Divine trail connects state's spiritual retreat centers

The Divine Trail links Connecticut retreat centers/ContributedConnecticut is known for lots of things – accomplished writers, renowned universities and expensive housing, to name a few. But with the recent launch of www.divinetrail.org, Connecticut may soon be known for its abundance of spiritual renewal centers as well.

The Connecticut Divine Trail, which was unveiled in February, provides an online map of Christian retreat centers throughout the state.

Bernadette Vance, brainchild of the trail, said she got the idea from the Connecticut Wine Trail and for the past year has been working with retreat centers statewide to create the Divine Trail. The site, she said, is a way to bring people together to find God. “We’re bringing awareness to people using a different medium, the Internet,” she said.

Vance, administrator at Immaculate Conception Spiritual Renewal Center in Putnman, said the site launched in time for Lent and for the upcoming spring season.

“It’s the perfect time for a pilgrimage in Connecticut,” she said. “We have so many distractions, like never before, and our moral values are confused by a lot of things. People are misguided and it seems God is misunderstood, he’s not at the top or forefront where he should be.”

The tranquility of the centers on the Divine Trail, she prays, can help residents get focused again.

One priest described it perfectly, Vance said, “A retreat center is not a hotel for saints, but a hospital for healing sinners.”

“That’s what we are, what we’re here for. We’re here for people to learn to know God, to understand the scriptures and to be able to come to a point where they can feel God’s love and mercy, especially for Lent, this time of forgiveness,” she said.

She added that many of the 15 retreat centers on the trail offer historical information, including cultural and religious history, and said they each vary in size, adding that the centers make for quality “staycations” this year.

Brandon Nappi, associate retreat director at Holy Family Passionist Retreat Center in West Hartford, said the trail is helping the state’s retreat centers become more visible, noting that with the rush of everyday life, it’s difficult to stop and notice the many spiritual oases Connecticut has.

“It’s remarkable, per capita, we must have the most retreat centers throughout the country, all varying in size,” he said.

Holy Family is one of the largest retreat centers in North America, drawing in about 10,000 people each year.

“I think what a retreat center provides is a kind of ministry of space, of hospitality,” he said. “It’s inviting people into a slower rhythm.”

Although many of the centers offer housing and are great for extended pilgrimages, Nappi said the sites offer something even for those who don’t have the time to spend an entire weekend away from home.

“We keep regular business hours. People can come into the chapel, drink in the silence,” he said. “That’s what’s neat about places like this. It’s not that you have to carve out 48 hours.”

Vance said the Divine Trail is still evolving and will soon likely have more renewal centers listed. For information, visit the site at http://www.divinetrail.org.

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