Every year it is in our religious practice and norms to attend a retreat where one will experience detachment from the usual activities of our worldly lives and just spend the time in silence and in prayer. Normally I have the retreats in the local center for Opus Dei in our city but this time I opted to go for a closed retreat far away from home. To date this had to be my best retreat experience ever.
Coming from Cebu we had rode on an L300 and braved the highways, rode the waves on a barge, and finally wrestled the damaged roads of La Castellana. The total trip was roughly around 8 hours.
It wasn’t too hard to find the place as the conference center was distinctively surrounded by tall walls of rocks cemented together. Beside the structure were trucks, a basketball court and what I believe was a welfare center.
La Castellana Conference Center
The car drove in and we were all impressed by the natural beauty just surrounding us! The house in itself had a quaint beauty to it while the garden was filled with an abundance of shrubs, bushes, flowers and towering trees that clearly have seen life before this land was developed.
La Castellana Conference Center was recently renovated and was originally an ancestral home, much like those mansions you find in Bacolod. This old-fashion Spanish-era house belonged to the Vargas family and was situated just near the plantation’s compound gate. The family, being followers of Opus Dei, decided to offer the home to become a conference center (a venue for retreat, recollection and other activities of The Work).
Though the house was facing the beauty of Mt. Kanlaon/Canlaon, we could only make out the outline of this highest point of Negros because of the clouds shrouding the massive active stratovolcano. (stratovolcano n. a volcano built up of alternate layers of lava and ash.)
3 Days of Silence of Prayer, Spiritual Reading, Reflection, and Meditation
Each of us were to stay in our own rooms while proper venues for each activities were available for the six of us to use. Along with us was our mentor and our chaplain to guide us throughout the entire retreat. Now before I continue any further, I will openly confess that I was the worst attendee when it came to the part on maintaining silence. Anyone who knows me knows that my garrulous nature often gets the best of me.
Normally a chapel in a conference center would have the image of our Blessed Mother or with Jesus Christ. However in their chapel they had a cleverly relevant theme of the Holy Family with the scene depicting that of the family in the local sugar farm. Come to think of it, we were surrounded by several thousands of kilometers stretch of sugar plantations. Seems apt to visualize the Holy Family in such a setting.
And because the alter set-up was in such that the altar was closely placed along the front wall, we celebrated the mass with our priest’s back facing us. This is very reminiscent of what traditional masses were like almost a century ago.
During our spiritual reading sessions and our talks, we would proceed to the common area which carry some distinctive “center” elements:
- Ducks – because they represent how ducklings, when entering this world, already know how to go about on their own but follow a mother duck for direction
- Donkeys – because of their hardworking, humble and persevering nature
- Lack of cellphone signal – because stop looking at that cellphone while you’re praying
We had our meals in the dining room that had a some very old furniture which I had a feeling, were worthy enough to be placed in a heritage museum. Food was delicious and that had our chaplain saying: “Ilongga women really know how to cook, noh?” And because we were in the middle of a sugar plantation, our desserts were very sweet. We even got to chew on actual sugar cane!
Our CR’s felt vintage with their basic tile design and the hallways still had their wooden floors from when the house was originally built. Elements of the house like the stairs, large wooden windows, beautiful uncommon tile patterns on the ground floor, and even some metalworks like the huge metal patio door, all showed aspects of the house that carried the past with it even today.
With how beautiful the house remains to be after all these years and with how clean and well-managed the garden is, one cannot help but affirm that the people who take care of this house has done it with love in their hearts. One can also say that they abide with the teachings of St. Jose Maria Escriva: “Bene omnia facere” which is “Do all things well.”
Just when we were preparing to leave for Cebu on our last day, God blessed us with a view of the famed Mt. Canlaon! What a wonderful way to end the retreat!
If you want to go on a retreat I highly recommend going to one of your closest Opus Dei centers and ask about when they will have a closed retreat. Totally worth my time and this retreat goes in my books as one of the most memorable and significant moments in my life.
Pax in Bello! Nunc coepi!