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European spiritual directors: ‘Crisis offers opportunities’

The European Jesuit Spirituality Centres Meeting 2020 took place online from 13 to 14 May for spiritual directors and members of spirituality centres throughout Europe, Lebanon and Egypt. It was a platform to discuss how the Covid-19 crisis offers opportunities for Jesuits and their Partners in Mission to engage with the general public on a spiritual level and to accompany them in search of purpose and meaning. This was set in the context of faith in Europe and the Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Jesuits 2019-2029.

The Irish representatives at the European meeting were Michael Drennan SJ, Mary Hunt, Eileen O’Brien, Piaras Jackson SJ, Aileen Murphy and Mary O’Connor from Manresa Jesuit Centre of Spirituality in Dublin and Spirituality Delegate Brendan McManus SJ of Belfast Jesuit Spirituality Centre. Also present among the European Spirituality Centres were British colleagues from Ignatian Spirituality Centre Glasgow, St Beuno’s Jesuit Spirituality Centre in North Wales and Mount Street Centre in London.

Wednesday 13 May included a morning online gathering, a video on Faith in Europe by Archbishop Charles Scicluna, small group prayer and discussion, and a plenary to hear one another and address comments and questions.

Part of the discussion for the small groups involved seeing the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity, for example, as a spiritual retreat where people meet God by the use of technology and reaching out to audiences who may not have been reached before.

The Irish group that was facilitated by Mary O’Conner of Manresa Jesuit Centre of Spirituality noted:

“Our main points relate to solidarity, trust, creativity, and hope. Solidarity in Europe has already been challenged by attitudes between countries, even before social distancing. Selfishness leads to living in survival mode and in fear, whereas solidarity is the opposite. The Trinity is an example of living in community.

Creativity means asking ourselves how we can celebrate our faith virtually. We can do this by encouraging encounter, speaking to people’s interior poverty. The challenge is to respond with generosity. Retreat centres have become used to promoting individual growth, but how do we become houses of hope, peace and mercy? The Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) of the Jesuits 2019-2029 also invite us to be creative.

We are inspired to offer hope, to invite people to encounter the face of Jesus, to invite new ways of answering questions arising from interior poverty. Crisis offers opportunities.”

In his video talk on Faith in Europe, Archbishop Scicluna referred to sources on thinking with the Church such as Novo Millennio Ineunte and Ecclesia in Europa by St John Paul II, Spe Salvi and the Apostolic Letter issued “Motu Proprio” Porta Fidei for the Indiction of the Year of Faith by Pope Benedict XVI.

Thursday 14 May also included a video by British Jesuit James Hanvey on ‘Our mission in the Light of the UAPs’, a talk on ‘Reflecting on the Ignatian Anniversaries’ by Franck Janin SJ and a discussion on next steps.

Participants were asked to share with each other their sense of what the Spirit was asking of them in Europe.

One group noted:

“For some it is very challenging and a question of survival. For some it is like the third week experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius where God feels absent but in fact is at work. For others, the crisis feels unreal and they feel very fortunate – which is confusing!

There is hope to be found in secular culture. For example, the positive response to the Covid–19 crisis. God is present in the world – ‘finding God in all things.’”

Another group prayed and reflected on the desire for the authentic self. They said:

“In this time of ‘the new normal’, lots of people have a great desire to find their authentic self, to find purpose and meaning in life. So, this time is an opportunity to meet and accompany all kinds of people – religious and secular, believing, searching. It’s an invitation to engage in the secular. To be creative for all people.”

Irish Spirituality Centres:

Manresa Jesuit Centre of Spirituality in Dublin »
Belfast Jesuit Spirituality Centre »

British Spirituality Centres: 

Ignatian Spirituality Centre Glasgow »
St Beuno’s Jesuit Spirituality Centre in North Wales »
Mount Street Centre in London »