A First Spiritual Exercises workshop for people working in the justice system has provided opportunities for prayer, sharing and coming to a deeper understanding of the movements of God through friendships.
Frances Tilly, Deputy Director of the National First Spiritual Exercises Program, says a retreat at Kensington Monastery in July brought together 55 participants including prison chaplains and their teams who volunteer in men’s and women’s prisons and courts in NSW. The group included former prison inmates, staff and community members of Cana Communities.
‘We had a large group of people from all walks of life, many whom had never met before, yet the day flowed deeply and powerfully’, said Frances.
The four Friendship Exercises that were offered on the retreat explored themes of acceptance, brokenness, healing and delight.
‘One participant who has close family members in prison found the day immensely peaceful. Another spoke of her experience of anger through loss of loved ones. Yet, through praying the Friendship Exercises, she felt she wanted to find a way to be with her dying friend. The chaplains and volunteers themselves found encouragement and new sides to their ministry.’
Frances facilitated the retreat along with Fr Michael Hansen SJ and Margaret Wiseman. It followed a workshop at the 2015 International Ecumenical Prison Chaplains Conference at Riverview, and a retreat at the 2017 National Conference of Catholic Prison Chaplains.
A group of CLC members has also been giving the First Spiritual Exercises (FSE) retreats at Silverwater Women’s Correctional Centre.
One of the participants at the latest retreat was Paul Compton, a volunteer at the Downing Centre courthouse complex in Sydney. He described it as an ‘extraordinary experience’.
‘At most you probably knew one other person in your group, and your connection was simply some link to prisons, and a belief in the importance of being in touch with God for everyone’, he said.
‘For me a key insight was that rather than tolerate people who irritate me, maybe I might enjoy and rejoice in who they are — certainly God does.
‘I think we all came away, not only affected by the day, but pretty convinced that these Ignatian Exercises were a simple but powerful tool for spiritual renewal and enrichment.’
Other participants spoke of some of the moments during the day that touched them.
‘It was a great joy to anoint the hands of the people in my group’, said one. ‘I sensed a feeling of peace and connection descend on our group. [It was] a sacred time and the high point of the day.’
Another gave thanks for ‘the sacredness of each person’s story’, adding, ‘We are all linked in a tangible way — the call of the Trinity.’
For more on the First Spiritual Exercises visit www.fsecloud.life.