How Centering Prayer is Changing the World: A Love Letter from the Dominican Republic

 

We embrace the process of transformation in Christ,
both in ourselves and in others,
through the practice of Centering Prayer
– Contemplative Outreach vision

 

A brief history of Christianity in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is a country blessed by the Holy Spirit and that highlights its Christian heritage on its national flag, which incorporates a quote from the Gospel of St. John: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free“.

The Franciscans who arrived in Santo Domingo in 1493—just a year after Columbus—were the first to celebrate mass there, followed by the Dominican Order in 1509. In 1518, the Dominicans established the first seminary, which later became a university. The first cathedral was built between 1514 and 1524. The Augustinians arrived in 1533, and the Jesuits in 1572.

The Dominican order was known then as a strong advocate for justice and keen defenders of the original inhabitants of the island, vehemently opposing the exploitation and violence caused by the Spaniards as colonizers. They delivered a powerful human rights message in a sermon on Christmas 1511, on the “Just Treatment of Indians”, adapting the famous third-century Roman document “Derecho de Gentes” (Latin: Ius Gentium), to define the relations between the indigenous people and the Spanish colonizers. They used this document to safeguard the Taino tribe.

Originally named Hispanola, the island was later divided into Haiti and Dominican Republic, named in honor of the Dominican Order.

Centering Prayer comes to the Dominican Republic

Did you know that the Dominican Republic was one of the first countries that to be introduced to Centering Prayer? In 1985, a group of Dominican friends met regularly in for prayer in our homes as a part of the Christian Family Movement. It was at one of those meetings that the host couple, Anna Matelda and Bilo Mallen, invited an American attorney volunteer from a development agency, to talk to us about Centering Prayer. Little did we know that this man, George Gerardi, would bring us such a priceless gift. George, then a board member of Contemplative Outreach, had mentioned his Centering Prayer practice to the Mallens in conversation. It sparked their interest and they invited him to come speak to us.

George arranged to visit the capital, travelling from the southwest where his development agency had water projects, to attend our session. He explained what the practice of Centering Prayer involves and then led the group in a Centering Prayer sit. Much to his delight and to our joy he found among the group open hearts and a fertile field to share the practice. This practice, which he explained had been developed by the Cistercian monks at Spencer, Massachusetts, served to facilitate opening us to a more intimate relationship with God.

Dominicans are taught at an early age that God is first in everything. We have a firm faith, and we believe that God always protects our island. But we can also be rather social, noisy, and difficult to keep quiet! As a result, the idea of lengthy periods of silence was not easy or attractive for most of us at the beginning.

Nevertheless, George’s kindness, patience, and perseverance on each of his trips to the island finally began to bear fruit as the sprouts started to grow. He shared Fr. Keating’s book Open Mind, Open Heart with us, and on another trip gave us a formal one-day workshop retreat, attended by approximately forty persons. His introduction, the silence, and the practice definitely ignited something in us and the first group of “Centering Pray-ers” started with a purpose—and nine souls!

George would get in touch with us each trip he made to the Dominican Republic.  His enthusiasm in the prayer would help and encourage us. We were having a hard time with the discipline, doing two prayer periods a day, and being distracted by our thoughts. This of course was very stressful. All of us were new to the prayer. We shared our experiences with the practice, and especially those moments in which we realized that the mind was quiet and in peace, consenting to God’s Presence. We had our difficulties but we knew that there was something of value in the practice, attracting our deep sensibilities and awareness. Our growth in the practice was, of course, good news to George who was very interested in hearing our concerns and suggested we invite Father Thomas Keating to visit for a retreat.

Father Thomas blesses us with several visits

In 1988, Father Keating gave his first retreat in the Dominican Republic. We were nervously excited and impressed with his talk and peaceful presence—so much so, that the coordinator of our group, trying to excuse our lack of capability said to him,

“I am so much in the beginning!” Father Thomas replied, “Aren’t we all?” That was enough to bring serenity and simply surrender with openness to the joy of this spiritual feast.

To our surprise, over three-hundred persons attended that first talk and practice. Everyone was profoundly attentive, kept the required silence, and everything flowed rhythmically listening to his presentations, practicing the prayer, silence, stillness, in an atmosphere of the breathtaking presence of God. Then, in 1989, Father Thomas gave his second retreat with the same successful attendance, increasing the practitioners of Centering Prayer.

Father Thomas honored us with four additional visits on other occasions, sometimes with an attendance of more than one thousand people. And our friend George Gerardi did not leave us on our own. He continued introducing us to the different spiritual tools known to him and available through Contemplative Outreach that might enhance our Centering practice.

Mary Mrozowski and others bless our budding community

We also had the benefit of retreats offered by Contemplative Outreach’s co-founder, Mary Mrozowski, who left an indelible mark on each of us. She was a real gift to our souls, minds, and our hearts. What a precious human being, a beautiful and blessed daughter of God! She visited us in 1992 offering a retreat for several days with an attendance of sixty people. She also facilitated the official registration of the Dominican Republic with Contemplative Outreach.

We were later enriched and privileged with visits by Father William Menninger, Father Carl Arico, Sister Margaret Funk, Sister Maria Tasto, Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler, Cathy McCarthy, Susan Komis, Mary Dwyer, Adalberto Henriquez, Marilu Ason, and Mercedes Scopeta. All visitors were very caring and attentive to our eagerness and concerns. Each, through their living example, helped our community grow and transform in God’s love.  We extend our eternal gratitude and blessings to all!

In the meantime, the group was growing at the national level and the need for a place to gather resulted in the establishment of the “Casa de Silencio y Oración Centrante“, our first house of silence and Centering Prayer in Santo Domingo. We also obtained approval for Father Jaime Corujo to be our chaplain at that facility. Father Corujo has served our community lovingly since then.

In 1999, when our house of prayer was inaugurated, the following words were uttered by one of our facilitators: “It seems like a utopia to undertake a ministry of this nature, nevertheless, God grows greater in our weakness … and we can do all things in Christ who strengths us.”  And so, our community of persons committed to Centering Prayer gave answer to, with our spiritual journey in silence, the great existential void in which so much of today’s world resides.

Over the years Contemplative Outreach has been very active here in the Dominican Republic, giving presentations, moving to different parts of the country, offering Introductory and formation workshops for facilitators, opening support groups in our Casa, as well as in homes, constantly organizing silent retreats, and doing translations of books and documents into Spanish.

We have maintained our connections with the Contemplative Outreach community in the United States, receiving guidance from them and participating in the faculty meetings and yearly conferences in the US and other locations. As the COVID 19 pandemic has locked down the world, adaptations have been made. We have established virtual meetings, activities, and retreats all on Zoom. These new technologies have multiplied the number of persons participating in the activities and have made our weekly gatherings international. People from all parts of Central and Latin America join us regularly.

 

Living the Life of the Spirit 

The Holy Spirit has gradually taught us through our daily practice how to open to God’s Presence, being totally infatuated with this kind of relationship with God. It is for us a fountain of living water as we consent to God’s presence and action within us, as God understands the purity of our intentions. We are insatiable, wanting more and more, because we are sensing in our stillness the changes in our attitudes and perceptions during normal activities, and those around us have observed this as well.  Any occasion is perfect to get together, for retreats to practice different forms of Lectio Divina or Centering Prayer moments in a single day. With the Welcoming Prayer, contemplative walks, and being one with nature and our surroundings, we always feel blessed!  Every year we become more eager to share our experience, and it has become easier to present it to others because we are living it! We are transformed, we hope, to new and better persons by this subtle and silent transformation offered by Centering Prayer.

Yes, this spiritual journey home is never ending, but after these many years living a contemplative and active life, we have witnessed multiple changes and adaptations to our lifestyle, how we respond to the death of dear ones, health issues that impair us, moral values diminished, lives lost in this epidemic, permanent damages to the environment that are causing natural catastrophes. Even world peace is at risk now; but we do not lose our perspective. Our center, God, continues to be always ahead of us preparing our hearts, minds, and souls for whatever comes along. We trust and let God Be! God is beside us, strengthening us in hard times, reaffirming our faith and convictions, guiding us to be the kind of persons we were designed to be and the world so desperately requires.

In our silence, we surrender to God and God does the rest; we are strong in our weakness because God gives us that strength through our prayer. We pray for those who don’t know how, or forgot how, to pray. We share, we care, we love, we listen. We are all ONE in the Communion of Saints.

Thank you, George, for planting the seed. Thank you, Contemplative Outreach for helping it to grow.  Love you so Father Keating!!

Amen!

Contemplative Outreach of Dominican Republic

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This is the second in a series of essays on the fruits of Centering Prayer in long-term practitioners and how the world is changed through fidelity to practice. You can read the first article here.