What the Vatican Retreat Taught Its Preacher

Monsignor Bruno Forte Sensed an Air of Profound Prayer

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NAPLES, Italy, MARCH 19, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The preacher of this year’s spiritual retreat at the Vatican says he was able to appreciate that there is prayer at the center of the government of the Church.

Monsignor Bruno Forte, who is a professor at the School of Theology of Southern Italy, and a member of the International Theological Commission, reveals in this interview some aspects of the Spiritual Exercises held Feb. 29-March 6.

Q: How do you feel after directing the meditations of the Pope and his aides?

Monsignor Forte: I am profoundly moved and grateful to God for having allowed me to live this experience. First of all, for the testimony the Pope gave me of being a man of prayer. He attended all the 22 meditations. I saw him listening carefully, in profound prayer, kneeling for a long time.

Then, at the end, I had the opportunity to meet Pope and even to joke with him, who has a very keen sense of humor.

I told him that some friends said to me before leaving for the Exercises: «If the Pope survives these 22 meditations of yours, it means, not only that he is a saint, but also that he has health of iron!» And the Holy Father, who passed the test very well, laughed heartily.

I was also impressed by the testimony of prayer of those present: cardinals, archbishops, bishops and priests of the Roman Curia. They lived these Exercises in listening, in meditations and in prayer. I was also able to verify this in the spiritual conversations I had.

Therefore, I can say that in those days I lived an experience of genuine hope. And this was so because I saw how at the center of the Church there are men who for a week let all their activities take second place to dedicate themselves exclusively to prayer and to listening to the Word of God.

It seems to me this is the real strength of the Church. It is a true grace that shines out from the heart of the Church, from the universal government of the Church, to all of us baptized in this Church of love.

Q: What was the essential idea you wished to convey when you prepared the homilies for these Spiritual Exercises?

Monsignor Forte: The very objective of Spiritual Exercises is to place oneself in a renewed way in the following of Christ, light of the world. There are three stages in the tradition of the Spiritual Exercises, which were thoroughly spelled out by St. Ignatius of Loyola.

The first is the way of purification, which is the stage in which one asks God for the grace to be freed from sin and from lack of truth, a freedom that only he can give us. It is the period of the purification of the heart, of interior renewal.

This is what St. John’s phrase says, which was the motto of my Spiritual Exercises, when he affirms: «He who follows me will not walk in darkness.» In this phase, contemplating Jesus and the choices of his life, it is possible to verify our freedom, with the help of God and of his grace.

Q: What is the second stage of the Exercises?

Monsignor Forte: The second stage is the illuminative way in which, especially at the foot of the cross of Jesus and illuminated by his resurrection, we allow ourselves to be enlightened about what God wills from us, in the following of Christ who says, «I am the light of the world, I am the light of life.»

Q: And the third stage?

Monsignor Forte: The third stage is the unitive way. Whoever lives this way experiences in himself the fruits of the Spirit, the joy of the communion of the Trinity and of the Church of love, because as Jesus says, whoever «follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.»

During the days with the Holy Father and his close colleagues, I suggested this way which leads us to the sources, to the freshness of the Gospel, of which we are always in need to be able to follow Jesus and become, ever more, his witnesses.

Q: In the address the Holy Father gave at the conclusion of the Spiritual Exercises, he used the word «passion» to characterize the style with which the Exercises were preached. From where does this «passion» stem?

Monsignor Forte: It is born from the simple fact that the meaning of life, of a believer, of a priest, of a theologian, as I am, cannot be any other than Christ. He is the one who has marked my life.

At the beginning of the Exercises, when mentioning that the Holy Father had spoken in [the] Roman [dialect] a few days earlier, I quoted a very beautiful Neapolitan proverb, which I must say was immediately and greatly appreciated: «Se pò campà senza sapè perchè, ma non se pò campà senza sapè per chi» [One can live without knowing why, but one cannot live without knowing for whom].

This is the meaning of life: Someone, Christ. Therefore, to follow Christ, without reservations, gives meaning and beauty to life.

And then, there is the fact of being Neapolitan, and consequently, of being in the tradition of this Church which has given the world so many saints: from theologians, from St. Thomas Aquinas to St. Alphonsus Liguori; to lay people, such as Moscati; to very beautiful figures of women witnesses of the Gospel, such as St. Mary Frances of the Five Wounds, or Volpicelli.

Membership in this Church, which has always given witness of great fidelity to communion with Rome in the course of the centuries, I think helped me to live the atmosphere of passion for the Gospel in serenity and simplicity.

Moreover, I saw with how much simplicity and profound participation all those present also enjoyed witty remarks which I sometimes made as a Neapolitan and which in the end made the path lighter, which, with the help of God, led us to the essence of the Gospel.

Q: What should those of us do, who would like to read the texts that you preached to the Pope and his aides?

Monsignor Forte: As many asked me to have the texts published, I then asked the Holy Father, who told me I should publish them because, in his words. «all the preachers have done so, and I myself did so when I preached the Exercises to Paul VI.»

Therefore, the publication of the texts is expected, to date announced in seven languages: from Italian to Spanish, French, English, Portuguese, German, Polish.

We can entrust to God the intention that he will use these pages to touch the hearts of those who will read them, especially so that the real purpose of an experience such as this one, will come to pass, that is, to draw from the freshness of the Gospel.

And it is very beautiful that at the heart of the Church the living water of the Gospel is what nourishes choices, shows the way. This gives the Church the freedom that only the truth succeeds in giving to the heart, the freedom of being under God’s gaze and of wanting to please him alone.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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