PREACHING MINISTRY IN VINCENTIAN CONGREGATION
The preaching ministry of the Vincentian Congregation is based on the spiritual traditions bequeathed by St. Vincent-de-Paul. Vincentian spirituality is bifocal. While concentrating on the personal spiritual renewal of the individuals by a deep realization of the saving love of God, it leads everyone to accept the challenge of caring for the poor and the marginalized in society. The overwhelming experience of God’s love takes flesh in the self-sacrificing love for “the least of the brethren” of Jesus (Mt.25:40).
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” (Lk.4:18). This mission-statement of Jesus, declared at Nazareth, was taken by St. Vincent as a special motto of his own ministry and of the Congregation of Priests that he founded. In the preamble to the Common Rules that he wrote for his priests he states: “We are called to continue the mission of Jesus Christ by preaching the Gospel to the poor”. The Vincentian fathers fulfill this special call by preaching Popular Mission retreats in parishes and through the preaching of the Word of God in various prayer and retreat centers.
POPULAR MISSION RETREATS
Preaching Popular Mission is the specific and distinctive charism of the Vincentians. Through this specific form of preaching the Word of God, they are trying to enkindle faith in the hearts of the people and help them towards their renewal and building up of a true Christian community. St. Vincent De Paul, the Heavenly Patron of the Congregation, started it for the spiritual enhancement, and nourishment of the sacramental life of the poor village folk in France in the 17th Century.
Mar Augustine Kandathil, the late Archbishop of Ernakulum Archdiocese, a great supporter of Vincentian Congregation instructed the pioneer members that the purpose of the Vincentian Congregation is to preach Popular Mission in the parishes, and it should be done free of charge. Because of the ardent desire to preach a Popular Mission in the Vincentian style and method the pioneer members planned a retreat based on the directory of the Popular Mission of the Congregation of Mission. The first Popular Mission in Kerala in its full form was conducted in 1952 in St. George Forane parish, Angamaly. The team members were well trained for it by Fr. Fernando CM, the then Novice Master of the Congregation. In 1972 the appointment of Fr. Xavier Elambassery as the first formal Director of the Popular Mission gave a new impetus to Popular Mission.
Popular Mission continues to be the most effective form of Retreat for the renewal of the Parish and families. Even though so many retreat teams and centres have emerged in the recent years, and Bible Conventions are wide spread, the priests and faithful unanimously agree that none of these make a lasting effect in the parishes as the popular missions. The spiritual renewal of the parishes was greatly appreciated and admired by the Bishops and the parish priests. Always we can see a great enthusiasm from the part of the members to preach Popular Mission retreats. Now the Congregation has popular mission teams and a director for its coordination in Kerala, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, North India and in East Africa. The following are the Popular Mission Centres of the Congregation:
01. Adichira - Popular Mission Center, Adichira, Perumbaikadu P.O., 686 028, Kottayam, Kerala
02. Potta - Popular Mission Center, Potta, 680 722, Chalakkudy, Thrissur Dt., Kerala
03. Jamshedpur - Divya Jyoti Renewal Centre, Patel Bagan, Sundernagar P.O., Jamshedpur, 832107, Jharkhand
04. Trichy - Popular Mission Center, Choriyampatti, Muthalwarpatti P.O., Madhurai Main Road, Opp. N.H. Office, Marungapuri (TK), Trichy Dist., 621305, Tamilnadu
05. Mangalagiri - Popular Mission Center, Divine (Babuji) Nagar, Nidamarru P.O., 522503, Mangalagiri (Mandal), Guntur Dt., Andhra Pradesh
06. Vikindu - Vincentian Fathers, Jesus Town, Vikindu, P.O. Box 14918, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, East Africa
RETREAT AND PRAYER CENTERS
Potta Ashram was established in 1977 as the centre to coordinate the Popular Mission retreats. Members of the Popular Mission team began to reside there for prayer and preparation for the retreats. It helps the Popular Mission to flourish rapidly. The Popular Mission preachers felt the need to have a follow up program for the people who participated in the retreats in order to keep up the spirit and fervour which the faithful obtained from the retreats. This led to the beginning of the daily prayers and retreats at Potta Ashram in 1983. Soon people began to crowd to the Ashram seeking spiritual solace and liberation from the evils of alcohol and drug addiction. The sick and the broken-hearted came in large numbers. God’s compassionate love poured in. The loving presence of Jesus was powerfully felt by everyone. The sick were healed, the sinners were forgiven, the fetters of vices were broken and the Good News of salvation was preached to all. There was a time when 20000 to 25000 people used to come on Saturdays for the One-Day retreat.
The facilities at Potta Ashram became inadequate for the growing numbers of people converging for the week-long residential retreats held in Malayalam. A sprawling locale was acquired at Muringoor, on the banks of Chalakudy river, six kilometers away from Potta, and was named Divine Retreat Centre. By the grace of God, the retreats preached here attracted people and thousands of them came from all over the world to attend the retreats. This necessitated the opening up of new facilities and retreats started in six other languages also.
Because of the persistent request of the people and of the ecclesiastical authorities from various parts of the World, the Congregation was inspired to start a number of retreat and prayer centers in different parts of India and abroad. Now there are 51 prayer and retreat centers all over the World. The following are the Vincentian Prayer and Retreat Centers:
01. Adichira - Paritrana Retreat Centre, Adichira, Perumbaikadu P.O., 686 028, Kottayam, Kerala
02. Ahmednagar - Divine Retreat Centre, Link Road, Kedgaon, Ahmednagar, 414 005, Maharashtra
03. Ambattur (Chennai) - Arulalayam Retreat Centre, 347 M.T.H. Road, Ambattur, 600053, Chennai, Tamil Nadu
04. Ballarpur - Divine Vachan Ashram, Ballarpur P.O., 442701, Chandrapur Dt., Maharashtra
05. Bengaluru - Logos Retreat Centre, 29 Prakruthi Township, 1st Main, P.B. No 4326, Babusahib Palaya, Bengaluru, 560043, Karnataka
06. Chopra - Vincentian Retreat Centre, Chowdhuri Gach, Chopra P.O., U. Dinajpur, 733216, West Bengal
07. Coimbatore - Divine Dhiana Illam, Chinthamanipudur, Coimbatore, 641103, Tamilnadu
08. Denkanikotta - Anpalaya Retreat Centre, Denkanikotta, 635107, Krishnagiri Dt., Tamil Nadu
09. Dumka - Divine Retreat Centre, Hathiapathar P.O., Dumka, 814101, Jharkhand
10. Elavur - Divine Mercy Retreat Centre, Elavur P.O., Gummidipoondi, 601201, Thiruvallur Dt., Chennai, Tamil Nadu
11. Faridabad - Divine Retreat Ashram, Bathola, Baroli P.O., Tigaon Road, Sector 82, Faridabad, 121 002, Haryana
12. Gumto - Divine Prayer Centre, Gumto, P.B. No.1, Doimukh P.O., 791112, Papumpare Dt., Arunachal Pradesh
13. Hazaribag - Vincentian Retreat Centre, Dibugarh, Mariam Toli, Hazaribag, Jharkhand
14. Hubli - Jnanodaya Retreat Centre, Gopankoppa, Keshwapur P.O., 580 023, Hubli, Karnataka
15. Jalalkhali - Divine Love Retreat Centre, Jalalkhali P.O., 741102, Nadia Dt., West Bengal
16. Jamshedpur - Divya Jyoti Renewal Centre, Patel Bagan, Sundernagar P.O., Jamshedpur, 832107, Jharkhand
17. Joram - Vincentian Mission Centre, Joram, Ziro P.O., Lower Subansiri Dt., 791120, Arunachal Pradesh
18. Jowai - Divine Mercy Retreat Centre, Ladrymbai NH 44, East Jaintia Hills Dt., 793160, Meghalaya
19. Kalyan - Tabor Divine Retreat Ashram, Kamba Village, Varap P.O., Kalyan-Murbad Road, Kalyan, Thane Dt., Maharastra
20. Kattappana - Krapalaya Retreat Centre, P.B. No: 13, Kattappana, 685508, Idukki Dt., Kerala
21. Khetri - Divine Retreat Centre, Khetri P.O., 782 403, Nalgadera Village, Kamrup Dt., Guwahati, Assam
22. Kolkata - Emmaus Retreat Centre, 2/8b Sarat Bose Road P.O., L.R. Sarani, Kolkata, 700020, West Bengal
23. Mangalagiri - Divine Mercy Dhyanashram, Divine (Babuji) Nagar, Nidamarru P.O., 522503, Mangalagiri (Mandal), Guntur Dt., Andhra Pradesh
24. Mangalore - Divine Prayer Centre, Permannur P.O., 575 017, Kerabail, Thokkottu, Mangalore, Karnataka
25. Margherita - Divine Renewal Retreat Centre, Margherita P.O., Tinzukia Dt., 786181, Assam
26. Mariamnagar - C/o Shantir Rani Parish Church, Mariamnagar, Kashipur, 799008, Agartala, Tripura
27. Meerganj - Popular Mission Centre, Churai Road, Meerganj P.O., Bareilly Dt., 243504, Uttar Pradesh
28. Mumbai - Vincentian Prayer House, 504, 12th Road, Chembur, 400071, Mumbai, Maharashtra
29. Muringoor - Divine Retreat Centre, Muringoor, 680309, Chalakkudy, Thrissur Dt., Kerala
30. Potta - Popular Mission Centre, Potta, 680 722, Chalakkudy, Thrissur Dt., Kerala
31. Premagiri - Sinai Divine Dhyanashram, Premagiri, Nandanapall P.O., 518452, Kurnool Dt., Andhra Pradesh
32. Puthuppady - Vincentian Retreat Centre, P.B. No. 1, Puthuppady, 673 586, Kozhikode Dt., Kerala
33. Tissa - Divine Light Retreat Center, Tissa, Khonsa , Tirap Dt., 786630, Arunachal Pradesh
34. Trichy - Divine Mercy Retreat Centre, Choriyampatti, Muthalwarpatti P.O., Madhurai Main Road, Opp. N.H. Office, Marungapuri (TK), Trichy Dist., 621305, Tamilnadu
35. Zhadima - Ave Maria Divine Retreat Centre, B.P.O., Zhadima Village, Kohima, 797105, Nagaland
36. Freudenstadt - Haus St.Vinzenz, Lindenstrasse 18, 72250 Freudenstadt
37. Berlin - Exerzitienzentrum Der Goettlichen Barmherzigkeit, St. Clemens Kirche, Stresemann Str. 66 a, 10963, Berlin
38. Trier - Vinzentiner Haus, Hauptstrasse 29, 55471 - Ravengiersburg
39. Kisumu - Vincentian Prayer House, Buoye, Kisumu, Kenya
40. Nairobi - Vincentian Prayer House, P.O. Box 25158, 00603, Lavington, Nairobi, Kenya
41. Thika - Vincentian Retreat Centre, P.O. Box No.2009-01000, Thika, Nairobi Thika Highway, Kenya
42. Entebbe - Centenary Vincentian House, P.O. Box No. 200, Entebbe, Uganda
43. Masaka - Divine Mercy Renewal Centre, Kabulassoke, P.B.No. 613, Masaka, Uganda
44. Nsangi - Vincentian Retreat Centre, Nzangi, P.B. No. 23, Kyengera, Kampala, Uganda
45. Perth - Vincentian Prayer Centre, Holy Family Church, Lot 375, Alcock Street, Maddington, 6109, Perth
46. Sydney - Divine Retreat Centre, 160 Hensons Road, Somersby 2250, Sydney
United States of America
47. New Jersey - Divine Prayer Centre, 426, Route 57 West, Washington, NJ 07882, USA
48. Tampa - Divine Mercy Prayer House, 2905 S Frontage Road, Plant City, FL 33566, USA
49. Vienna - Vinzentiner Haus, Zanaschkagasse 12/30/15-16, 1120, Wien, Austria
50. Toronto - Divine Retreat Centre, Vincentian Prayer Centre, 69 William Street, Toronto, ON, M9N 2G6, Canada
51. London - Divine Retreat Centre, St. Augustine Abbey, St. Augustine’s Road, Ramsgate, CT119PA, Kent, UK
SPIRITUALITY OF THE VINCENTIAN PREACHING MINISTRY
As visualized by St. Vincent, the Vincentian preaching ministry was to be aimed at renewing the lives of the people in a deep and living experience of the Sacraments of the Church. The seven Sacraments are the holy means through which the saving power of God is upon everyone. It is through the power of the anointing of the Holy Spirit bestowed that the Sacraments become effective signs of salvation. The Sacraments of Confession and the Holy Eucharist were given prime importance by St. Vincent in his renewal movement. He writes, “when we conduct Popular Mission retreats, our main task is to prepare the people for the worthy reception of the Sacrament of Confession and Holy Eucharist”. The saint explained that the Sacrament of Confession would lead the people to a radical spiritual conversion and the Holy Eucharist to an intimate union with Jesus Christ. By receiving these two Sacraments frequently, the faithful would be able to live out their Christian commitment in their everyday life.
By the end of 1976, the wave of Charismatic retreats came over Kerala. The preachers of the Popular Mission gladly took part in these retreats. They were greatly enriched in their own spiritual life and retreat ministry by the Charismatic experience. The role and activity of the Holy Spirit in Christian Spirituality were better understood, appreciated and articulated. This Charismatic experience of the Vincentian preachers became a matter of intense prayer, serious study and wide discussions. As a result, there was an agreement to adopt certain Charismatic insights and elements into Vincentian preaching. However, the aim and structure of the retreats continued to be moulded in Sacramental spirituality, giving greater emphasis on the activity of the Holy Spirit in and through the Sacraments.
Vincentian retreats start with the joyous proclamation of the offer of forgiveness and salvation from the Heavenly Father, who “so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn.3:6). Salvation in Jesus is experienced through a radical turning away from sin and turning to God in repentance. This offer of salvation was the first preaching of Jesus Christ as well.”Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at Hand” (Mt.4:17). The Kingdom of God as St. Paul explains it is the “the righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).
In the experience of the Sacrament of Confession, the retreatants are convinced of their sin by the Holy Spirit (Jn16:8), forgiven of their sins in the power of same Holy Spirit through the ministry of the Church (Jn.20:22-23), and given a share in the victory of Jesus over sin (Jn16:11). From this deep experience of radical conversion, the people are led to a total self-surrender that results in an intimate union with Jesus in the Holy Spirit, as experienced in the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn.6:56). In this intimacy, the love of God is “poured into their hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom.5:5). In this overwhelming experience of love, the heart gets opened up to love and forgive everyone. This intense experience of love heals all the wounds and soothes all the strains in family relationships. The bond of marriage is renewed as a Sacrament of grace incorporated into the spousal relationship between Christ and the Church.
The Charism of healing is exercised in the context of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Healing is understood not in the narrow sense of bodily well-being, but as the love of God flowing into all the brokenness of man to make him whole. The leadership given by the priests in preaching and the exercise of the Sacraments manifests the importance of the Sacrament of Holy Order. All the charisms of the lay leaders such as counseling, preaching, service and so on, are directed, harmoniously blended and channelized under the Sacramental authority of the priests.
The retreats end with the renewal of the Sacramental vows of Baptism and a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit as experienced in the Sacrament of Confirmation. This all-transforming experience of the anointment of the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses... to the ends of the earth” (Acts1:8). This empowering of the Holy Spirit is accepted as a special grace to withstand the temptation of the evil one and to defend and spread the faith by word and action confessing Jesus Christ as the only Savior of mankind. The grace of these seven Sacraments instituted by Christ as signs of salvation and entrusted to the Church, is experienced afresh in the action of the Holy Spirit for the renewal of Christian commitment.
NATURE OF THE VINCENTIAN PREACHING MINISTRY
Is the Vincentian preaching ministry Charismatic? The answer to this question is both affirmative and negative. Like all renewal movements in the Church, the Vincentian Preaching ministry is also charismatic. “Send forth your spirit... and the face of the earth shall be renewed” (Ps.104:30) is the prayer of the Psalmist. It is the Spirit of God that inspired St. Vincent to start the Vincentian Renewal Movement in Paris. The saint emphasizes the role of Vincentian Renewal Movement seeks to be filled and led by the Holy Spirit, as explained earlier. However, the Vincentian Preaching ministry is not Charismatic in the sense that it is not part of the Charismatic Movement which was started in the United States and later took on an official outfit in India under the direction of the National Service Team in the year 1977. Potta-Divine retreat Movements flourished with the blessings and encouragement of the bishops under the direction of the authorities of the Vincentian Congregation, independently of the National Service Team. Though this preaching ministry has been highly enriched in its methodology by the Charismatic Movement, it has remained radically Vincentian in nature and structure. Spiritual renewal of the faithful, in the framework of Sacramental spirituality, will continue to be our mission in the future.
“Evangelization of the Poor” is understood by the Vincentian Congregation not only as the spiritual renewal of the people by the preaching of the Word of God, but also as a commitment to work for the human and Christian advancement of the marginalized in the society. The concluding words of Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan rings in the ears of every Vincentian, “Go and do likewise” (Lk10:37). Sharing, caring and daring love for the suffering is not a mere gesture of generosity, but an obligation for anyone who is renewed in the experience of the love of God. We are well aware that our preaching ministry becomes complete and authentic in our radical option for the poor. The words of Jesus are a command to us: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt.25:40). The early Church began as a preaching fellowship, but developed as a community of love, where everyone shared everything with each other and there was no one in need (cf. Acts.4:33-35).