Pope Francis on his Lenten retreat in 2019

Francis’ cold forces first papal absence from Roman Curia Lenten retreat in 70 years

Pope Francis’ ongoing cold has forced the first papal absence from the Lenten retreat of the Roman Curia in 70 years, since, in 1950, Pope Pius XII excused himself from the pre-Easter spiritual exercises in order not to interrupt meetings with pilgrims in that Holy Year.

Asking the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square today at the Angelus to remember the Spiritual Exercises of the Roman Curia in their prayers, Pope Francis revealed that his flu will be keeping him indoors, therefore, he will not be going to Ariccia for the annual retreat.

The Pope had been scheduled to travel to the town in the Alban Hills outside Rome this afternoon to participate in a week-long cycle of meditations.

“I will be following from here,” he said, adding that although he will not physically participate in the retreat, he will spiritually join the Curia and all those who are experiencing moments of prayer.

As always, the retreat takes place at Casa Gesù Divino Maestro (the Divine Master House) in the little town not far from Rome.

The theme chosen for this year’s meditations is “The bush was on fire (Ex 3:2) – The encounter between God and man in light of the book of Exodus, the Gospel of Matthew, and the prayer of the Psalms”. 

Why Ariccia?

Unlike the Popes who preceded him, in 2014 Pope Francis chose a place outside the Vatican for the Spiritual Exercises. 

His decision was explained by Father Ciro Benedettini, the then deputy director of the Holy See Press Office, who emphasized that it is common practice for Jesuits to perform the Exercises outside the place where they live. 

Retreat director to focus on Church leaders’ need to provide “guidance and encouragement”

Before the news of the papal cancellation, Vatican Radio’s Amedeo Lomonaco spoke to retreat director, Fr. Pietro Bovati, Jesuit priest and Secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

The theme of this retreat touches on our experience of God, represented by Moses’ encounter with God and hearing his voice from the burning bush. It is this voice that illuminates the lives of people and tells them the way of life.

The spiritual exercises are, fundamentally, a help to this personal encounter of the soul with God.

The task of the spiritual guide is to foster this encounter of each person with God in order that they may listen, in a personal way, to the Word of the Lord. Only He can give each person directions that are both normative and consoling.

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What is the itinerary of the spiritual exercises?

I think it is to make each person listen to the Word of God which is given in the Holy Scriptures following the itinerary of the prophets. Listening to God in prayer is in fact a prophetic experience. That is precisely what Moses experienced when he heard the voice of God. And the same thing Jesus Christ did, who throughout his life manifested that He spoke because He is God.

We will therefore go through some texts of Scripture showing how Moses and Christ disposed themselves to listen to the Word in such a way, then, as to help their brothers and sisters in a prophetic experience.

Will prophecy and prayer be the focus of these spiritual exercises?

The theme of prayer and prophecy will guide the itinerary that I will try to offer by essentially following some texts from the book of Exodus and some passages from the Gospel of Matthew.

Also, as an expression of the Lenten dynamism, during Lent we are invited to spiritually retrace the journey of the people in the desert towards the mountain of God – towards the Easter experience.

So it will be a journey in the light of the Word of God…

This is basically what I will try to do. I will go over some themes such as vocation, resistance to God’s grace, and then illustrate some tasks that have been particularly entrusted to those in the community who have roles of responsibility.

I plan to conclude with the consoling experience of God’s presence close to the people who follow him; leading them and transforming them into people capable of radiating God’s light.

Listening to the word of God is the fundamental step for a personal encounter with Jesus and for an authentic prophetic experience…

I see that prayer, many times, is interpreted as a conversation, an expression of one’s soul to God. This is one dimension of prayer, but its deeper, more authentic dimension is that of the person who speaks to the Lord and says: your servant listens to you. It is that moment when Moses enters the tent and God speaks to him as a man does with his friend.

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This familiarity of listening to God is a prophetic experience. In this encounter one knows God’s will, one hears that what God says is good.

This, therefore, places humanity into a dimension of obedience, of fidelity, of faith which constitutes the authentic religious experience.

This is what people must try to live in prayer. Not simply to interpret it as a request, or as a recitation of words that he addresses to God.

The first fundamental thing is to listen: “Listen to his voice today, do not harden your hearts as you did in the desert”.

The man who lives in prayer listens to the Word of God. How can the Lord speak to us as he did to Moses?

We think that the experience of Moses is an entirely extraordinary experience, like that of the prophets, that of Jesus Christ, and also of the first apostles. But this is not true.

These stories are meant to tell us what actually happens when people dispose themselves in prayer and receive the Spirit. That is, people are ready to be made capable of receiving the intimate Word that the Lord addresses to each one in their hearts.

This is the Pentecostal experience of every believer. The authentic experience that makes people capable of entering into a personal relationship with the Lord.

How can this relationship be fostered?

By receiving the prophetic Word. That is, the same Word of God that is given in the Scriptures and trying to assimilate it because by speaking to us through the prophets, God speaks to us through His Word.

It is a Word full of Spirit and not outdated. A Word that reaches us today because every inspired word is useful to tell us what God wants in our lives.

The Word reaches us today, in our lives, but it also illuminates the meaning of history, the meaning of the times…

It helps us to understand and interpret the meaning of history which is not only a theoretical and general vision. It helps us to see history as it is fulfilled in the present. It also enables us not only to adequately live out what God wants from each of us, but also to become instruments of light, guidance and encouragement.

To witness to our brothers and sisters in such a way as to be that lamp, that light and that leaven that the Lord wants for his Church.

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For those who have ecclesial responsibilities, then, this is of extraordinary importance.

[…]

Enlightened words and new hearts. This is the fundamental bond…

It is the Word of God which, in a certain sense, has this function of softening hearts, of renewing them from within, of making the heart ever more capable of that spiritual depth and of that tenderness, of that mercy, of that compassion which we know to be the very heart of God’s revelation for humanity: to go to meet people in order to help them, to make them become ever more capable of welcoming the mystery of life to its eschatological fullness.

(Source: CD/Vatican News)

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Cameron Doody

Director and editor at Novena
PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.