The Renewal Retreat Centre, a charismatic center in Bengaluru, is striking for the intensity of its services, and the extraordinary way that it weaves Euro-Catholic, evangelical, and Hindu religiosity. The Centre is housed on a campus of perhaps two acres, in an area near Christ University where information technology company towers are sprouting up. At the entrance is a Marian grotto whose statues are very European in style, with some Indian decoration. It also includes a relief of Pope John Paul II. A small parking garage, mostly for motorbikes, is full of bible passages written in blue and green, to such a degree that one might confuse it for an Evangelical church. The Little Flower Book Stall would never be confused with an Evangelical bookstore, and mostly features sacred objects, not books. It does a brisk business, mostly in crosses and rosaries.
The complex’s centerpiece is a large concrete building that opens that looks like it might once have been an industrial building. This worship space seats perhaps 1,500 people. In front, behind the altar, is an enormous painted image of the resurrected Christ, reminiscent in dress and looks to the Sacred Heart pictures that are ubiquitous in Catholic houses in India. Altar curtains are in pink and white, a relatively common color combination in Bangalore Catholic churches. The altar itself features a tile rendition of da Vinci's last supper in electric blues, pinks, yellows and orange.
The words “Glory to God in the Highest” are in enormous orange letters above the altar. The altar has an Indian prayer lamp, with a small cross on top.
To the side of the altar, large plaster statues in an early 20th-century European style are on each side of the altar, including Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Jude, the Infant Jesus of Prague, and the Archangel Michael. Scripture passages in English fill the walls: "He who honors his mother is like someone amassing a fortune" - Sirach 3:4; "Pray always and do not lose Heart" - Luke 18:1; "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you" - John 15:16; "I am The Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything impossible for me?" - Jeremiah 32:27; "The Blood of Jesus, his son, purifies us from all sins" 1 John 1:7; "I have heard your prayer and seen your tears" – 2 Kings 20:5.
The attendees seem overwhelmingly drawn from the middle classes, judging from the cars and motorcycles in the lot, and the educational achievements listed in the advertisements for marriage for young men and women. Services are in Malayalam on Sunday, but on other days they are also hosted in English and Tamil.
The Centre’s magazine, "Renewal Voice," featured a range of perspectives held together by few, if any institutions in the West – articles on guardian angels, a story about a relic of St. Therese held by the Legion of Mary; an article on asceticism by a Catholic Swami, discussing Persian, Indian, Hellenistic and Jewish asceticism; a section on Abraham Lincoln, and how his persistence paid off.
A service one Sunday morning in January 2013 began with high-volume preaching at 9 a.m., to a crowd of about 150, mostly women. The crowd built up slowly, and by 10:45 a number of priests began to set up a very large monstrance for Eucharistic devotion. The crowd prayed in very loud charismatic style, in a sound that was like ululation at times, and at other times involved chanting "Praise the Lord" in English, with a volume and a Pentecostal intensity that I had never seen focused on such a traditionalist practice as Eucharistic Adoration. Eventually the monstrance was brought into the audience for a procession marked by a loud bell and synthesizer music. Incense and royal Indian umbrellas surrounded the monstrance on the procession through the audience, and buckets of rose petals passed in advance allowed worshipers to shower the Eucharist with roses. A video captures much of that, but does not fully capture the volume and energy of the moment. When mass started, the room was full, about 200 people stood outside, and worshippers continued to flow in the driveway.
Updated: April 3, 2017 - 11:28am