On September 12-17 Franciscan Conventual Friars from the Middle East gathered at a mountain retreat center above Beirut, Lebanon, for their annual spiritual exercises. The Gospel, our supreme rule of life, was the theme of the week’s reflections, delivered by Father Antonio Visentin of the Order of Preachers. The Dominican Italian friar, based in Istanbul, led the Franciscan brotherhood in meditations on Gospel readings, also drawing from the writings and lives of numerous Catholic saints and theologians, including Catherine of Siena, Dominic, Francis of Assisi, and Meister Eckhart.
The simple but comfortable retreat center of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Apostles, situated outside of the mountain village of Shahwan, provided the Conventual Friars of the Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land with a peaceful setting for the exercises. The international group of 13 brothers, who hail from Romania, Poland, Italy, the US, Nigeria, Slovenia and Lebanon, and who work in diverse locations across Turkey and Lebanon, took advantage of the opportunity, not only to pray individually, but also to spend time fellowshipping together. Moments of silence and personal meditation were complemented with community prayer of the entire office, daily mass, and the rosary and adoration in the evenings. Silence was lifted during meals, which became the occasion for catching up with brothers from other communities.
For the friars, the week also held a special, two-fold motive for both joy and increased prayer of intercession. The Middle East Custody’s two Lebanese novices would take their simple vows in Zahle, Lebanon, on September 17, immediately following the retreat. The next day, Sunday, September 18, the Custody’s Lebanese seminarian would make his profession of solemn vows at the Order’s Parish of Saint Anthony of Padua in Beirut.