December 13, 2017

The Benedict XVI Retreat Centre: An oasis of silence on Sydney’s doorstep

The Benedict XVI Retreat Centre chapel. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Sometimes in order to hear the still, small voice of God in our lives, we need to do as Christ did in the Gospels—remove ourselves from the crowds and withdraw to a lonely place. For it is only in a quiet place that we can truly hear the Father’s voice.

The Benedict XVI Retreat Centre in Grose Vale is a place designed to allow the gentle voice of God to invade hearts and minds. In a semi-rural bushland setting – about an hour’s drive north-west of Sydney’s CBD – the Retreat Centre is permeated by a quietness that is only disturbed by the chiming of bellbirds in the surrounding treetops.

PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Those who stay at the Retreat Centre can spend time strolling around the beautiful 16-hectare property or sitting in the magnificent chapel, just spending time in quiet conversation with the Lord.

“There are lovely places here where you can go and sit. It’s quiet and you can be one with your God,” says Catherine Robert who runs the Centre along with her husband, Jacques.

Although open to all age groups, the Retreat Centre was designed with young people in mind. Named after the pope at the time, the inspiration behind the Centre came from Cardinal Pell, who wanted to allow young people who attended World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney to continue their spiritual journey. He wanted a place where they could renew and deepen their faith in fellowship with one another.

With accommodation for up to 150 people at a time, the Centre caters especially for youth groups, university groups, families, school and parish groups. Sporting facilities including tennis courts, volley ball courts, an archery field and a swimming pool dot the property. For more adventurous guests there’s also a flying-fox and an obstacle course.

The Centre is fully-catered, with a resident chef who cooks up what Catherine describes as “fresh and healthy food.”

PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The jewel in the crown at the Centre is the chapel, which tends to have a powerful impact on people, according to Catherine. Its design had many influences – Romanesque, Gothic and a little bit of Australiana. “It’s interesting watching everybody’s face when they first come to the big red doors of the chapel,” she said. “It’s not something you would expect to see. It’s a new building but it’s like they’ve stepped back in time, as if they’ve gone to Rome or somewhere in Europe.”

As you enter the chapel, the inscription over the doorway states, “House of God, Gate of Heaven.” Once inside the eyes are drawn upwards to the domed area above the sanctuary where a beautiful Romanesque crucifix is suspended.

Beyond the crucifix, the blue vault of the ceiling evokes the blueness of the vault of heaven and of Our Lady’s mantle. There are several cut-outs in the blue ceiling in the shape of the fleur-de-lis, representing the Trinity and the floor is paved in earthy tones so that there is a sense of a meeting between heaven and earth.

On the wall behind the altar, is displayed a series of gilded frescoes depicting the life of Christ, copies of icons by Neocatechumenal Way co-founder Kiko Arguello.

PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Catherine believes it’s not just the chapel but the whole of the Centre that has a spiritual atmosphere. “There’s a very beautiful sense of peace and calm. You know there’s some presence really here.”

Catherine and Jacques thoroughly enjoy running the Centre for one simple reason: they love people. Their warmth and friendly manner make people feel welcome straight away. Catherine says that people who have stayed there often remark that they feel “at home” and the best feedback they get is the people who return to the Centre again and again.

While the Centre has a distinctly Catholic spirituality, it is open to all. “It’s more than just a business to us,” Catherine said. “That’s why guests feel at home here. It makes a big difference to them.”

According to Catherine the purpose of the Centre is to “help people connect with God”. “And it does that,” she said. “It’s a wonderful thing.”

Further information:
The Benedict XVI Retreat Centre is located at 347 Grose Wold Road, Grose Vale NSW. For more information go to: www.benedictxvicentre.org.au

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