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Pope Francis’ advice for a good spiritual retreat

Pope Francis at the end of his weekly general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

I.Media - published on 02/13/24

Francis talks about the nature of spiritual retreats in his introduction to Austen Ivereigh’s new book, "First Belong to God: On Retreat with Pope Francis."

A Christian retreat is not a “wellness holiday,” warns Pope Francis in the preface to a book by his biographer, British journalist Austen Ivereigh, published in English this February 13, 2024. On the eve of Ash Wednesday and the opening of the liturgical season of Lent for Catholics, the Pope gives his recommendations for a good spiritual retreat. 

First Belong to God: On Retreat with Pope Francis (Messenger Publications / Loyola Press) offers an eight-day retreat with meditations written by Jorge Mario Bergoglio when he was Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, in the tradition of the “Spiritual Exercises” of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. 

God calls us open ourselves to God and neighbor

In his preface, the Pope, who took his religious vows in the Society of Jesus in 1973, says that the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius have “shaped” him over the years. “A Christian retreat is very different from a ‘wellness’ holiday,” he assures us, noting that retreats have become “very popular” in an “obsessively competitive” society that generates “relentless pressures and tensions.”

The 266th pope stresses that Christian retreats take place in the context of the “struggle” of every human being to “overcome the temptation of closing in on ourselves,” to live “in a worldly way, in the illusion that we are sovereign and self-sufficient.” It’s not a time for us to “hunker down and lock our doors,” he says.  

“The Lord is calling us out of ourselves, to get up and walk. He asks us not to turn away from the pains and cries of our age,” says the Argentine pontiff, who refers in particular to “the two great crises of our age: the deterioration of our common home and the mass migration and displacement of people.” 

In this 240-page book, the Spiritual Exercises are structured around the major themes of Francis’ pontificate, and also refer to spiritual authors who influenced his formation, such as Miguel Angel Fiorito, Romano Guardini, and John G. Navone, explained Austen Ivereigh in presenting his work, which he defined as “a journey to the heart of the pontificate’s spirituality.”

Cover of "First Belong to God" by Austen Ivereigh

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