Jesuit Spirituality Centres or Retreat Houses exist almost everywhere there are Jesuits. Ignatius of Loyola recognised the importance of setting aside one’s ordinary concerns and preoccupations and believed that it was helped by spending retreat time in an appropriate setting. The work of the centres takes many different forms, according to the culture in which they find themselves.

Encouraged by the Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus, Jesuits and colleagues offer places of welcome in which the insides of the Spiritual Exercises are expressed with creativity and imagination. Many centres offer residential accommodation, receiving groups and individuals for retreats of varying lengths – from day retreats to the full Spiritual Exercises conducted over thirty days.

The European Jesuit Spirituality Centres is a new group which met only once in person - in Manresa in November 2018. The progress of the pandemic has meant that those concerned with spirituality centres in Europe have met online only since then. An online meeting on Thursday 8 April 2021 was the third such meeting. Over 50 participants from many centres across Europe,  responded to the invitation to join a meeting in preparation for the Ignatian anniversaries.  With the historical events of 500 years ago in mind, the steering committee had invited Barton Geger of the Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies in Boston to describe the emergence of key ideas in Ignatius thinking. Having previously circulated a number of documents for reading and reflection, Barton offered some reflection on key Ignatian ideas before inviting those online to discuss them in small groups. Barton described how Ignatius’ insights differed from the prevailing spirituality of his time, developing an apostolic understanding that was confirmed on the banks of the Cardoner and elaborated as he offered the Exercises and helped the meaning of ’the more universal good’ to be understood embodied in the emerging Society of Jesus. When back together in the plenary, everyone have a chance to vote on screen as  compared our judgements to those of Ignatius. Participants took time to express their appreciation of the helpful content offered and for the opportunity to meet one another online.  A further Zoom meeting is planned for Wednesday 6 October 2021 and  it is hoped this will be possible for centre directors to meet in Malta in May 2022.
The second meeting of the Spirituality Centres was to be in Malta. The keynote speakers were ready: Archbishop Charles Scicluna, on “Faith in Europe” and Fr James Hanvey SJ, on “Our mission in the light of the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs)”. Unfortunately, the pandemic situation put a question mark over it and the only possible trip seemed to be to nowhere. The decision was fast, they went online. Where a door was closed to travel, a window – or a screen – was opened everywhere to enable the meeting. Without problems of travel arrangements and accommodation, the meeting was now open not only for Directors of Spirituality Centres or Spirituality Delegates, but also for team and staff members. On a screen is easier to keep the social distance among 50 people than in person meetings. There were three sessions in two days according to the inputs of the keynote speakers, and the following working groups and plenaries. The last session Fr Franck Janin, JCEP President, helped the group to reflect on the Ignatian anniversaries. Monsignor Scicluna, Archbishop of Malta, developed the idea of faith in Europe by joining it to the dynamic of the Spiritual Exercises: Response, commitment, action/ witness, in a meeting that changes us. Spiritual centres can focus on this encounter with God that makes it possible for people to become committed witnesses in their societies. Fr James Hanvey SJ, Secretary for the Service of Faith of the Society of Jesus, made in his talk the difference between prudence and discernment as the key to understanding the UAPs. That is why UAPs emphasize a larger reality that includes transcendence. UAPs do not tell us what to do, but are criteria for discernment. Hope is what makes the difference between prudence and pragmatic decisions. Centres of spirituality are places of hope. Hope that begins within each person, lay and Jesuit, in their personal encounter with God and in fostering ways of witnessing to and facilitating that encounter. COVID-19 Crisis: It has been a very challenging and confusing time for Spirituality Centres. In the language of Ignatian spirituality it is like the experience of the third week: God feels absent but is in fact working. The centres have closed their doors, there is a serious financial problem to be faced with staff members and house maintenance. In some cases the centre has just closed, in others the challenge of the pandemic has become an opportunity for discernment and creativity. Even one of the centres was offered to the local authorities to turn into a hospital for the emergency. In the end it was not necessary. Then next challenge for the Spirituality Centres in Europe is the celebration of the Ignatian year that will be a deep renewal commemorating the roots of our spirituality.