had during a few training sessions Sotak gave Cameli in the rectory’s fitness room, but she had been thinking about the connection between faith and wellness for many years.

“My parents always instilled faith and exercise or sports, so they are two of my gifts, and I wanted to put them together because I’ve seen a lot of similarities between the two that have helped me become a better person and I wanted to share them with others,” Sotak said.

“It’s been a chance for both of us to pull some things together that we hadn’t even thought about before,” Cameli said. “Overall, we’ve touched a need.”

Between 30 and 50 people attended each session, which began with prayer and a spiritual reflection by Cameli. Next, Sotak gave a presentation on topics including setting goals, nutrition and exercise. There was time for questions and interaction, then they closed with prayer.

“Faith and fitness are two things that will never fail you,” Sotak said. “Whenever you spend time on faith, whether it is prayer or Mass or whatever, it is never time wasted. Same thing with fitness. Anytime you exercise or you take a walk or you’re moving around, it only benefits you.”

Looking at it through the lens of spirituality, Cameli said that at different times throughout church history there has been conflict between the spiritual and the physical.

“Someone like St. Augustine, for example, he had to overcome what was a mindset called Manichaeism, where you had forces that were spiritual and forces that were material at war with each other,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be that way. There’s another path of integration and harmony.”

Exercise and wellness, like faith, also helps in times of trial, Sotak said.

“Even like exercising, like strength training, it hurts but if you intentionally go into it knowing you’re doing something good for yourself; you’re overcoming an obstacle,” she said. “It’s the same thing with our faith. We go to our faith when we have adversity in our lives — sometimes people will really cling to Jesus in those moments. Our faith is there for us. They both help us overcome adversity. I think they make us holier people and whole people.”

Exercise can also be a prelude to prayer, Cameli noted.

“For me, it clears the head,” he said. “I told Michele if I didn’t pray and exercise every day, I’d be crazy.”

The program was open to anyone regardless of their fitness level, Sotak noted.

“Exercise is for everyone and God meets us on our fitness journey too. Our bodies are our gift from God and that’s very important,” she said.

The pair also created three short videos that encapsulate all of the sessions and are available on the cathedral’s YouTube channel. The parish has plans to build on the sessions in the fall.

Joann Simatovich attended all six sessions of Faith and Fitness.

“I just have found this helpful and focusing for me,” said Simatovich following the final session on May 5. “I have found my faith more and more as I’ve aged, so combining faith and fitness, it just makes sense to me not to separate one from the other.”

Simatovich is a parishioner of St. Mary of the Lake and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Buena Park, and the cathedral is halfway between home and her work so she often attends Mass there.

“When I was younger I don’t think I paid that much attention” to faith and fitness, she said. “Now that I’m older and I’ve lost loved ones and I’m having my own health challenges, I want to incorporate both into my life.”

Theresa Mazurek said the program gave her a different perspective.

“I never coordinated fitness with faith,” she said. “It’s kind of an awareness. God wants us to be fit. God wants us to be healthy. By walking and working out, I’m kind of glorifying God because I’m not going to be sick and complaining,” she said.


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