Leading up to the Nov. 29 blessing of the Vincentian Congregation’s new retreat centre in Toronto, director Fr. Joby Kachappilly, provincial superior Fr. Paul Puthuva and layperson Shiju Thomas (left to right) visit the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Pastoral Centre. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Popular retreat centre makes its way to Canada

By 
  • December 2, 2014

TORONTO - In 1985, the Vincentian Congregation opened its first retreat centre in Potta, India. The Divine Retreat Centre was so successful the Vincentians expanded the retreat ministry across Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, the United States and now, finally, into Canada.

So, in one sense, Toronto’s newest retreat centre was 29 years in the making. Located near the heart of the city, the new prayer house is a by-product of the 46 Divine Retreat Centres previously opened around the world by the Vincentians.

“This is an important event for us,” said Fr. Paul Puthuva, provincial superior of the Mary Matha province of the Vincentian Congregation.

“This (retreats) is one of the most important ministries for our congregation.”

The Toronto facility was opened with a full-day ceremony on Nov. 29. Archbishop Emeritus Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore blessed the centre. Special guests at the event, which drew about 1,000 people, included Msgr. Thomas Kalarathili, director of priests personnel of the Archdiocese of Toronto, and Fr. Joby Kachappilly, the centre’s recently appointed director, along with Puthuva, who came from India for the occasion.

“We started this retreat ministry in a place called Potta, India,” said Puthuva. “Slowly we moved to other places in India ... then we started retreat centres in other places like Australia, Germany, the U.S.A., then Kenya, Uganda and the UK. In all of these places we are running retreat centres and we preach to the people in their local languages.”

The Divine Retreat Centres are so popular that the one located in Kerala, India, where Puthuva resides, offers retreats in seven languages, including English, and draws about 5,000 people per week, he said.

Kachappilly, who had been travelling back and forth from India to Canada since 2009 to facilitate retreats,  predicts a significant revitalization of faith will occur as a result of the new Toronto centre.

“I’ve seen people of different nationalities join together with a hunger for the word of God ... and with Toronto being a hub of international presence we can cater to all the people who come to our centre to experience God,” he said.

“This retreat centre is going to bring everyone together in focusing on the Bible. We’ve seen a tremendous transformation in the young people.”

He said local religious can benefit from retreats offered specifically for them. He also hopes to foster involvement of parishioners in the diocese.

“It is basically to make disciples and that happens through the retreat centre.”

Kachappilly said that those who attend will encounter “miracles” and “healing” during the weekend-long retreats, when those retreats eventually start running. For now, there will be daily prayer services, as well as additional prayer services on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons.

“It is a blessing to welcome another space for reflection, personal and group retreat in the Archdiocese of Toronto,” said Neil MacCarthy, director of public relations and communications for the archdiocese. “In the midst of our very busy city of Toronto it is most appropriate to have a dedicated space to step away and retreat in prayer.”

Shiju Thomas, a key figure in establishing the centre, knows the power of the Vincentian retreats first hand. His conversion to Catholicism began after he attended a retreat before immigrating to Canada from India 15 years ago.

“When I came with my young kids one of the challenges that I found was that ... we rarely get to teach about Church teachings or the moral values and principles,” he said.

“So my initial interest was to get a group where these children can think that there are people like me, that it is not weird to be religious or it is not something to be ashamed of to show your faith publicly.”

For further information, visit divinetoronto.com or call (647) 660-1314.

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