MONDAY, JULY 6, 2009
The Vipassana Retreat is being held at “The Sisters of Social Service Holy Spirit Retreat Center, at 4316 Lanai Road, Encino, CA 91436. www.sistersofsocialservice.com
The Center is several blocks south of Ventura Blvd, in the hills of Encino, CA. We had a bit of a hassle getting here for the 8:30 – 9:30 am registration. John Jackson, Michael Jackson’s father, lives 3 blocks from the Retreat Center. The LAPD has cordoned off 5 blocks of Hayvenhurst Blvd, starting at Ventura Blvd, to protect the Jackson home from press and curious onlookers. I had assumed that being at the retreat would immunize me from the craziness surrounding the King of Pop’s recent demise. The opposite has turned out to be true.
I had previously attended a Vipassana retreat at the Center, in 1998. I couldn’t recognize the place upon today’s return. Previously, the vibe was rural, back-woods, with a dormitory for the participants. Today, the Center is like a college campus, with several large buildings, a circular courtyard, and an L shaped line of 24 rooms (single and double) to board sitters. I can’t find the area where I used to do walking meditations.
When checking in to my room, I found a hotel-style binder that had a description of the center and its history within. It has indeed changed since my previous retreat. It underwent major renovations in the early ‘00s, re-opening in its current form in ’06. Apparently, the old building is still being used as housing for unfortunate women.
We are definitely NOT roughing it here. The food has been excellent. We can have maid service if we want it. The only thing not cushy about the place is our beds, which are about 6” too short; my feet hang out over the end. Also, I haven’t been able to figure out how to get hot water from the shower, which means being jolted awake at 5:00am. Maybe that’s not a bad thing…In fact, I think we have things a little bit too cushy here.
The center has a small library nook, three small bookshelves crammed with religious and spiritual texts, around the corner from the sign-in table. A couple of the books have caught my eye; I may take a look at them later.
The Sisters left these post cards all around the retreat center (even on top of the paper towel dispenser in the Men’s Bathroom) about their patron martyr, Sister Sara Salkahazi:
Blessed Sara Salkahazi, S.S.S.
Martyred for challenging the Holocaust.
December 27, 1944
“Sara Salkahazi was born in Kosice (at that time part of Hungary) on May 11, 1899. In 1929 she entered the Society of the Sisters of Social Service in Budapest. There she vowed her entire life to the service of God with the motto: “Alleluia! Here I am. Send me!” Her love for Christ was manifested in diverse areas of social service, in Catholic movements and by authoring a variety of literary works.
In 1943, she consciously offered her life for the Society, particularly for the weak and ill, in case the Sisters and the Church were persecuted. On December 27, 1044, Hungarian Nazis surrounded the Home of Working Women where Sara was in charge. She was arrested along with a co-worker and a group of Jewish refugees she was hiding. That same evening, according to an eyewitness, all of them were stripped naked and shot, their bodies falling into the icy river Danube. Before her execution, sister Sara knelt down, facing her executioners and made a great sign of the cross. God accepted the sacrifice of here life.
Cardinal Peter Erdo presided at the Eucharistic Celebration of Beautification in Budapest, September 17, 2006. The Feast of Sister Sara is May 11.
Let us pray.
We pray that we may be inflamed by the Holy Spirit, so that we may respond generously and lovingly to the needs o the marginalized, the persecuted and the weak. Amen”