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Large numbers attend ‘Jesuit Week’ at Knock

“With so much on offer each day, the Holy Spirit was pretty busy!” says Brian Grogan SJ, one of the team of Jesuits and colleagues who took part in the ‘Jesuit Week’ at Knock. It’s built around the date 31 July, – the Feast of Ignatius Loyola – and this year’s Jesuit Week (JW) took place from Sunday evening 28 July to Sunday morning 4 August 2019. According to Terry Howard SJ, who was there along with Brian Grogan SJ, Phyllis Brady and Niall Leahy SJ, last year’s experience led them to feel that a ‘Sunday to Sunday’ week was a neater package to offer. All the events took place in Knock’s Prayer Centre.

This year the team at Knock offered a six-day preached retreat as the basic component to the week. Brian Grogan SJ gave the retreat with a 20-minute input each morning. He also chose three scripture texts for prayer each day. Each of these was used as the text for the Prayer Centre in Knock’s three guided prayer sessions offered daily. “So the prayer sessions conducted by Knock’s Prayer Guides harmonised with the retreat, enabling those making the retreat to avail of the prayer sessions if they so chose,” says Terry.

Spiritual direction was also available to anyone who needed it in 30-minute slots. Two different sources were used – the Prayer Centre’s four Prayer Guides (who are also trained Spiritual Directors), and Knock Shrine’s new Spiritual Direction initiative at ‘The Hub’ which provided two directors daily.

Besides the preached retreat, two 30-minute talks on an Ignatian topic were offered daily – one in the morning, one in the evening – and these broadly followed the flow of the retreat. They were given by Niall Leahy SJ, Phyllis Brady, and Terry himself who says they were very well received. Brain, Niall, Phyllis, and Terry also helped out with spiritual direction when called upon. Terry also took responsibility for presiding at the 3pm Mass in the Basilica, including preaching and the Sacrament of the Sick.

Phyllis Brady was the first co-ordinator of the guided prayer project in Knock which began in 1990. She worked there for 11 years and finished in 2001. She was approached by Terry Howard to be part of the JW team this year as he wanted to have a woman’s presence on the team. Phyllis says what she has taken away from the week is a sense of joy. “People went away from the week and you could sense they were really happy. It was like as if they came hungry in the morning and were nourished through each day, every day. It was wonderful to experience. And the image I have is that they were being weened like a child from liquid to solid food  – which is what they were longing for, given the depth of their experience.”

Phyllis was also struck by how the demographic expanded as the week went on. “A younger cohort of participants started to come – men and women in their late twenties and thirties. I think the word about the week had got out. And they would come up and ask ‘where can we find out more about this stuff’, they were just delighted to be getting an opportunity to deepen the spiritual experience that they were already getting at Knock.” According to Brian, “Some people changed their travel plans in order to stay for the week, and they departed with an enthusiasm to integrate and to share what they had received.”

The JW team had a meeting every night to review the day and plan for the following days. “Again I would say that the main aspect of that was how happy we were as a team,” says Phyllis. “We worked very well together and it was a joyful experience that I think spilled over into the work we were doing. Even though that work included long days and lots of deep encounters.” Brian Grogan concurred. “As a member of the team, I hugely enjoyed the Jesuit Week in Knock. We collaborated easily, supported one another and adapted to our differing strengths and limits. The atmosphere during the week was of a Church awakening: there was fresh energy around and lots of joy. Participants were grateful for what they received, but they also enriched the sessions by sharing their own wisdom and insight.”

The JW team worked in tandem with the Prayer Guide team in their ministry at Knock. “It was a collaborative event which all worked seamlessly and beautifully,” according to Phyllis. “We were, of course, dealing with serious matters very often, but it was still fun.”

Numbers attending were high and according to Terry, this year many of the daily sessions had over 80 participants. That attendance figure was consistent throughout the week. The majority attending were women and male a female religious with a good representation of lay people too. “It seems that the flexible nature of JW offers to some a welcome alternative to the ‘retreat house retreat,” he noted.

Jesuit Week (JW) at Knock began in 2015 as a one-off initiative. It included European Jesuits who worked along with the Prayer Guide team in Knock. The prayer guides emanated from the Manresa Center for Spirituality in Dublin. Terry says the Jesuit Week is now clearly becoming an established feature of Knock’s annual calendar of events. “By all accounts, from the feedback we received, the week continues to feed and nourish the large number of people who chose to be part of it”

All organisation and advertising for JW took place through Patricia McCarthy, Director of the Prayer Centre at Knock, and the Jesuits were truly grateful for the help and support they received. Terry says JW is turning out to be a real co-operative venture between the entire Knock Shrine Team, the Knock Prayer Guides, and the Jesuits and colleagues. This is due in no small part to the hard work, vision and dedication of Richard Gibbons, PP and Director of Knock Shrine.  “Its success is quite surprising and it seems to be getting better and better, year by year,” concluded Terry.

Next year’s Jesuit Week will take place from Sunday evening 7 pm 26 July 26, 2020, to Sunday morning 2 August ending at 12 noon. As Brian Grogan says, “We were tired at the end, but deeply happy, and plans for 2020 are already being hatched!”