VATICAN CITY — 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.”
First Anniversary During Retreat
After arrival in Ariccia on Sunday, at 6pm, the Pope and the assembled officials will celebrate vespers, listen to an introductory meditation from the retreat leader, Father Angelo De Donatis, an Italian priest who once served as spiritual director of the Roman Seminary, and participate in Eucharistic adoration.
The rest of the days contain the following routine: 7:30am Mass, 8:30am breakfast, 9:30am meditation, 12:30pm lunch, 4pm meditation, 6pm vespers and Eucharistic adoration and then 7:30pm supper.
During the week, all papal audiences, including the weekly general audience, are suspended. On the final day, Friday, March 14, the day begins with Mass, followed by a meditation before departure for the Vatican at 10:30am.
The Pope will be on retreat when the Church celebrates the first anniversary of his election on March 13 (the Vatican has produced an online book of pictures and memorable quotations of Francis’ first year here).
His message for Lent appeals to the whole Church to “bear witness to all those who live in material, moral and spiritual destitution the Gospel message of the merciful love of God our Father, who is ready to embrace everyone in Christ.”
Once back in the Vatican, the Pope will resume his Lenten engagements. He will recite the Angelus on the Second Sunday of Lent, March 16. At 4pm, he will make another pastoral visit to his diocese, this time to the Roman parish of Santa Maria dell’Orazione.
The rest of the month will be filled with papal and general audiences and the Angelus. But on March 29, the Pope will preside over a penitential liturgy at 5pm in the Vatican basilica, and on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, April 6, he will visit another Roman parish, yet to be announced.
Holy Week Schedule
The Holy Father will then lead the Church into his second Holy Week as pope. He will preside over the Palm Sunday Procession and Mass in St. Peter’s Square on April 13 and celebrate the chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Holy Thursday, April 17. It has not been announced yet by the Vatican if he will wash the feet of prisoners, as he did last year.
On Good Friday afternoon, he will celebrate the Lord’s Passion in St. Peter’s Basilica and lead the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum at 9:15pm. The Easter vigil Mass in the basilica will take place at 8:30pm on Easter Saturday, April 19. On Easter Sunday, he will celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Square at 10:15am, followed by his Easter address urbi et orbi (to the city of Rome and the world) on Easter Sunday from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica at midday.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.