“The blind are seeing. The deaf are hearing and the lame are leaping with joy”. Don’t think I am playing rhetoric. This happens in this end of England, the same miracles once God worked in Kerala years ago in Divine-Potta services is recurring here in the same measure.
Ramsgate is the modern form of the ancient island of Thanet. When Augustine of Canterbury who came by sea landed here, this piece of land was an island separated from the continent by the two thousand feet wide ‘Wantsum’ channel and ‘North Sea’. Augustine preached the Word of God and cleansed the Anglo-Saxon tribes, the inhabitants of this island. From Thanet, the light of the Word spread across England. From there it spread to Scotland, to Ireland, Wales… This land remained deeply Catholic until the times of King Henry VIII, who turned against the faith to justify his own act of adultery. History testifies that Wantsum Channel withdrew to the sea from that time onwards! And Thanet maintains a traditional belief that it will turn into an island when England embraces Catholic faith again.
“A springtime of faith is recurring through these Vincentian Fathers. Thanet will soon turn into an island again” says Fr. Marcus Holden, the Rector of St. Augustine Shrine, Ramsgate.
Believe it or not. Here is an incident. When the Divine Retreat Centre, Ramsgate was inaugurated a year ago, on a cold day time, a cherry tree in front of the stage was seen fully bloomed. And the best part of it was that it was not a blooming season!
From sixth century onwards, this was a Benedictine Abbey. Eventually, when vocations became rare, and the rooms became vacant with bats finding their space within, the holy monks left this massive building for a smaller space. The faithful feared that the holy place will turn into some heritage hotel, bar or pub.
Fr. Marcus Holden’s mother dared a ‘foolish act’ of faith. She took out a holy medal, prayed over it and placed it on that soil! Then she started a rosary mission along with a few fervent nuns!
Thus, God sent the Vincentian fathers to this land! The first one to land here was Fr. George Panakkal, who came with an empty pocket and extended hands. Fr. Joseph Edatt, former Director of Tabor Retreat Centre, Mumbai, ably supported him. The two men were like St. Paul and Cilas!
The miracles once God worked through Fr. Panakkal while at Divine Retreat Centre, Muringoor, were repeated in Ramsgate. He managed to purchase Ramsgate monastery by putting together the tiny copper coins of the widow and borrowings from Nathaneils. Now, the debts are gradually getting settled.
People from all walks began to throng at Ramsgate. Among them, there were persons who were on the verge of suicide, there were perennially bed ridden and there were also persons who have tasted nothing but failure in their lives. Every one of them gathered here, wiping of their tears.
It was only a beginning!
Fr. Panakkal, with a fire within, toiled day and night on bare foot. He knelt down before the Lord in the chapel of perpetual adoration and stayed there all night, along with Fr. Edatt. God rewarded his profound dedication with abounding miracles!
People from various nations, with varied languages and colours… gather at Ramsgate Divine Retreat Centre. There are blacks and whites among them. There are also brown-skinned ones. Telephone rings even at midnight: “Please pray for us…”
A white-skinned woman who prostituted for decades, another one who has been a hardcore drug addict… all of them lift up their hands to God, here! Yeah, it must be this way. Wasn’t it a woman from whom seven evil spirits were cast off, who eventually kept awake for Christ at his tomb!
When I drove back to London, I used to turn back to see if Thanet turns into an island again!
St Augustines Abbey, St Augustines Road, Ramsgate, Kent CT11 9PA
by Santimon Jacob.