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BY JOAN LEWISRegister Correspondent
VATICAN CITY — For his
first Lenten retreat as Pope, Benedict XVI will retire to the stunning beauty
of the Mater Redemptoris Chapel for six days starting March 5. There, he will
listen to meditations prepared by Cardinal Marco Cé, the retired patriarch of
Venice, chosen as this year’s retreat master for the annual spiritual exercises
of the Roman Curia.
Cardinal Cé, 80, served as patriarch from 1978-2002,
when he was chosen to replace Cardinal Albino Luciani who had been elected John
Paul I. The cardinal will reflect on the Gospel of St. Mark.
The retreat schedule
followed by the Pope and ranking members of the Curia follows a set pattern
each year. Spiritual exercises start at 6 p.m. on the Sunday after Ash
Wednesday in the chapel with Eucharistic exposition, the celebration of
vespers, an introductory meditation, adoration and Benediction.
Each day includes Mass,
meditations by the retreat master, Benediction and vespers. Retreats
traditionally end the following Saturday morning. It is also customary for all
audiences, public and private, to be suspended during this period.
Modelled after the
famed spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits,
the curial retreat for years was held during Advent. But Pope Paul VI felt that
the more opportune liturgical season for a retreat was Lent — and it has been
held the first week in Lent ever since his papacy.
Papal retreat masters
have come from all parts of the globe and have one trait in common: They are
all known for their eminent spiritual qualities. Many are cardinals, mostly
from outside the Roman Curia.
The last two Popes have
preached curial retreats: Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, then archbishop of Krakow,
led the spiritual exercises in 1976, two years before becoming John Paul II,
and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, preached the retreat in 1983.
John Paul II was unable to attend the retreat last year — the only time during
his 26-year pontificate.
Pius XI’s Legacy
exercises began with Pope Pius XI in 1929, when he proclaimed a jubilee year to
mark the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination and wrote the encyclical Mens Nostra (Our Mind), in which he
stated his intention of initiating annual retreats with the members of the
Wrote Pius XI, “We have
deemed it fitting to … establish something most excellent, which will, we
trust, prove a source of many rare advantages to the Christian people. We are
speaking of the practice of the spiritual exercises, which we earnestly desire
to see daily extended more widely, not only among the clergy both secular and
regular, but also among the multitudes of the Catholic laity; and it is our
pleasure to bequeath this to our beloved children as a memorial of this holy
Pius XI described the
world of 1929 — similar to the world of 2006 in many ways — and said: “The
utility and the opportuneness of sacred retreats, will be readily recognized by
anyone who considers, however lightly, the times in which we now live. The most
grave disease by which our age is oppressed, and at the same time the fruitful
source of all the evils deplored by every man of good heart, is that levity and
thoughtlessness that carry men hither and thither through devious ways.
“Hence comes the
constant and passionate absorption in external things; hence, the insatiable
thirst for riches and pleasures that gradually weakens and extinguishes in the
minds of men the desire for more excellent goods, and so entangles them in
outward and fleeting things that it forbids them to think of eternal truths,
and of the divine laws, and of God himself, the one beginning and end of all
Those who wish to join
the Holy Father on retreat may do so spiritually in prayer and virtually by
visiting the Redemptoris Mater Chapel at:
writes from Rome.