Monday, February 28, 2011

Notre Dame Retreat

Last weekend, eleven intrepid London Centre students left the comforts of central London for a retreat adventure to the seaside, near Portsmouth. Typical of intrepid frontiersmen, two of the company nearly missed the bus, due to their fascination with the architectural wonders of Victoria Bus station or some such excuse. All however arrived safely at Portsmouth Harbour where, thanks to mobile technology, Fr. John managed to meet them at the Gosport Ferry. Boarding our ferry on this naval-themed weekend, we passed the cream of the British Navy past and present, before alighting at Gosport and getting to our retreat centre St John Bosco House, Alverstoke. Sister Ann welcomed us with tea and home made cakes, a foretaste of what was to come.

'Cooking up a storm' or 'cooking for victory'  would be an accurate motto for Sister Ann. Mountains of pasta with three sorts of sauce followed the soup, which was succeeded by mouthwatering home-made dessert, 'all of which is to be eaten!' as Sister Ann said. Only the first of our endless succession of meals, cooked breakfast, lunch and supper were to follow. One might wonder whether Jesus saying that 'those demons can only be driven out by prayer and fasting' had been mixed with that other saying of Jesus about not fasting while the Bridegroom was with them. Our retreat experience was a wonderful celebration of feeling at home in Sister Ann's wonderful home from home, sitting round the log fire, walking along the beach and talking into the wee small hours.

The theme of our retreat was 'Story,' and one of the highlights was Sister Ann's own story of her vocational journey, which involved being rescued by Bedouin in the desert after having turned over her car. She was at death's door for weeks in a Cairo hospital and made a miraculous recovery thanks to, by her account, a novena said by --- [I forget which students or friends]. Following this ordeal, and her decision to enter the convent, Sister Ann's father left her his house provided it wasn't sold, meaning it could become a centre for welcome and retreat for groups like ours.

Another highlight of the weekend was our visit to the flagship of the British navy, the HMS Victory, in which 200 years ago Admiral Lord Nelson defeated the combined French and Spanish fleets at the battle of Trafalgar, thus saving Britain from a Napoleonic invasion. To stand at the spot where Nelson was wounded and in the bowels of the ship where he died three hours later left another vivid impression of continuity of British history and tradition.

All in all a memorable weekend, where as we listened to one another, we recalled that text from the Gospel of Luke: 'Did not our hearts burn within us as He talked to us on the way.' As we listened to one another and reflected ourselves, we sometimes recognised the voice of the Master himself calling to us.

Fr John Dickson SDB

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