Divine Retreat Centre, located in a remote little corner in the South Indian state of Kerala, has come to be the spiritual home for millions across the globe. It has come to be the reference point for anyone seeking a spiritual renewal or the comforting touch that no human or worldly solution can rise to offer. We are tracing its journey, that is so clearly guided by the Holy Spirit of God, in tune with the spiritual renewal of the universal Catholic Church.
The Divine retreat ministry is part of the renewal movement of the Vincentian Congregation of India. Its spiritual traditions are bequeathed by St. Vincent de Paul.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor” (Lk 4:18). This Bible verse was adopted by the saint as a personal motto for his ministry. He launched in Paris preaching missions called ‘Popular Mission’ – to bring spiritual renewal to the common man.
The Vincentian Congregation, patterned on the society of priests founded by St. Vincent de Paul, was started in India in 1904. The twin aims of the Vincentian Congregation are
*Preaching the Gospel to effect the spiritual renewal of the people
*Caring for the poor and the afflicted
* Helping the clergy in their spiritual renewal
The retreats of the Vincentian priests known as Popular Mission was hailed by the bishops of India due to the overwhelming effect it had in the lives of the people and the sacramental renewal of the parishes. Their missions effected a dynamic spiritual transformation in the lives of people, having a tremendous impact in breaking evil trends that had set in, severely affecting the fabric of the family and the society.
In 1977, the Potta Ashram was established as the centre to coordinate Popular Mission retreats.
In January 1987, the daily ministry of proclamation of God’s Word, administration of the Sacraments, and healing services began in Potta. As in the early church, signs, wonders and miracles accompanied the preaching of the Word. Crowds began to flock to the Ashram. The Lord was powerfully manifested to the sick, the brokenhearted, and those seeking spiritual deliverance from vices including alcohol and drug addictions. Broken families found reconciliation and a new life in these retreats.
The facilities at Potta Ashram became inadequate for the large number of people converging for the week-long residential retreats held in Malayalam, the language of the state.
In 1989, a sprawling residence was acquired at Muringoor, and it was named Divine Retreat Centre. Gradually people began filtering in from neighbouring states seeking spiritual retreats. Fr George Panackal, Fr Mathew Naikomparambil, and Fr Augustine Vallooran, coordinated the retreats in seven languages.
In the year 1995, the Divine Youth wing was inaugurated by a group of youth whose lives were radically transformed by their retreat experience at the Centre. In that year, the first National Youth Retreat was held in English and over five hundred youth came in to participate. Ever since then, every year special retreats for the youth have been held and thousands participate in each of these retreats. These became the high point of the evangelization program. Groups from around the world began journeying to the retreat centre for the youth retreat.
In 2005, the first International Youth Conference was held. The retreats became a powerful experience of the faith and the universal Church. Cardinals, bishops, large groups of youth from across the world came to celebrate the Holy Spirit experience. Through the vibrant preaching, the soulful worship and the stirring testimonies, tens of thousands of youth have been led to a deep experience of Christ and a commitment to live the values of holiness. Families find reconciliation. They return to be fruitful witnesses in their local communities.
In 2002, the tremendously challenging yet rewarding mission of the television media was begun. It was apparently an extremely competitive and high-budget field that was rather foreign to the traditional retreat ministry. However, the clear movement of the Holy Spirit encouraged the Fathers to launch into this mission.
In this evolution of the Retreat Centre what has emerged is the global dimension of the ministry of the Divine Retreat Centre. The laity had always a special role in every ministry and stage in the growth of the retreat centre. There is no exclusivity. People from every nation, walk of life and situation were blessed by the retreats and became a part of the retreat movement. This has led to Divine being a mirror of the universal face of the Church. It has been witnessed at the Divine, during both the glorious and the challenging moments in its history.