This SSS community at Kholaprwadi, Agashi, Virar was originally envisaged as the Novitiate training centre for the SSS Region of India and was ready for occupation in 1987. Since then it has functioned mainly as the Novitiate, but also offered facilities for Retreats to individuals and also groups from time to time. For over twenty-five years the place has been the home of the novices for their two year period of formation and the majority of SSS working today in India have been trained here. However, in 2012, it was decided to shift the novitiate training to the newly erected house at Santa Cruz, Alto, Goa and since then this place at Agashi has catered mainly to retreat groups.
Situated almost at the very heart of the little Catholic village of Kholapurwadi, Dhobitalao, the Ashram forms an almost ideal place for a spiritual retreat and renewal programme especially for those having to face the hustle and bustle of city life in the nearby metropolis of Mumbai. In its own little way, the Ashram has contributed to the spiritual growth of the area, particularly by fostering organized Prayer before the Sacrament, first of all to the Catholics of the surroundings but also reaching out further to groups that sought a deeper spiritual life. The focus in all our simple apostolate, of course, has always been on the Eucharist as the source and centre of Christian living. Our Fathers and Brothers have consistently made valiant efforts to learn enough Marathi to be of service to the people and in general, the Ashram is well-known in the area for its spiritual ambience and updated Eucharistic impact.
Efforts at Present
Retreat work now forms the bulk of the apostolate done at the Agashi Ashram and on an average we get about two to three retreat groups each month. Of course, there are lean days and days of plenty but on the whole the place is used reasonably well. However, most of the groups that come at present are from among the new-born Christian assemblies and their presence is felt here mostly at weekends and during public holidays. A few Catholic Charismatic groups also frequent the place from time to time while individuals too make good use of the place at regular intervals. All in all, the place provides a useful and prayerful ambience for time spent in prayer not only to such established groups but also to individuals and smaller gatherings on a personal basis. Spiritual guidance and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is also available for those who seek it.
While reaching out to groups coming from outside, we have not neglected or forgotten the people of the village itself, particularly the youth. We maintain a regular contact with them and assist them in their studies and other needs as required, guiding them to seek a better future for themselves. We are glad to note that in the twenty-five odd years we have been in this place, the surroundings have witnessed a marked improvement economically, academically and also culturally. Quite significantly, the differences and misunderstandings among the people, who incidentally form just one large joint family, are notably few and far between. Several of our younger people work abroad while almost all who have remained behind are doing well in life in a variety of fields, and have much to be proud of. As in most of the other places also in this Virar-Vasai area, traditional farming is very much on the decline! Our presence here has been a real ‘win-win’ for the local residents as also for us.
Apostolate in the Neighbourhood
Besides this work done at the base (Ashram), our priests and novices also rendered valuable service to the parish of St. James, Agashi, especially for a Sunday English Eucharist catering to the influx of English speaking people from the Mumbai area. Our contribution in this area has been growing keeping pace with the increase in the English speaking population. The novices also helped in conducting Catechism classes, visiting the poor and needy in the area and conducting social outreach to the marginalized; they also reached out to other Religious Institutions in the area, mainly the English speaking ones. Our SSS priests continue to help out with Recollections and other spiritual requirements like Confessions when approached and on the whole, the SSS have blended amicably with the overall apostolate of the diocese.
The Institution celebrated its Silver Jubilee in 2012.
Hopes for the Future
Though formation work is down to short-term emergency courses for special groups of candidates that do not fit into the regular sections and retreat work relegated mainly to the weekends, yet the place is alive and vibrant in its efforts to cater to a spiritual renewal of all who have the time and the desire to avail themselves of what it has to offer. Our hope is to move in the direction of making this place a more clearly Eucharistic Animation Centre where short term courses in different languages would be offered to select (though somewhat limited in number) groups seeking to plumb the depths of the Eucharistic mystery and benefit more from its riches.
Given the quiet atmosphere of the place and its surroundings, we gradually hope to develop it further into a place that offers spiritual renewal at a level not easily available elsewhere. There are already quite a few such Retreat Centres in the Diocese and so we would aim at offering something distinctive especially with regard to the Eucharist. While this is yet a ‘dream’ and we know it will possibly take quite some time to materialize, yet we realize that it is mainly in this area that we would be able to make a worthwhile contribution in keeping with our charism. For as our Rule of Life states quite emphatically, “our ideal is to live the mystery of the Eucharist fully and to make known its meaning so that Christ’s reign may come and the glory of God be revealed to the world.” (Rule 1).
Drawn and guided by this ideal we move ahead slowly yet steadily and we look to the future with hope and enthusiasm.