Pope Francis has asked members of the Roman Curia to make their own arrangements for a private retreat at the beginning of Lent this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The pope typically spends five days on retreat together with members of the Roman Curia participating in Lenten spiritual exercises. For the past seven years, the retreat has taken place in a retreat house in the town of Ariccia in the Alban Hills southeast of Rome, although the pope was unable to participate in 2020 due to a cold.
A statement from the Holy See Press Office on Jan. 20 said that the retreat would not take place in Ariccia this year due to “the current health emergency.”
In its place, the pope has invited all cardinals residing in Rome to spend time in prayer from Sunday, Feb. 21, to Friday, Feb. 26. All papal events will be canceled between the two dates, including the general audience on Wednesday, Feb. 24.
Last year, Pope Francis participated in the Lenten retreat “from home,” following along with the spiritual exercises and reflections from his Vatican residence, the Casa Santa Marta.
The practice of the pope going on retreat with the heads of Vatican dicasteries in Lent began around 90 years ago under Pope Pius XI. The spiritual exercises were held in the Vatican, but beginning in Lent 2014, Pope Francis chose to hold the retreat outside of Rome.
According to the Pauline priest who runs the Casa Divin Maestro retreat center, where the papal retreat has taken place since 2014, a typical day during the retreat begins with Mass. After breakfast, the bishops and cardinals listen to the first meditation in the chapel.
The second meditation is heard after lunch, Fr. Olinto Crespi told CNA in 2017. Other time is devoted to prayer. The retreat house also offers internet access, so dicastery heads who need to answer emails or do some work during the week may do so.