The Passionist Retreat

Father Czeslaw Duda proudly shows off his pigsty to Albert and Peter at the Passionist retreat center.

Czeslaw Duda, a Passionist priest who runs the retreat center in Lodja, had lunch for us when we arrived from the airport.  Born in Poland, Duda has been thriving in the Congo for 28 years.  He was delighted when I recognized that he shared a name with the Nobel laureate, Czeslaw Milosz (and that I could even pronounce his name), and we hit it off.  I tried to speak French, he tried to speak English, and we we were able to communicate pretty well about the retreat center and life in Lodja.

A workman chops wood for the stove at the Retreat.

At the retreat center, Mass was celebrated in Otetela at 6:30 AM with rhythmic singing, the women sitting on the left side, the men on the right.  The retreat is also a kind of model farm.  Czeslaw told us that the water was safe to drink, having been pumped from the river to a cistern, then filtered and boiled.  He has constructed a pen for livestock, and the retreatants’ food is prepared on the premises.  We watched while some men chopped wood for the cooking fires.

One woman pounds the rice to separate it from the husk, while another shakes the grains free.

Meanwhile, two women prepared wild rice by beating it with a long pestle of polished wood and then shaking out the husks.  The pestle was very smooth where the hands grasped it.  I was amazed to see the range of Czeslaw’s responsibilities as priest, hotelier, restauranteur, engineer, and farmer.  It was a comfort to be in the peaceful retreat, where the only sounds were the crowing of the rooster at daybreak, the clucking of the wild turkeys that roamed the property, and the singing at Mass.

The Passionist Retreat in Lodja served delicious food.

I was surprised that some of the retreatants were followers of Oskar Ernst Bernhardt, whose 1926 The Grail Message (Duda called it “a gnostic text”) was published under the name Abd-ru-shin.  I thought they were catechists until they gave me a long presentation about the grail (in French) that I couldn’t completely follow.  It surprised me that they would want to meet in a Catholic retreat house.

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