Tuning Into Silence:
10 Weeks Of Learning How To
Accompany People On An Individually
Guided Retreat.

We were 10: from all over the world, priests and nuns and one lay missionary.
Countries represented were: Australia, Britain, Germany, India, Ireland, Korea, Nigeria, Philippines and Poland.
India and the Philippines each fielded a Jesuit, who is to become novicemaster in 2012.


Being outlawed after the reformation the Jesuits settled in Wales, remote from London, and took pastoral charge of a place of pilgrimage called Holywell.
Holywell is sometimes called "the Lourdes of Britain".
It was from here, that in 1850 a grand theologate was founded, perched on the hills of North Wales, overlooking the green meadows, even taking in a glimpse of the Irish Sea.
Already a scene of rural beauty, the nature park of Snowdonia is close by. And the highway brings you to Holyhead, where the ferry to Dublin, Ireland, departs.
Eventually the theologate moved close to Oxford, and St. Beuno's became first a Tertianship (the final stage of Jesuits' training) and later a retreat centre.


The natural beauty of the landscape invites you to pray "from God's second book", the book of nature (or, is it rather the "first" one??).

Places, which welcome you to pray, are plentiful: The Rock Chapel, in a short distance, on a green knoll; and the Woodland Chapel (with its unpronouncable Welsh name), where adoration is possible, ...
and many more.

A pervading sense of silence and quiet abounds in the house: quiet zones, leaving the retreatants the freedom to come to themselves and to God.


I counted 5 Jesuits on the team: one, younger one directs the enterprise St. Beuno's and 4 Jesuits well in their 70s, who still accompany retreats, provide supervision and shape the liturgies in the house. Oneother priest, Stan, moves about in a wheelchair; that is no hindrance to what he is missioned to do. And he is cheerfully at work. Two religious sisters join this team. One of them is an accomplished art teacher who invites everyone to pray while doing art: "Being creative" as something which the Creator of all imparted as a gift to be used to us humans. In addition, the team of St. Beuno's consists of 8 - 10 women and men who were trained in the art of accompanying and giving individually guided retreats. Two of them even are not catholic, but from other churches.

I was impressed by a great ecumenical spirit at St. Beuno's Retreat Centre. It is true, that most retreatants were catholics, but then there were Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians as well. And some people come there with a vague notion of faith or with no "denominational" faith at all. And all seek and find more coherence in their lives.

Bishops come, too. Incognito, catholic and anglican bishops come as retreatants. A group of anglican women, who were about to be ordained priests, prepared for it with a retreat at St. Beuno's.
St. Beuno's, a catholic retreat centre, is not afraid of different christian traditions.We come and pray together. The hymn books draws hymns from different christian churches.


All lay leaders are trained here to introduce the scripture readings, to "open up" the readings, used in the liturgy of the day.

Our course of future retreat-givers was offered themes like: theology of the spiritual exercises, praying with art, spiritual accompaniment, gender, spirituality and sexuality, loss and grief, art and mysticism, listening and accompanying ... Often, special lecturers were invited to spend days with us at St. Beuno's.


To be practical, we started off as helpers of a Jesuit, who offers "weeks of prayer" to rural parishes in Wales. Simple people come; always a sprinkling from other churches, too.
For one week, day by day, the participants learn to pray in the ignatian tradition. And our team visits every day this parish and we accompanied all the participants individually. They had comitted themselves to 30 minutes of silent prayer each day.
A number of well designed sheets with information about prayer were at hand.


Then, we all became retreatants or retreat-givers: we accompanied one another during a 3 day retreat. Supervision by the St. Beuno's team was provided. Later on, we accompanied a handful of retreatants on a 6 and on an 8 days' retreat. We were given ample help and very effective and sympathetic supervision by one of the St. Beuno's team.


One of the most famous names linked with St. Beuno's - from the time, when it was still a theologate, sometime after 1850- is one of Britains greatest poets: Gerald Manley Hopkins. As a Jesuit scholastic he began writing some of his most beautiful nature poems, when he was still studying theology in the Welsh hills, at St. Beuno's.

St. Beuno's impresses with a very well equipped book store (self-service!) in one of the halls, where spiritual writings, ancient and new, american, british or indian, are for perusal and on sale.
Compared to the local bookstore in the nearby town: a real oasis!

Since Sister Renate, a German Dominican (Strahlfeld congregation) is member of the St. Beuno's team, art is written with capital letters. Brushes, papers, colours, clay, patterns, pictures, installations, lights and shades and a geat love for it all invite retreatants to express themselves freely and joyfully, while "praying with art". To my amazement, pictures from Sieger Köder are well received.


Why is it, that retreats are "booming" and retreat centres full to capacity? The "spark of ignition" has been a BBC 2 programme, about a year ago. The recipe: take a Benedictine abbot and 5 people "like you and I", who search for a deeper meaning of life.
The abbot's creed was simple: silence is the way to the soul. And the soul is the way to God.

Could it be possible, that 5 ordinary people succeed in comitting themselves to half an hour of silence, every day? Amidst all the hullabaloo of work, family and the noises of modern life?


The abbot wanted to train them. A weekend in his monastery, Worth Abbey, was to be the cutain raiser.
Monks, who live in great periods of silence and contemplation. Back "in the world", our 5 heroes failed to find the necessary space and time for silence. Then they all went to St. Beuno's Retreat Centre, for an individually guided retreat.

The ups and downs were recorded by the BBC camera team. This very gripping story of a spiritual search by 5 people was broadcast as "The Big Silence", a series of 3 one hour episodes. It was to be a great success.


Suddenly, many felt a spiritual thirst for "more", were interested to have a silent half an hour, daily. Requests to retreat houses increased and they have not ceased, since. May God bless this increased spiritual search for silence, meaning and the hunger for a more fulfilled life.

P. Wolf Z. Schmidt S. J.