New Neighbours! Divine Retreat Centre UK opens in former St. Augustine’s Abbey

The site of St. Augustine’s Abbey, Ramsgate, (across the road from St. Augustine’s Church) has been bought by Vincentians from India, part of the Marymatha Province of the Vincentian Congregation, Angamaly, India, who plan to turn the former Abbey into a retreat centre.

The new project was inaugurated with a Bible Convention, culminating in a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Peter Smith at 3pm on Sunday 16th March. St. Augustine’s provided many of the liturgical items and vestments, as well as the serving team and choir, for the Mass which was held in a large marquee in the grounds of the Divine Retreat Centre UK.

It was a truly spectacular occasion, with approximately 2,000 people coming from across the country to the Mass – coachloads of people were parked on Royal Esplanade and more came in their own cars. The event had been advertised on the Vincentians’ own television channel – DivineTV. The Mass, celebrated by Archbishop Peter Smith, was concelebrated by Monsignor John Armitage (Vicar General, Brentwood), Rev. Dr. Paul Puthuva VC (Provincial Superior, Marymatha Province), Dom John Seddon and Dom Thomas Kolangaden of St. Augustine’s, Chilworth (formerly St. Augustine’s, Ramsgate), other Vincentian priests, and several local priests. Dom Benedict Austen, also of St. Augustine’s, Chilworth, attended too, making up the three monks representing the former custodians of this site.

The Mass began with a large procession, in which Dom John carried a candle, lit at St. Augustine’s Cross the night before, and it was solemnly given to the Archbishop who entrusted it to Fr. Paul Puthuva, symbolising the transfer of the site to the Vincentians. After the Mass there were various speeches by the clergy and by local dignitaries, and a traditional Indian lamp was lit. As the photos and videos show, the weather was perfect and one of the warmest days of the year so far.

Very nearly everyone – probably 2,000 people – visited St. Augustine’s Church that day. St. Augustine is an important figure for the Vincentians’ mission, as they seek to preach the Gospel in England just as St. Augustine did over 1,400 years ago. Therefore it is very good for them to be so close to the Shrine of St. Augustine, and they encouraged their pilgrims to make the pilgrimage across the road to St. Augustine’s Church. The candle stands were ablaze throughout the day and the site was full of people marvelling at the Stations of the Cross, in the various chapels, at the Relic of St. Augustine and in front of the Blessed Sacrament. It was a truly holy day.

The Vincentians are charismatic Catholics who have had great success in India. They are establishing their European base in Ramsgate as the basis of providing an evangelisation and retreat centre for the whole of the UK and Europe. St. Augustine’s is very pleased to have been able to help in such a groundbreaking occasion and hopes to have very good co-operation with our new neighbours into the future.

More photos of the occasion can be seen here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rcsouthwark/sets/72157642554566444/

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