During Pope Francis’ spiritual exercises, Msgr. Angelo De Donatis focused his meditations on the Grace of God, warning against worldly attitudes, and emphasizing the importance of being open to God’s love. Msgr. De Donatis oversees a parish in the center of Rome, and was in charge of preaching during the Lenten retreat for Pope Francis and members of the Curia, who have been in the hillside town of Ariccia for their March 9 – 14 spiritual exercises. Reflecting on the theme of “the purification of the heart,” Msgr. De Donatis began his Tuesday morning meditation by stating that man is like a pomegranate, and that the many seeds inside represent the various elements of creation, into which God breathed life, L’Osservatore Romano reported on March 11. However, if man prevents the breath of God, divine merciful love, from entering and penetrating his heart, he is destined for ruin, the priest explained. Using an actual pomegranate as an example, Msgr. De Donatis drew attention to the tiny seeds inside, emphasizing that when man does not allow God’s love to enter, the seeds become obsessed with their own self-assertion, and seek to grow larger, entering into competition with the others until the explode and destroy all of the fruit. Going deeper into the effects of evil on man, the priest recalled the Gospel passage where Jesus casts a demonic spirit out of a young man and into a herd of swine, explaining that the reaction of the shepherds once the swine run into the sea and drown is what is happening in the world today. Calling to mind how Jesus freed the young man from demonic possession, Msgr. De Donatis highlighted that no one took notice of the fact that he was freed, because they were too concerned with the economic disaster resulting from the death of the pigs. Observing how the shepherds then told Jesus to leave their village, the priest explained that they were prevented from encountering Jesus by an economic ideology, adding that this is what religion faces today. The young man is liberated and is no longer afraid, he concluded, noting that he was not saved because he did anything special, but only so he might know God’s merciful love, which we need the Holy Spirit in order to attain. Reporting on Wednesday morning’s discourse, L’Osservatore Romano recalled in a March 12 article that Msgr. De Donatis spoke specifically of the importance of language. Warning of the temptation of worldly language, the priest cautioned the participants that it is a dangerous trap which we cannot fall into if we wish to bear witness to the love of God and build a community which glorifies God through charity. Unfortunately, Msgr. De Donatis lamented that in the world today man is still searching for the language of Christ, which was not one of power or force, but rather was a language of fragility that was easily understood by all, especially those who suffered. “Jesus,” stated the priest “was the best communicator” even though he never made a speech with the aim of convincing “at any cost,” because he was able to make himself understood by communicating God’s love for man. His words, the priest noted, were not based on the “wisdom of the world” but on the wisdom of God, which is the only way we are able to know the greatness of the gifts he has given us and in turn offer them to others in charity, thus bearing witness to the glory of Jesus. In their March 13 article, L’Osservatore Romano reported on Wednesday morning’s meditation, highlighting how Msgr. De Donatis spoke particularly of the love of God for man. Returning to the topic of an economic ideology, Msgr. De Donatis observed that in this logic every gesture contains the risk of not understanding the virtue which draws man to God, God to man and man to other men, which is needed in order to create a communion of love and a welcoming Church. Describing how a child who prepares for their first communion recognizes in their own way, both unconsciously and indirectly, the ability of God to transform a simple gesture into something which spreads inside of them and creates communion, the priest asked participants “do you know Jesus so well out of work purposes, or because you are friends?” Recalling the Gospel story of the woman who meets Jesus in the house of a leper and breaks a marble jar in order to wash Jesus’ head and feet with the expensive oil inside, Msgr. De Donatis highlighted how Jesus went to the leper’s house, stating that he goes where there is evil. He goes, the priest continued, because he has the security of being loved anyway, which is a feeling that every man who leaves his town for other places seeks. The gesture of this woman, which takes place when Jesus is at table with his friends, signifies a gratuitous love, he continued, adding that it carries greater weight because of the fact that during that time it was only two days until Easter, and the scribes were already plotting to kill Jesus. Concluding their retreat on Friday morning, March 14, Pope Francis, the Curia members and Msgr. De Donatis left Ariccia at 10:30 a.m., and returned to Rome by bus.