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Jubilee gathering in Loyola

Conference on Spiritual Exercises to mark Jubilee year Brian O’Leary was one of around 180 people from around the world, many of them Jesuits, who attended a conference in Loyola this August on the history, theology and cultural influence of St Ignatius’s Exercises.


One of the major events of this Jubilee Year was held in Loyola, the birthplace of St. Ignatius, from 20-26 August 2006. Around 180 participants from all five continents attended a Conference entitled “The History and Practice of the Spiritual Exercises”. The majority were Jesuits with a fair representation of other religious and of lay people. All shared an enthusiasm for the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises.

The topics ranged widely over the historical, the theological, the cultural and the practical. Some of the titles will give a taste of the rich fare on offer: The Exercises in History; Theology of the Exercises; Adapting the Exercises; Contemporary Issues in Giving the Exercises; The Influence of the Exercises on Society and Culture. Whether participants were academics or practitioners they found their interests addressed. Preconceptions were challenged and new insights gained.

I was particularly taken by the juxtaposition of two papers that dealt with the understanding of the Exercises by Karl Rahner and Hans Urs Von Balthasar. In the English-speaking world there can be a tendency to downplay the role of theology in the ministry of the Exercises and these papers provided a welcome antidote. Another stimulating paper dealt with the spiritual letters of Jean-Joseph Surin, the French Jesuit best known for his role as exorcist in the Ursuline convent at Loudun. He represents the more mystical approach to Ignatian spirituality.

The various contemporary modes of giving the Exercises were described with verve. There was evidence of imagination and creativity as we heard inter alia how young people were being helped to make a life decision in France and how the Exercises were being given to Buddhists in Thailand. Among these more practical papers was the Irish contribution: David Coghlan, S.J. who spoke on “Developing a Spirituality of Action: Lessons from the Field of Action Research”.

A parallel Conference on the Constitutions will be held in Rome, 15 – 21 October 2006. The papers from both Conferences will be published.