Pope Francis added the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola to the annual weeklong spiritual exercises with the heads of Vatican departments.
The retreat, which began on March 9, was moved from its usual site of the Vatican to Ariccia, a small, picturesque town in the Castelli Romani district, close to the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo. The retreat itself was conducted in the Pauline residence, Casa del Divin Maestro, a popular retreat center, surrounded by woodland and close to Lake Albano.
Prior to his election, Francis had always taken part in retreats at a distance from his own home, according to the Vatican. St. Ignatius, 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 [the penitent] 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, 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."
After arrival in Ariccia the evening of March 9, the Pope and the assembled officials celebrated vespers, listened to an introductory meditation from retreat leader Father Angelo De Donatis, an Italian priest who once served as spiritual director of the Roman Seminary, and participated in Eucharistic adoration.
During the week, all papal audiences, including the weekly general audience, were suspended. On the final day, March 14, the day began with Mass, followed by a meditation before they all departed for the Vatican mid-morning.
The Pope was on retreat when the Church marked 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 at Vatican.va/auguri-francesco/pont_2014/en/index.html).
His message for Lent appealed 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 was to resume his Lenten engagements. The rest of the month was to be filled with papal and general audiences and the Angelus. 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. As of press time, it had not been announced 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.