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-Potta 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 three aims of the Vincentian Congregation are
Preaching the good news of Jesus Christ to the poor
Caring for the poor and the afflicted
helping the clergy and laity for their spiritual and intellectual advancement
Since 1950, Indian Vincentian priests have been conducting Popular Mission retreats in parishes in Kerala, India. From 1974, under the prophetic leadership of Fr George Kammattil, VC, the then Superior General of the Vincentian Congregation, this ministry of the Vincentian Fathers was hailed by the bishops of Kerala 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 and healing services began in Potta in the light of an inspiration received by Fr Mathew Naickomparambil with the ultimate vision of world evangelisation.
Fr George Panackal coordinated the preaching and healing ministry at the Ashram. 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.
In 1989, a sprawling residence was acquired at Muringoor, beside the Highway, 6 kilometres away from Potta. It was named Divine Retreat Centre. Fr George Panackal and Fr Mathew Naikomparambil began coordinating the retreats. Gradually people began filtering in from neighbouring states seeking spiritual retreats. In 1990, Fr Augustine Vallooran, was designated to this new mission to coordinate the retreat ministry in English and other languages.
In 1991, regular weekly retreats were begun in English. People began pouring in from other parts of India and other countries.
Fr Mathew Thadathil was appointed as the Administrator of the Retreat Centre. A vibrant evangelistic zeal enhanced the services of the retreat centre. The ministry of the Divine Voice monthly journal was launched.
God was guiding the Vincentian community at Divine to a new dimension of serving the marginalized in society. At the end of a week’s retreat, two ailing and elderly women were abandoned at the retreat centre. In prayer it was made clear that the preaching of the saving love of God had to be accompanied by the practice of serving the suffering. This was the beginning of the Charitable Homes of Divine.
In 1996, the retreat centre extended to the other side of the highway, on the banks of the Chalakudy river. This part of the campus housed the retreat halls for the English and three other Indian 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.
In 2018, during the Kerala floods, the Divine Retreat Centre and its Charitable homes were ravaged by the overflowing Chalakudy river. For the first time in its history, the retreat centre was closed. The losses mounted to millions. The Dairy Farm, the Press, the infrastructure of the Retreat Halls were damaged beyond repair. Yet this was again a moment of powerful witnessing. In a month’s time, retreats were resumed. The prayers and concern of people from around the world gave them the confirmation to rise again and start the ministry afresh.
God, in His faithful love for His suffering children, has accompanied and raised up the Divine Retreat Centre. This message of His love proclaimed from the pulpits of the retreat halls has been witnessed through every stage of the continuing journey and mission of the Divine Retreat Centre.
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For over 30 years Divine Retreat Centre has been preaching spiritual retreats every week bringing the salvation of Christ to millions. It opened its doors to receive over 2500 persons rejected by society. This work of the Lord has been realized day after day, because of the faithful prayer support and financial contributions. Since the beginning of the lockdown, the Retreat Centre has been closed. It continues daily to proclaim God’s word. However the food and medical requirements of the 3000 residents of Divine are to be met. If you are inspired to support the Divine through a financial contribution, whether big or small
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