Some years ago, when I was working for the Holy See at the Vatican Information Service, I wrote a piece on the history of papal retreats. Because there is generally so little news during such a retreat, given that Pope does not hold audiences in this period and the heads of Roman Curia offices are also involved in the retreat, we had to find something for our readers so I researched the history of papal retreats:

Pope Francis and ranking members of the Roman Curia are on a Lenten retreat this week, each person in a private, individual way. Retreat time ends Friday, March 3. This is the third year that the pope and curial officials will be doing individual retreats. In 2020, Francis had a bad cold that kept him from participating in a retreat and then, for two Covid-related years, 2021 and 2022, everyone followed individual retreat programs.

They previously spent retreat weeks in Ariccia at the Divine Master retreat center as they had been doing since 2014 when Pope Francis inaugurated the idea of a retreat outside Vatican City.

Annual retreats for the Pope and Roman Curia trace their origins to Pope Pius XI who, on December 20, 1929 marked the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination by publishing the Encyclical “‘Mens nostra,’ On The Promotion of Spiritual Exercises” which he addressed to “Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops and Other Local Ordinaries in Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See.” In that encyclical, the Pope informed the faithful that he had arranged to hold spiritual exercises every year in the Vatican, a custom still practiced by the Holy Father and ranking members of the Roman Curia. In the early years this retreat was held during the first week in Advent but now takes place in the first full week of Lent. Cardinal Achille Ratti, archbishop of Milan, was elected to the papacy on February 6, 1922, and took the name of Pius XI. He died on February 10, 1939.

On January 6, 1929 feast of the Epiphany, Pius XI declared a Jubilee Year to mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of his ordination and asked the faithful to “share in the joy of their common father and to join with us in rendering thanks to the Supreme Giver of all good.” At the end of that year, in the Encyclical “Mens nostra,” he looked back at the “many and rich fruits” of the Jubilee and wrote that, as a way to “express our heartfelt gratitude, … we have deemed it fitting … to establish something most excellent which will, we trust, prove a source of many advantages to the Christian people. We are speaking of the practice of Spiritual Exercises, which we earnestly desire to see daily extended more widely, not only among the clergy, both secular and regular, but also among the multitudes of the Catholic laity.”

Pius XI then wrote at length on the history of “Sacred Retreats,” citing the words on this subject of his predecessors, of Doctors of the Church and founders of religious orders such as Don Bosco of the Salesians and, most especially of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, “whom we are pleased to call the chief and peculiar Master of Spiritual Exercises.”

The Pope in fact, on July 22, 1922 had “declared and constituted St. Ignatius of Loyola the heavenly Patron of all Spiritual Exercises and, therefore, of institutes, sodalities and bodies of every kind assisting those who are making the Spiritual Exercises.”   He underscored the “joy and consolation” he found in Spiritual Exercises and he announced: “And in order that we may secure this joy and consolation, both for ourselves and for others who are near us, We have already made arrangements for holding the Spiritual Exercises every year in the Vatican.” While highlighting the value of retreats, he admonished: “Nor should the priests of the Clergy, secular and regular, think that the time spent on the Spiritual Exercises tends to the detriment of the apostolic ministry.”


Posted March 3, 2014

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Less than a week before he was to take top Vatican officials and head out of town for a weeklong Lenten retreat, Pope Francis said retreats should renew the faith of participants, transforming their ministry and their relationships with others.

“Those who live a retreat in an authentic way,” the pope said, “experience the attraction and fascination of God and return renewed and transfigured in their daily lives, their ministry and their relationships.”

The pope met March 3 with an Italian federation of spiritual directors and those who run retreat houses throughout the country, offering Christians “space and time to listen intensely to the word of God in silence and in prayer.”

Pope Francis and senior members of the Roman Curia were scheduled to hold their annual Lenten retreat March 9-14. The Vatican had announced in October that rather than holding the daily Lenten prayers and meditations in the Vatican, Pope Francis had decided the retreat would be at the Pauline Fathers’ retreat and conference center in Ariccia, a town about 20 miles southeast of Rome.

The Vatican press office distributed copies of the 20th annotation from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. The note encourages people making a retreat to leave their home, their office and “all earthly care” to concentrate only on their prayer and meditation.

In an interview published March 5 by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Pope Francis said he thought it was necessary to give the annual retreat more importance. “Everyone has a right to spend five days in silence and meditation,” he said, but when the retreat was at the Vatican, many of the participants would listen to the talks, then go back to their offices and work.

CNA   2020 pope had cold –  letter sent to Jesuit Fr Pietro Bovati.

In it, the Pope extended his prayer and blessings to the retreat director and the Roman Curia.

“I am accompanying you from here,” he wrote. “I will do the Exercises in my room, following Fr Bovati’s preaching, to whom I extend my gratitude. I pray for you. Please, pray for me.”

Fr Bovati, the Secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, gave his first reflection on Sunday evening, introducing the theme: “The bush was on fire (Ex 3:2) – The encounter between God and man in light of the book of Exodus, the Gospel of Matthew, and the prayer of the Psalms.”


Pope St. Paul VI moved the annual meditations from Advent to Lent and was the first to select non-Italians to preach the spiritual exercises. He notably invited a young cardinal from Poland to lead the Lenten retreat: Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, who preached in 1976 on “Christ, a sign of contradiction” two years before he was elected pope.

Pope St. John Paul II invited Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, to preach the spiritual exercises in 1983 and in 2000 Msgr. François-Xavier van Thuân preached the year before he was made a cardinal.

Benedict XVI invited cardinals from Africa to preach the spiritual exercises, among them Cardinal Francis Arinze and Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya.

Pope Francis was the first to move the spiritual exercises from the Vatican to a retreat house outside of Rome. For the past seven years, the retreat has taken place in a retreat house in the town of Ariccia in the Alban Hills southeast of Rome, although the Pope was unable to participate in 2020 due to a cold.

According to the Pauline priest who runs the Casa Divin Maestro retreat centre, where the papal retreat has taken place since 2014, a typical day during the retreat begins with Mass. After breakfast, the bishops and cardinals listen to the first meditation in the chapel.

The second meditation is heard after lunch. Other time is devoted to praye r. The retreat house also offers Internet access, so dicastery heads who wish to do some work during the week may do so.

This year, for the first time since the Second Vatican Council, the annual retreat did not take place as a time of communal prayer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, the Pope asked the members of the Roman Curia to make their own arrangements for a private Lenten retreat in February. All papal events, including the Wednesday general audience, were cancelled for the week.

Pope Francis gave each member of the Roman Curia a book to include in their spiritual reading. The book was written by an unnamed Cistercian monk in the 17th century and is entitled Abbi a cuore il Signore, which means “Keep the Lord in your Heart.” It was originally written to aid monks in the Italian monastery of San Bartolo.

In the text, the “Master of San Bartolo” wrote: “God will meet you where your humanity has descended all the steps of weakness and you will have reached the awareness of your limitation. If you yourself do not choose the path of abasement, life will take you where you would not want because, as the Lord teaches, only those who live their weakness with humility will be exalted.”


Though not LENT, Pope Francis was a retreat master in 2016 – EXTRAORDINARY JUBILEE OF MERCY –spiritual retreat given by his holiness pope francis on the occasion of the jubilee for priests -first meditation – basilica of saint john lateran – thursday, 2 june 2016