Back to the Roots: the 30-day Exercises in Loyola, Spain

Published on 31 Jan 2017

"The dates don’t suit.” At the Ignatian Spirituality Centre here in Glasgow we heard complaints from people in Scotland who wanted to do the full Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, a 30-day silent retreat, but found that most places that offer a summer retreat choose dates to suit the later English and Welsh holiday period, not the June and July dates popular in Scotland. After some research we found that the most convenient, beautiful and economic place was the home of St Ignatius, the author of the Exercises, in Loyola, in the green Basque Country of northern Spain. Although almost half of the 16 retreatants were from Scotland, they were joined by men and women from England, the USA, Malta and Ireland.

Jean, one of our Irish participants, showed a little apprehension at first about going to Spain for a retreat: “Going on this Retreat was an unknown for me, 30 days of silence in Spain! Who would I be with and who would accompany me? I need not have feared. I trusted the director and the process and I feel I have come home the same but different! I was grateful for strangers who have become friends. The silence was a gift and Loyola was beautiful. My eyes took in everything with awe and wonder. Everything in nature I saw through a different lens which led me to God. My photographic memory took in images I had never known as I walked along the river Urola, the mountains almost always shrouded in layers of thick mist, the roses and apple trees in the gardens, the bees ever active in their own searchings! Everything was a revelation to me of some aspect of the creator who made all things new. The words of Gerald Manley Hopkins came to me often ‘the world is charged with the grandeur of God.’” Although it was a bit of a task to co-ordinate flights from Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, Dublin and further afield, we were happy that arrivals in Bilbao allowed everyone to be collected from the airport at the same time.

One of the American participants, Marka, said, “It seemed a long way to go for a retreat and sounded like a long time to be away, and yet I knew that I had to go . . . finding what it is to be a child who is loved and held and completely cared for by the Lord.”

People found it a great privilege to be able to pray daily in the same room where Ignatius experienced his conversion, and it was very atmospheric to walk at dusk through the 15th Century tower house. Being in Spain, we decided to add a few days at the end of the retreat to see much of the rest of the Spain of St. Ignatius. With Montserrat as our base, we visited Montserrat itself, Pamplona, Manresa and Barcelona. Everyone found last year’s retreat and pilgrimage such a good experience that we will be repeating it this year, and we have decided to add a pilgrimage, “The Rome of St Ignatius Loyola,” this coming autumn. - -

David Birchall, SJ