Pope Urges More Spiritual Exercises

Says This Form of Retreat Can Offer Experience of God

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 11, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is promoting retreats known as spiritual exercises, saying the days of prayer are an opportunity of a strong experience of God.

In an audience Saturday with the Italian Federation of Spiritual Exercises, the Pope made an appeal for the promotion of the retreats, which are based on a practice begun by St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556).

The Holy Father himself began his annual spiritual exercises last Sunday.

Benedict XVI told members of the Italian federation that "while multiple spiritual initiatives grow and providentially spread, above all among youth, it appears however that the number of participants in authentic courses of spiritual exercises is decreasing, and it appears that this is verified as well among priests and among members of institutes of consecrated life."

He affirmed that spiritual exercises are "a strong experience of God, sustained by listening to his word, understood and welcomed in one's personal life under the action of the Holy Spirit, which in a climate of silence, prayer and by means of a spiritual guide, offer the capacity of discernment in order to purify the heart, convert one's life, follow Christ, and fulfill one's own mission in the Church and in the world."

For this reason, the Bishop of Rome said he hoped that "together with other laudable forms of spiritual retreat, that there is not a diminishing in participation in spiritual exercises, characterized by that climate of complete and profound silence that favors the personal and community encounter with God and the contemplation of the face of Christ."

The Pope contended that "in an age in which there is an ever stronger influence of secularization, and, on the other hand, in which there is experienced a widespread need to encounter God, the possibility of offering spaces of intense listening to his Word in silence and prayer should not falter."

This implies, he added, making an effort to have houses dedicated to spiritual exercises, where there are well formed "guides and men and women leaders who are available and prepared, gifted with those doctrinal and spiritual capacities that make them masters of the spirit, experts in and passionate for the word of God and faithful to the magisterium of the Church."