Even as the COVID-19 pandemic has receded, Pope Francis and the Roman Curia aren't doing a group Lenten retreat this year. Instead, the pope asked cardinals and heads of dicasteries to hold Lenten reflections "in a personal way" from Feb. 26 to March 3.
The Vatican's group retreat, which goes back to the papacy of Pope Pius XI, was not held for the past two Lenten seasons, and in 2020, Pope Francis announced he would not participate because he was suffering from a cold.
Personal reflections are always an option for American Catholics on Ash Wednesday and beyond, but there are a wide range of experiences for those who want to participate in a group setting, including parish-level events and European travel. And virtual worship, so essential during the pandemic, is still making strides, even though Zoom events seem an awkward memory of a bad time.
Here's a brief sampling of online retreats:
The Norbertine canons of St. Michael's Abbey in Silverado, California, are hosting a virtual Lenten retreat, Ad Cenam Agni (theabbotscircle.com/ad-cenam-agni). It's a daily series of reflections, sermons, chants and conversations.
The virtual events are not a concession to the pandemic, but rather, an acknowledgment that the abbey's video presence has been exceedingly popular, said Norbertine Father Ambrose Criste, director of formation at St. Michael's.
"We noticed a huge uptick in our online traffic," he told OSV News. "We thought we'd just lean into that, and meet people where they are."
There will be a new video presentation every Friday, and new content every day during Holy Week. Father Criste said one attraction, as they have been able to ascertain it, is that their videos have had high production values.
The abbey hopes the virtual retreat will provide a sense of spending Lent "with our monastic community, with the canons of the abbey" and experiencing their prayer life, Father Criste added. "It's our job to pray. We're the professional pray-ers."
Prayer is one of the three pillars of Lent, along with fasting and almsgiving, and participants in the retreat can see "why an abbey like ours is a light on the hill because we show the church what it looks like to live lives fully committed to prayer," the priest said.
Loyola Press (ignatianspirituality.com) has an eight-week Ignatian Prayer Adventure, adapted from the Ignatian spiritual exercises. Jesuit Father Joseph A. Tetlow, author of "Considering Jesus," will offer weekly video reflections.
Boston College (bc.edu) is holding its first online Lenten retreat on Zoom from March 8-11. The retreat is free, but registration is required. Author Laura Kelly Fanucci will discuss "the men and women who served Jesus in his darkest hours -- including Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea."
Creighton University (onlineministries.creighton.edu) in Omaha, Nebraska, is offering an online retreat that will continue through the Second Sunday of Easter. "This retreat is meant for busy people," the webpage states. "If you have time to pray for a half an hour each day during Lent, that is wonderful. If you can't, it is very important to carry on a brief conversation with the Lord, each day, about the graces asked for each week."
Here's a brief sampling of in-person retreats:
St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish in Lakeside, California, serves the Barona, Sycuan and Viejas Native American reservations in Southern California, and holds its Lenten retreat March 5-7 at the Barona Clubhouse. Auxiliary Bishop Ramón Bejarano of San Diego will speak on the Eucharist and the Paschal mystery.
Father Herman Manuel, a Divine Word Missionary priest who is the pastor of the 500 strong parish, expects around 40 to attend each session. But the real importance, he told OSV News, is that it can help Native American Catholics heal from intergenerational trauma of death and abuse caused by the church's representatives.
"This is one way of bringing them back," he said, with the retreats helping them to grow in their spirituality.
The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland (setonshrine.org) has a half-day retreat March 25. The event is free, but registration is required. Father Aidan Rooney, a member of Congregation for the Mission, will speak about the demands of charity.
The Capuchin Retreat Center (capretreat.org) in Washington, Michigan, is holding a Wednesday evening retreat from March 1 to April 5. Registration is required with a $40 donation for each event. Each evening begins with dinner and ends with Mass.
The diocesan Lenten retreat for the Diocese of Salt Lake City -- online-only for the past two Lenten seasons -- returns to an in-person gathering March 4 at St. Vincent de Paul Church in the Salt Lake City suburb of Holladay. Sessions will be in English and Spanish.