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Austen Ivereigh with Pope Francis at the Synod on Synodality at the Vatican in October 2023 (CNS/Vatican Media)

A new book guides people through an eight-day Ignatian retreat, but also provides insights into the spirituality, theology and pastoral practices of Pope Francis, according to its author, papal biographer Austen Ivereigh. Source: CNS.

The Pope’s concern for migrants and refugees, his focus on ecology, his calls to “go out” to share the good news of salvation, even his support for the controversial possibility of informally blessing LGBTQ+ couples flow from his conviction that people need to know they belong to God, to one another and to creation. 

“All the life-threatening crises that beset us around the world, from the ecological crisis to the wars, the injustices against the poor and vulnerable, have their roots in this rejection of our belonging to God and to each other,” the Pope wrote in a foreword to First Belong to God: A Retreat with Pope Francis

Ivereigh said to understand Pope Francis and his teaching, it is helpful to understand – and even experience – the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius that have shaped his spirituality since he joined the Jesuits in 1958.

In the book, Ivereigh has woven together a classic eight-day preached version of the Spiritual Exercises with five decades of spiritual reflections by Pope Francis.

“The big overall theme is belonging, or the crisis of belonging to which the pontificate is, in many ways, a response,” Ivereigh said.

Pope Francis continually returns to the theme, insisting each person was created by God, is loved by God and is called to recognise that he or she belongs to God.

Remembering that first belonging inspires humility and gratitude but also frees people from erroneously thinking they can or should be able to control everything and everyone around them.

The Pope’s repeated reminder to young people at World Youth Day in Lisbon that there is room in the Church for “todos, todos, todos” – everyone, everyone, everyone – also flows from that basic conviction that every person is loved by God. That love comes first – before a person acts on it or even accepts it.

“What Pope Francis has done with his bold ‘the Church is for everyone’ message is show that the Church exists to communicate the unconditional love of God for all his creatures, and that our conversion begins with embracing that truth,” Ivereigh said.


Lenten retreat: Book helps people explore Pope’s teaching on belonging (By Cindy Wooden, CNS)