Monday, November 20, 2006

Fr. George Panackal on Investigations at Divine Retreat Centre

Million Hearts Retain the true picture of Divine Retreat Centre

By Rev. Fr. George Panackal V.C., Director, Divine Retreat Centre

I write this in exceptional circumstances. On the 10th of March 2006, the Honourable High Court of Kerala authorized a police officer to make a detailed probe into the activities of Divine Retreat Centre based on certain allegations levelled against the Centre. You might have come to know of it from the newspapers. I too came to know about this through the media. The 10 million people who have been to Divine Retreat Centre for prayers and retreats over the past eighteen years retain in their hearts a very vivid picture of the Centre's spiritual integrity. However, the picture projected by certain biased sections of the media was very different and it pains me very deeply - just as it pains the heart of all those who have been to this Centre and have undoubtedly been spiritually blessed.

The question arising in the minds of the people is why the true picture of Divine Retreat Centre was not presented in the media as well as before the Honourable High Court. The answer to this is that we did not have the fair opportunity to enjoy the right of an Indian citizen to present the real image of the Divine Retreat Centre before the court. The court took up the case suo motu (on its own initiative) and has issued the order without prior notice. Nevertheless, we have complete confidence and faith in all the judicial proceedings of the court and we welcome this inquiry with open arms.

All the 10 million people who have been to the Retreat Centre are fully aware of what the Retreat Centre is all about and of the spiritual integrity of the priests here. We have about 2000 permanent inmates in the Divine Retreat Centre who found shelter in our Centre when they were faced with abandonment, homelessness and dire financial crisis. Besides, we have about 100 AIDS patients, about 100 aged and destitute people, 500 mentally challenged, and 300 orphan children cared for by the Centre with love and compassion.

My brethren, Divine Retreat Centre was the first in Kerala to take the initiative to accept, provide shelter, and care for AIDS patients till the very end of their lives. I recall in the early days of our AIDS Home how the court itself in one of its rulings, requested our assistance, and sent an AIDS patient to be cared for at the Divine Retreat Centre. Unfortunately, it is not the true picture of these meritorious works of mercy carried out in Divine that was portrayed in the newspapers last Saturday (11 March 2006). We are saddened at this. Despite the wrong image given by certain sections of the media, we firmly believe that it cannot erase the true picture from the hearts of the 10 million people. We are very sure of that. I know you have great pain in your hearts. I gratefully remember all those who have telephoned us and visited us to express their support and solidarity and all those who prayed for us during this time of trial. Along with this, I would like to mention a few more things.

For quite some time, certain misguided people have been trying to tarnish the good name of Fr. Mathew Thadathil . He is a holy and devout priest with outstanding capabilities and has been serving along with me in this centre for the last seven years. Father Mathew Thadathil belongs to the Vincentian Congregation and is entrusted with the administrative responsibility in Divine Retreat Centre, solely due to his integrity. His preaching and prayers have led many to a true conversion of their hearts.In fact the Circle Inspector of Chalakudy, known for his investigative ability and impeccable character had investigated the same charge that has been raised by the media now and had arrived at the conclusion that there was no truth at all in the allegations against Fr. Mathew and that the complaint was false. We do not have any grievance against the court for ordering a fresh investigation of this case. We welcome this inquiry hoping once and for all to prove the innocence of this priest. Therefore, even though there is a court order, I know, there will be no doubts about the integrity of the Centre and its activities in the hearts of those who have made retreats here and those who are close to us. I assure the general public and all the 10 million people who have been to our Centre, and also to those who are planning to come to our Retreat Centre - Fr. Mathew is absolutely innocent.

My brethren, some people may wonder how such extensive works of charity can be undertaken in our State of Kerala without foreign funding. However, the Centre took the initiative and set an example for the world to undertake charitable works without any foreign funds. The work that is done here is possible because many ordinary people from all walks of life share their limited resources with us through individual contributions. I am sure that anyone who has attended retreats in our Centre will not have any misunderstanding on this issue. Funding is a problem but our dependence is on God, and the very truth is that right now we have a debt of about 30 million rupees with the banks. Our accounts are open and transparent and we welcome any person to come and check them to clear any doubts they may have on this matter.

Many government officials have attended retreats in our Centre. After the retreats, several of them have joined hands with us to pray for and fight against bribery, corruption and all forms of injustice. They receive inspiration for this from the Centre and have gone on to do a lot of good in our society and they encourage each other by coming together in prayer fellowships. You would have learnt about this from factual newspaper reports. The gates of Divine Retreat Centre are always open to anyone wanting to attend the retreats. All are welcome even if they are not able to pay the registration fees. For the past eighteen years, Divine Retreat Centre has established itself as a haven of solace and hope for all those who are hurting and for many who were even contemplating suicide. Dr. Sukumar Azhikode, the renowned writer, has stated this fact publicly after having visited this centre.

We are aware of the fact that when we work against the evils in society and engage ourselves in good works, it is normal to have many enemies. We do not consider anyone as an enemy. The reason is that in the past, those who were initially against us have eventually become allies and co-workers of Divine Retreat Centre. Therefore, we do not see those who are working against us presently as our enemies; Instead, we believe that they are the future allies and benefactors of this House of God. We pray and have this great expectation and hope in our hearts that we will, one day, be working together with them for the betterment of the poor, the downtrodden and the under-privileged.

The Divine Retreat Centre has been a home for the 10 million people who have made weekly residential retreats here and it will continue to be a home to them. We warmly welcome all those who were exposed to the recent media reports, to visit the Centre to experience the same Divine consolation and strength which more than 10 million of people have already experienced.

I sincerely request that those who have been to the Retreat Centre will continue to treasure in their hearts the real and true image of the Divine Retreat Centre.

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