'God leads us to freedom': 2024 Winter retreat

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This semester our community focused on Pope Francis' Lenten message and explored themes such as happiness, freedom and one's intrinsic relationship with God

'God leads us to freedom': 2024 Winter retreat

Led by Father Daniel Huang, SJ, this year’s Lay Centre Lenten retreat for student residents delved into the essence of freedom, identity and the call to illuminate the world. It was held between February 23 to 25.

This year, Lay Centre residents extended their welcome to include three non-resident students for the weekend. These students, from Rwanda, Russia and the United States, also study at pontifical universities. From the moment participants arrived at the Centro Ad Gentes in Nemi, located in the Alban Hills outside Rome, they were enveloped in an atmosphere of reflection and contemplation. 

The retreat focused on Pope Francis' Lenten message – titled “Through the Desert God Leads us to Freedom” – and offered a profound exploration into the themes of happiness, freedom and one’s intrinsic relationship with God. Father Huang, a professor of missiology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, set the tone with his first session, emphasizing the liberating message of God's revelation.

Father Huang's insightful discussion on identity and freedom was a retreat highlight. Drawing from the wisdom of St. John Henry Newman, Father Huang challenged participants to confront the lies they often believe about themselves – that they are what they do or possess, or what others think of them – and to root their identity in being beloved children of God. This foundational truth, he said, is the key to true freedom and liberation from worldly constraints.

The first evening ended with Adoration. A reflection written by Mother Teresa and sacred music enhanced this time for personal prayer. 

The retreat included a powerful moment of communal prayer around a cross in Taizé style. Participants venerated the cross, kneeling before it or touching it with their forehead, and left the retreat visibly renewed in hope and joy, and strengthened in their resolve to be light for the world. 

The Eucharist was celebrated daily.

Participants also had opportunities for leisure. Some of them enjoyed strolling through the picturesque town of Nemi and savoring its famous strawberry tarts. Others preferred to stay at the retreat house, praying or resting, taking advantage of the quiet environment.

Contributed: Stefanie Bross

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