In mid-October, Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the head of the Vatican Press Office, confirmed press reports that Pope Francis had decided to make his first annual Lenten spiritual exercises with the Curia’s heads at a Pauline retreat house outside of Rome, instead of following the traditional practice of making the retreat in the Vatican itself.

In addition, instead of choosing as the preacher a leading Church prelate, Pope Francis has chosen a parish priest of Rome to lead the retreat: Msgr. Angelo De Donatis, who is said to be a sought-out spiritual director among priests and seminarians. In recent years, the chosen preacher has often been a cardinal, and has often been considered a possible candidate to become a Pope in the future. Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (in 1976) and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (in 1983) were among those who preached these Lenten retreats for the Curia, then eventually were elected as Popes.

De Donatis’ theme for his conferences was not released.

The dates for the retreat, March 9-14, will keep the event’s traditional timing as the First Week of Lent, during which Vatican offices are always closed and all public engagements suspended.

The invitation and notice of the change came in a letter circulated by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, SDB, the now-former secretary of state, as one of his last acts in office.

In the memo, the Pope’s intent was given that the retreat take place “in a recollected, silent fashion, away from the office.” The attendance was limited to only the top two or three officials of each dicastery; any leftover lodging-space due to declined invitations will be offered to the retired cardinals resident in Rome who’d wish to take part; the replies of the invited prelates were due by November 30.

The Pauline retreat house where Pope Francis will make his Lenten spiritual exercises in March 2014 with other members of the Curia Below, the Pauline retreat house where Pope Francis will make his Lenten spiritual exercises in March 2014 with other members of the Curia.

The chosen site, the Casa Divin Maestro (House of the Divine Master), is a house of the Society of St. Paul, the 20th-century community established to be missionaries to the media. The house is located in Arricia, some 30 miles from the Vatican (near Al­bano). There are 120 single and double-occupancy rooms. The house was built by the founder of the ten apostolates of the Pauline Family, Fr. James Alberione, who died in 1971. He was beatified in 2003.

Up until now, the retreats were held in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel of the papal palace, with the Pope himself listening from a side room, hidden away from the rest of the participants.

The Lenten retreat has historically been a key moment for the Pope to showcase the leading theologians in the Church, including those he thinks might be worthy successors.

Among those chosen to preach the exercises in the past: Cardinals Christoph Schönborn, Francis Arinze, James Hickey, Francis George, François Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, Claudio Hummes, Albert Vanhoye, Laurent Monsengwo, Gianfranco Ravasi (who led this year’s retreat), and Italian theologian Bruno Forte, made an archbishop shortly after his Lenten preaching for John Paul II in 2004. Forte is now back in the spotlight after Francis appointed him in October as one of the top two officials for next year’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops “on the Pastoral Challenges of the Family,” alongside Cardinal Peter Erdo of Budapest, Hungary.

Between the October Synod, the March retreat, the dual canonizations of John Paul and John XXIII in April, at least three more “Super 8” meetings before July, a wide-ranging Curial reform and a likely consistory in the first months of the year to create new cardinals, Pope Francis already seems to have a dense schedule for 2014.

And that does not include the travel schedule. Already foreseeable are trips to Africa and Asia, as well as a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The latter stop was revealed last month by the pontiff’s Argentinian friend and close collaborator, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who shared the news with the press after spending a week with Francis at the Domus, during which the Pope participated in Skorka’s celebration of the Jewish Sabbath.

Francis, in fact, has already been eyeing his planner as far ahead as 2017 – in addition to his pledge to return to Latin America by then, plans of a visit to Portugal that same year have recently made the rounds… for the centenary of the Fatima apparitions (1917-2017), of course.

Facebook Comments