Pope Francis will continue to have a number of pressing engagements during Lent, but next week he will participate, as is tradition, in the annual weeklong spiritual exercises with the heads of Vatican departments.
The retreat normally takes place in the Vatican, but, consistent with St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, this year it will take place far from familiar surroundings.
At 4pm on Sunday afternoon, after reciting the Angelus, the Holy Father and Curial heads will leave the Vatican by coach and embark on a 45-minute journey to Ariccia, a small, picturesque town in the Castelli Romani district, close to the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.
The retreat itself will take place in the Pauline residence, Casa del Divin Maestro, a popular retreat center, surrounded by woodland and close to Lake Albano.
Prior to becoming pope, Francis had always taken part in retreats at a distance from his own home, according to the Vatican. St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Holy Father’s Jesuit order, recommends in the 20th annotation of his Spiritual Exercises that a participant on retreat will “benefit himself the more he separates himself from all friends and acquaintances and from all earthly care.”
The saint stresses that, from this isolation, “three chief benefits, among many others, follow.” The first is that the separation helps to “serve and praise God, our Lord,” and this “merits no little in the sight of his Divine Majesty.”
The second is that, being thus isolated, “and not having his understanding divided on many things, but concentrating his care on one only, namely, on serving his Creator and benefiting his own soul, he uses with greater freedom his natural powers, in seeking with diligence what he so much desires.”
The third chief benefit, he says, is that “the more our soul finds itself alone and isolated, the more apt it makes itself to approach and to reach its Creator and Lord; and the more it so approaches him, the more it disposes itself to receive graces and gifts from his Divine and Sovereign Goodness.”
In a message to the Italian Federation of Spiritual Exercises this week, the Pope said a good course of spiritual exercises helps those who participate in them to develop an “unconditional adherence to Christ” and to “understand that prayer is the irreplaceable means of union with him crucified.”
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