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s2smodern

Father Wojciech Nowak, SJ, director of the House of Spiritual Formation in Kalisz (Poland), writes about his commitment to offer retreats in one of the Scandinavian countries, whose constitution prohibited entrance of Jesuits in the country. This prohibition was revoked only in 1956. There is not a single community of the Society of Jesus to this day, but ... Let us listen to Father Wojciech, who offered spiritual Exercises beyond the Arctic Circle.

Tromsø is a city in northern Norway, located 350 km above the Arctic Circle, with a population of approx. 70 thousand residents, called "the Arctic Gateway".

On September 8, 1990, at the invitation of the then Bishop Gerhard Goebel, a group of 9 Carmelite Sisters came to Tromsø as the Carmel Hafnarfjördur Foundation in Iceland.

The Carmel in Tromsø has quickly become a point of reference for many people, not only from the Catholic Church, in their existential and spiritual quest. People come to the Carmel with all kinds of questions and problems to discuss them with the Sisters.  

The desire to organise the spiritual exercises.

Most of the Sisters (now 14) of the Carmel community in Tromsø have experienced the Spiritual Exercises. It was a silent desire of the Sisters to organise the Spiritual Exercises in their place. A Norwegian woman I met in 2018, who is actively involved in the life of the local Church, ventured to come to Kalisz, Poland for a retreat. 

The experience of this retreat, and the testimony of it, was so strong that the idea arose to organize a similar retreat also in Tromsø. The first one that I conducted here took place in October 2019. It was not yet an Ignatian retreat, but a Jesus Prayer retreat. It was necessary to overcome a certain distrust towards the Spiritual Exercises associated with the Jesuits and the ideas about them. 

The fruit of the retreat in 2019 are weekly meetings of the group praying the Jesus Prayer. One year after the first retreat, time came for the 6-day Spiritual Exercises in October 2020. There were more people willing to participate in them than places. Ultimately, 10 people with very different nationalities took part in the retreat. 3 people flew in on purpose for the retreat. Three of the participants were members of the Lutheran Church, including the pastor's wife. The retreat that I conducted was a kind of synthesis of the Spiritual Exercises based on the "First Principle and Foundation" (SE 23). I focused on how we can come into contact with God and how we can experience Him. The topics included the "language" in which God speaks to us, the manner He reveals Himself to us and communicates with us, and the manner in which we can respond to Him with our lives.

Multilingual and from different Christian churches

The retreat was in English and I celebrated the Holy Masses in Norwegian. It was wonderful to experience the unity of faith between us, but it was a pain for me that I couldn’t experience Eucharistic communion with everyone, which wasn’t easy for me to explain entirely. 

The retreat, as the participants shared at the end, exceeded their expectations. When one of the Protestants heard that God is both father and mother, she said that she didn’t expect a Catholic priest to "say something like that." This allowed her to experience the feminine and the maternal dimension in a relationship with God.

The retreat turned out to be for everyone, if not "ascent to Mount Carmel", then certainly the beginning of this path – "the way" also in the Ignatian sense, because, as you know, the Exercises have several stages and I hope they will be continued in that place.

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s2smodern