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'Holy Ground'

Bethlehem Hermitage in Chester marks 30th anniversary
By Mmichael Wojcik, Beacon Staff

CHESTER - Calling the Bethlehem Hermitage here "holy ground," Bishop Serratelli helped celebrate the hermitage's 30th anniversary of being a peaceful place of quiet, contemplative prayer.

Nestled in southern Morris County's rustic landscape, the Bethlehem Hermitage was founded March 5, 1975 and sits on 18 acres of land here.

Located on Pleasant Hill Road, it consists of several small wooden cottages. Each hermit lives in his or her solitary cabin, combining hours of work with hours of prayer.

The hermitage has cottages for guests and also houses a central building with a chapel.

"In this place - away from the world and above its distractions - people come in answer to God's call," said the bishop, who was the principal celebrant of a Mass of Thanksgiving June 30 for the hermitage's 30th anniversary. "Through prayer, through intimate conversation with God, they have grown in the obedience of faith. Those who come here, in the struggles of human life, see more clearly that God is first, before our desires, before our plans."

Concelebrating the Mass were retired Paterson Bishop Rodimer; Auxiliary Bishop Dominic Marconi of Newark; Father Eugene Romano, hermitage founder and the hermit's Desert Father; and nearly 20 other priests. Also in attendance were about 75 benefactors and friends of the hermitage.

"Faith is God inviting us to a life-long dialogue," Bishop Serratelli added in his homily. "He calls. We answer and, in that life-long dialogue, we gradually learn, like Abraham, obedience to God's will over our most treasured relationships."

After the Mass, Bishop Serratelli blessed the hermitage's Chapel Annex and the Christ of Parousia Cemetery. He also blessed three individual hermitages: the rebuilt Our Lady of the Annunciation and two new dwellings, Abba Father of Mercy and Holy Spirit of Wisdom.

"We give gratitude to God for what he has done," Father Romano said. "Today the hermitage invites priests, religious and laity to experience the desert solitude for five days or for a week."

In his Plan for Bethlehem Hermits, Father Romano wrote, "The Hermit of Bethlehem is not in isolation but in communion with the body of Christ with the serious responsibility to pray for the Church."
In the program for the anniversary Mass, "Desert" Father Romano added, "The hermit is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3) - a martyr of conscience who gives witness to God's existence, supremacy and absoluteness, while mirroring the love of the heart of Jesus in a consecrated life of obedience, poverty and celibate love."

For the hermits, each day begins at 4 a.m., with several hours of prayer and worship, including adoration before the Blessed Sacrament in their individual hermitages and Mass in the chapel, Father Romano said. The hermits eat their meals in solitude, except on Sundays and solemnities when they gather for the main meal, he said.

In the Mass program, Father Romano also remarked that a hermit is "a servant of the Church who stands in the presence of the triune God, seeking life of greater separation from the world, of unceasing prayer and penance in the silence of solitude for the praise of God and the salvation of the world."

"We seek an encounter with Christ in the midst of the culture of death - a culture filled with the isms of our age: hedonism, materialism, relativism and secularism," Father Romano said during the Mass.

In 1974, Bishop Casey approved the establishment of a "Desert House of Prayer." Seven years after the hermitage's founding, Father Romano envisioned a community of dedicated and consecrated men and women who would lead a vowed, "desert life" of prayer, silence and solitude. In 1997, Bishop Rodimer canonically elevated the community to that of a "Laura (colony) of Consecrated Hermits of Diocesan Right."

But the hermitage's influence has extended well beyond the diocese's boundaries. As "consultants," they've helped hermitages in other dioceses - in the U.S. and around the world, Father Romano said. "It's been a fruitful apostolate of prayer and spiritual guidance."


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