VATICAN CITY – On Friday Pope Francis returned from his week-long Lenten spiritual exercises in Ariccia, where he and members of the Roman Curia have been on their annual retreat since Sunday afternoon.
Before boarding the bus that would take him back to Vatican City, Francis thanked the priest who preached the exercises for his reflections and for encouraging members of the Curia to be open to the Holy Spirit and not stuck in bureaucratic structures.
“Thank you, Father, for having spoken of the Church, for having made us, this small flock, feel the Church,” the Pope said Feb. 23.
He thanked Fr. José Tolentino de Mendonça for reminding them that “the Church is not a cage for the Holy Spirit,” and also voiced thanks for receiving a warning “not to shrink it with our bureaucratic worldliness!”
Tolentino is a Portuguese priest, poet, and Biblical theologian who preached during the spiritual exercises, which this year focused on the theme: “Praise of Thirst.”
De Mendonça is vice-rector of the Portuguese Catholic University in Lisbon and has been a consultant of the Pontifical Council for Culture since 2011. He was ordained a priest in 1990 and completed his master’s degree in Biblical Studies in Rome before later obtaining a doctorate in biblical theology from the Portuguese Catholic University, where he later taught as an assistant professor.
In his brief greeting at the end of the retreat, Francis also thanked De Mendonça for helping them understand how the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of non-believers and those of other religious confessions, saying the Holy Spirit is “universal, he is the Spirit of God, who is for everyone.”
Francis noted that there are many people today like the centurions and the guards at Peter’s prison who live with an “an inner search” and who know how to tell when there is “something that calls” them.
He thanked De Mendonça for the call “to opening ourselves without fear, without rigidity, for being malleable in the Spirit and not mummified within our structures that close us off.”
The pope also noted how he had declared Friday as a day of prayer and fasting for South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Syria, saying the spiritual retreat is extended through the offerings they will make on behalf of the war-torn countries.
Held Feb. 18-23, this year’s curial Lenten spiritual exercises began Sunday evening with adoration and vespers. The rest of the week followed a basic schedule beginning with Mass at 7:30 a.m., followed by the first meditation of the day.
In the afternoon, a second meditation was preached before concluding with adoration and vespers. Friday, the final day of the exercises, consisted of only a morning meditation. Francis and the curia then left the retreat house, returning to the Vatican at 11:15 a.m.
The exercises took place at the Casa Divin Maestro in Ariccia, a town just 16 miles outside of Rome. Located on Lake Albano, the retreat house is just a short way from the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo. It will be the fifth consecutive year the pope and members of the Curia have held their Lenten retreat at the house in Ariccia.
While the practice of the Bishop of Rome going on retreat with the heads of Vatican dicasteries each Lent began some 80 years ago, it had been customary for them to follow the spiritual exercises on Vatican ground. Beginning in Lent 2014, Francis chose to hold the retreat outside of Rome.