A former Methodist church in Fort Smith has been transformed into a retreat center devoted to Divine Mercy.
Since its opening in April, the Divine Mercy Retreat Center has hosted Vietnamese Catholics from all over the United States to pray for divine mercy for the world and support one another in practicing divine mercy in their daily lives.
The Divine Mercy Association, located in California, was established to support the Southern Congregation of Jesus of Mercy in Vietnam and promote devotion in the United States. It encourages benefactors to join the Third Order of Divine Mercy as lay oblates affiliated with the Vietnamese congregation.
“The association was looking for a location to build a retreat center in the United States,” Father Peter Le-Thanh Quang, associate pastor for Vietnamese ministry at Sacred Heart of Mary Church in Barling said. “It was able to purchase this building on Kelley Highway, a former Methodist church, for $310,000. It sits on two and a half acres and has 12,000 square feet. We have a chapel, a large community room, kitchen and 10 offices and classrooms we converted into bedrooms.”
Bang Nguyen, a Sacred Heart of Mary parishioner, helped renovate the retreat center.
“We hosted volunteers from all over who helped us,” he said. “After we installed showers and sinks and converted the classrooms into bedrooms, we could house up to 40 people for weekend retreats. One volunteer from Texas painted a mural of Jesus holding a basket of loaves and fishes in the kitchen.”
The exterior building is adorned with a large painting of the Divine Mercy. Manicured flower beds circle the building and parking lot. The rear entrance opens to a large lawn suitable for outdoor gatherings or activities.
The sanctuary has three large images behind the altar. The Divine Mercy is flanked by St. Faustina on the left and St. John Paul II, who canonized St. Faustina in 2000, on the right.
“We had our first Mass here when we opened on Divine Mercy Sunday (April 24) this year,” Father Le said. “Bishop (Anthony B.) Taylor visited our retreat center, although it is under the province of the Divine Mercy Association in California. He told us Mass can be offered when groups are assembled for retreats. We are not designated as a church because Fort Smith already has enough churches.”
Retreatants pray the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy every three hours during their Friday-Sunday meetings, beginning at 3 p.m. The local Vietnamese Catholic community also prays with them as their schedules permit.
Many of the retreatants know Father Le through his daily Divine Mercy Radio broadcasts at radioltxc.org where they tune in and pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Chaplet of the Holy Spirit and listen to homilies and Bible studies.
The Vietnamese Catholic community in the River Valley is entrusted with caring for the property. Volunteers oversee the gardening, cleaning, scheduling and hospitality. Father Le said he hopes to cover the monthly utility costs by renting out the community room with a giant screen and adjacent kitchen for parties, movie nights or game-day viewing events.
“So far we have had one party here,” he said, “but we hope to host many more.”
Father Le would also like to host weekly luncheons for senior citizens to gather and socialize. He is happy for the graces the center will bring to the community as more people pray the Chaplet, Novena and Litany of Divine Mercy to obtain mercy, increase their trust in God and show mercy to others.
“I’m very excited to have this center open in our community,” Nguyen said, “because so many people will come and pray for Divine Mercy.”
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