If, recently, you came across a bunch of Goan men with 'halos" on their heads, I hope you were not thinking that your imagination was getting the better of you or that it was an extension of MPB (Male Pattern Baldness). What you witnessed was apparently a close encounter of divine proportions.
A group of Goans attended, what was for most of us, a first time ex-perience -- a re-treat at St. Joseph's-in-the-Hills, in Malvern, PA.
It was clearly John Quiterio's gentle but insistent reminders through the course of the years that finally got us to embark on this new journey. Frankly, it was difficult to keep on declining John's invitation, (for fear of the wrath of ...). So with some trepidation, I decided to give it a try, and on one bright and clear Friday afternoon, taking off early from work, we, Goans, made our way to the retreat house at Malvern.
Never having been to a retreat before, numerous thoughts passed through my mind. On our road trip, we played out various scenarios, interspersed with Goan lore and fantasies. My perception of a retreat, was of boredom, silence, fasting, penance, sacrifice, pain and suffering, self-flagellation, doom-n-gloom, etc.
Was I mistaken? Yes! I was surprised. Now don't get me wrong. It was not a "party" with "feni", "sorpatel" and "cantare" (So don't sign up if you are expecting that.) This was truly an enlightening experience, mentally and spiritually satisfying.
I would not have believed that over 200 men from all walks of life could congregate together and spend a weekend (about 40 hours) together without any conflicts or misgivings. What impressed me most was meeting some retreatants who have been making this an annual sorjourn for the last 5, 10, 20, 25 and even 50 years. It did not take me long to understand, why - it was akin to a peaceful catharsis or a plain "time-out"
I was told that retreats, such as ours, are conducted every weekend throughout the year, with some special weekends being reserved for families and married couples. These retreats are run by lay Catholic men. St. Joe's is a private organization (neither sponsored nor funded by the Church) sustaining only on voluntary contributions. These gatherings were begun 75 years ago by a Pennsylvania businessman, who was impressed by a retreat he attended in Staten Island for a weekend for want of some-thing to do to bide his time.
I really felt secure from the outside world. With no radio or TV, the peace, serenity and ambiance of the place, with its hills, glens and forests, winding paths, interspersed with Grottos, Shrines and the conceptual Stations of the Cross, made it seem like a mini-pilgrimage. Time seemed to stand still naturally allowing for personal reflections and introspection of our hectic lifestyles.
And yet, time seemed to pass by quite easily while we were at St. Joe's, with the careful and thoughtful schedule of meditations, Masses, prayers and adoration. Mind you, none of these activities were deemed compulsory, but then again, it did not have to be. It all seemed to merge or blend with just the right mixture to break the monotony. Intelligent speakers provided thought-provoking and interesting topics for homilies and conferences.
Three meals were served and these were sufficient to take care of our bodily and nutritional needs. The banquet room was the social gathering place and the camaraderie was quite genuine. The accommodations were comfortably sparse and clean, with one person to a room with a bed and a desk with common toilet and shower facilities.
While I am sure our absence gave our families some respite and time for their own reflection, I can tell how much they missed me by the number of chores and "orders" that I have yet to attend to.
I would highly recommend this retreat to all those who care and need to take some time out for personal reflection in a peaceful and spiritual setting.
For further information, please contact John Q. (I understand, he requires only a few more "indulgence miles" for his frequent-flyer program to ensure his place in the "Happy Hunting Grounds".