If you don’t believe in miracles, step into the flinty Gothic structure of the St.Augustine’s Abbey in Kent and a miracle and an answer to prayer is what you will find. An answer to the fervent prayer of many devout Catholics – the mum of a local priest and a group of devout nuns, included.
At St Augustine’s Abbey, hundreds of pious have worshipped – since AD 597, making it one of Britain’s oldest monastic sites.
In the late sixth century, Pope Gregory I dispatched a small group of monks led by St Augustine to bring back Christianity to southern England. King Ethelbert of Kent was easily converted and donated land to set up a monastery. Some 940 years of monastic life, scattering of treasures, a redesign by Augustus Welby Pugin and much restoration later, renewed activity has come back in 2014 (The monastery is now gone but the abbey survives – albeit with its Whitby sandstone a little smudged. The abbey was one of four Benedictine monasteries in Great Britain. It was donated to the Church by the famous architect Pugin, who also built the nearby Grange and church)
When the abbey was up for sale in 2013, the mother of local parish rector Fr. Marcus Holden prayed that it would not become the grounds for a pub or a hotel, but would be used for spiritual work. A group of nuns of Mother Teresa’s order saw the ‘on sale’ board and went a step further. They threw a miraculous medal into the compound, fervently praying for a miracle. A miracle is what they got – when Vincentians from India bought the abbey; it was blessed and renamed the Divine Retreat Centre UK, on 16 March, 2014.
The centre is run by the Vincentian Congregation, who pioneered the charismatic renewal in India, based on the spiritual traditions bequeathed by St. Vincent de Paul. The two main aims of the Vincentian Congregation are: preaching the good news and caring for the poor and the afflicted. Since 1950, Indian Vincentian priests have been travelling worldwide, conducting and leading popular mission retreats in parishes and establishing retreat centres. The effect has been overwhelming – it has brought out a dynamic spiritual transformation in the lives of people all over the globe.
Today, the Divine Retreat Centre in India, is the largest Catholic retreat centre in the world. Retreats are held simultaneously in seven languages apart from English. Since 1990, over 15 million pilgrims from all over the world have attended retreats at the centre. Large crowds flock to VC centres around the world, from the USA to Australia, to various parts of Africa. The work brings solace to the sick, the brokenhearted, and those seeking spiritual deliverance from vices including alcohol and drug addictions. VC priests establish and run homes for the aged, the sick, for the AIDS sufferers and the orphans.
God’s compassionate love poured out in abundance has healed many – “When I entered the abbey, I felt it was holy; even the ground felt holy”, says retreatant Julie Charles. “I felt the Spirit of God was here and He reminded us of our commitment to Him”, testifies Lanre Onibiyo. Daphne Fohlung, yet another retreatant claims she found the retreat life-changing. “I came here overwhelmed, fed up from the load I had to carry and deep down I was secretly wanting to let go. But at last, reassurance and greater understanding was what I received here. Now I can’t wait to run for my God. No matter the cost. I feel like a newly revived, consoled, forgiven child of my heavenly Father. A princess of the Father Almighty”.
His Excellency Peter Smith, the Archbishop of Southwark, while blessing and inaugurating the spiritual renewal centre in the presence of nearly two thousand people, emphasised his belief that the Vincentian Congregation would bring a new spiritual wave into his people.
“Once again St Augustine’s Abbey should become a centre where Jesus brings his disciples to manifest His glory and power. Unfortunately God has disappeared from the lives of the people today. Hence the delight of life has also vanished from their hearts. People are not able to relish the beauty of Christian faith and living. I wish that this new retreat centre will bring the presence of God and delight of living to them who come here.”
The Divine Retreat Centre, UK (DRC UK), belonging to the Vincentian Congregation (VC), is the first retreat centre of the Divine-Potta ministry in Europe. The centre aims to reach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every individual, religion, denomination, nationality, family and community. Based on the Bible and the catechism of the Catholic church, three-day retreats are held at the centre, which include talks, Holy Mass, Eucharistic adoration, healing services, confessions, praise and anointed worship. Accommodation is available for a maximum of 120 people. Prior booking must be made, giving names and dates, via SMS or email (075483 03824, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Indeed, the centre promises to do that and more. Nestled in a scenic corner of the Canterbury shore, it houses two priests full time and holds retreats every month. The centre’s work promises to be a boost to some of the UK’s established Christian faith communities
The centre is headed by Fr George Panackal VC, a stalwart in the Vincentian community. Fr Panackal serves as the Director. “We would be honoured to have the Good News of salvation preached in the UK. We hope that our centres in the UK will bring many back to the church”, says Fr Joseph Edattu VC, the Associate Director.
The Vincentian priests hope that DRC will become yet another channel through which Christ’s endless love is preached and exhibited in daily life; a home where spirituality enables a genuine encounter with Christ and real transformation.
“It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing” (Is 35:2)
In Ramsgate, on the shores of the sea of Dover, spring has already set in and cherry trees are in full bloom, around the abbey. It was while looking at those cherry blossoms that Fr Marcus Holden, made a prophetic declaration when the centre was inaugurated.
“The first springtime of the salvation of Canterbury was when St Augustine set foot on the shores of Kent and proclaimed the good news of salvation. The second springtime set in when in 1860 the Benedictine monastery was established and the monks took charge of the evangelisation of the area. Now the third springtime has come in, with the Vincentian Fathers taking up St Augustine’s Abbey to start the proclamation of God’s word with the Divine Retreat Centre.”
The crowds applaud, as the Vincentians daily echo that prayer silently in their hearts.
Divine TV ministry
Divine TV is the 24-hour commercial-free television channel of the Divine Vision Network (DVN). It first went on-air in UK, Europe and the Middle East on 24 December 2008. This was quickly followed with the launch of Divine Vision Network in USA and Canada on 25 May 2009. DVN Online TV was officially launched on 4 October 2009, and is available 24/7 on the Internet.
Mr.Oommen Chandy, Chief Minister of Kerala, launched the telecast Divine Vision programmes are also broadcast by other channels such as Goodness TV in India on 20 November 2011 .