After reciting the Angelus prayer on Sunday, Pope Francis and Curial officials left the Vatican by coach for a week-long Lenten retreat in the hillside town of Ariccia.
Breaking from a long-held tradition of holding them in the Vatican, Pope Francis decided to organize this year’s annual retreat from March 9-14 at the Pauline Fathers’ retreat and conference center in Ariccia, about 15 miles from Rome.
The small medieval town is not far from the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.
In choosing to get away from the Vatican and the daily pressures of curia work and duties, Pope Francis is showing that "silence and prayer can have a transforming power in one’s life and relationships with others", the Vatican says.
Before becoming Pope, Francis always took retreats away from familiar surroundings, a practice advocated in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.
In his interview last week in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the Holy Father said annual retreats should be given more importance and “everyone has a right to spend five days in silence and meditation." And, speaking to a group of spiritual directors in audience in the Vatican, the Pope said those who go on an “authentic” retreat "experience the attraction and fascination of God and return renewed and transfigured in their daily lives, their ministry and their relationships."
Msgr. Angelo De Donatis, pastor of a parish in the center of Rome, is preaching for the Pope and curia officials this week. A respected spiritual director of priests and seminarians, Msgr. De Donatis is reflecting on the theme of "the purification of the heart" in his mediations throughout the week.
The Pauline Fathers' complex in Ariccia, House of the Divine Master, is nestled in the forests of the hills overlooking Lake Albano. It boasts 124 rooms and five chapels, a large dining area, gardens and meeting rooms. “The Pope and senior officials will undoubtedly be enjoying the brisk but sunny weather predicted for this week, also by following the outdoor Way of the Cross and Rosary trails set out through the woods for quiet meditation and prayer,” the Vatican says.
The retreat schedule begins with Mass, breakfast and a meditation by Msgr De Donatis. Then, there’s lunch and free time before another mediation at 4 p.m. That’s followed by vespers, Eucharistic adoration and dinner.
On the final day, March 14, those participating in the retreat will celebrate Mass together, have breakfast, listen to the last meditation, and then leave for the Vatican at 10:30 a.m.