John Paul II Asks for Prayers Before Start of Annual Retreat

Suspends Public Meetings and Audiences This Week

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 29, 2004 ( John Paul II appealed to the faithful worldwide to join him in prayer during his annual retreat this week.

The Pope, who has canceled all public meetings and audiences, will be joined in the Spiritual Exercises by his aides in the Roman Curia.

«May the attentive Virgin render fruitful for us all these days of silence, meditation and intense communion with Christ,» the Pope said today before bidding farewell to the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square to pray the Angelus.

This year, the meditations for the Spiritual Exercises have been entrusted to Monsignor Bruno Forte, a member of the International Theological Commission. He was the principal writer of the document «Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past,» and is president of the School of Theology of Southern Italy, in Naples.

The theme of the meditations, which began this afternoon in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Vatican, is «Following You, Light of Life.»

Monsignor Forte told Vatican Radio the meditations will be guided by a phrase in John 8:12: «I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.»

This phrase summarizes the three stages of the encounter with God, which will characterize the rhythm of the retreat, the monsignor said.

First, there will be reflection on the «way of purification,» illustrated by the words «who follows me will not walk in darkness.»

«This way will lead us to freedom from the darkness of evil,» Monsignor Forte said.

Second, the Spiritual Exercises will propose the «way of illumination — ‘I am the light of the world’ — which leads to our being inundated with the light of Jesus, who died and rose for us,» he continued.

Finally, «the unitive way» will be presented, when the faithful «‘will have the light of life,’ which results in our giving fruits of new life in our encounter with Christ, our life, hope, and light of the world,» the priest said.

The retreat will end next Saturday. Pope Pius XI introduced the tradition of Spiritual Exercises in the Roman Curia in 1929. With few exceptions, they were held every first week of Advent. Paul VI transferred them to the first week of Lent.

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