.- As Pope Francis leaves Sunday to begin his annual Lenten retreat, Fr. Giulio Michelini, the priest leading this year’s spiritual exercises, said he hopes Christians around the world will be inspired to join in.
“I will be grateful to all those that are listening to us, that these exercises will be shared by all who believe in Jesus Christ,” Fr. Michelini told CNA. “We can do them together.”
“I know that people will go to work, will go to school, will be busy during these days,” he said, but “we can read the Passion according to Matthew's Gospel, and that can be a way to pray to the Holy Spirit so that the Church will be more united.”
Pope Francis and members of the Roman Curia will make their annual five-day spiritual exercises retreat at the Casa Divin Maestro in Ariccia, a city located some 16 miles outside of Rome. Located on Lake Albano, it is just a short way from the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.
This year's retreat, which runs March 5-10, will be led by Fr. Giulio Michelini, a Franciscan of the Seraphic Province of the Friars Minor of Umbria.
He said that his preaching for the week will be an in-depth examination and reflection on the Gospel of Matthew, starting with the Last Supper and moving through the Passion to the Resurrection.
“I will try to go deep into the Jesus that the disciples saw and followed,” he said. “So there will be a reflection on the humanity of Jesus,” as well as a meditation on relationships.
Most importantly, the retreat “will be a time of restoration,” Fr. Michelini said. “We will quit working, talking, doing the usual things that the Pope, Bishops and Cardinals, and households do.”
They will pray, and there will be time to walk around the beautiful grounds and lake outside the retreat house, he said, “a time to quit, to stop and to reflect.”
This is the fourth consecutive year the Pope and Curial members have held their Lenten retreat at the house in Ariccia.
While the practice of the pontiff going on retreat with the heads of Vatican dicasteries each Lent began some 80 years ago under the pontificate of Paul XI, it was customary for them to follow the spiritual exercises on Vatican ground. Beginning in Lent 2014, Pope Francis chose to hold the retreat outside of Rome, true to his background as a Jesuit.
This time of Lent, Fr. Michelini said, is a good period to slow down and to reflect on our spiritual lives and how they may be in need of enrichment. “It is helpful to remember that we are only human,” he said. “We need to eat, we need people to help us too.”
“And so the 40 days are a way for us to reflect not only on the poor, but also how we are poor, in a different sense.”
Especially in wealthy Western countries, where we have enough food and money, we don’t necessarily know what it is like to experience need, he said.
“Fasting and praying is not only a way for those who believe to be more in touch with God, and to have the same experience that Jesus did in the desert, but it's also a way to be more human. Because we normally have everything.”