“The Spiritual Exercises are a way of thinking, a way of living, a way of making decisions, a way of relating, and a framework for spiritual experience,” says Christian Grondin, outgoing director of the Centre de Spiritualité Manrèse (CSM), who will be replaced by Father Marc Rizzetto, SJ. These practices are “all the more important because, as a result of the pandemic, radical questions are being asked about the fundamental values of humanity.”
The Centre Manrèse was founded in 1976 by Father Gilles Cusson, SJ, and a team of Jesuits who were soon joined by other religious and lay people. It is internationally recognized as a laboratory that continually reimagines the group experience of the Spiritual Exercises in daily life. “We see ourselves as a school of spiritual experience and formation in spiritual accompaniment. The word ‘school’ serves to highlight the process of formation in humanity that the Ignatian Exercises represent,” explains Christian.
What is lived at the centre has a powerful impact on people’s lives. This was certainly true for Charlotte Plante (a volunteer engaged in accompaniment and formation at the CSM), Célestin Ongono (a Cameroonian priest of the Society of the Missionaries of the Holy Apostles), Martine Sarasin (a pastor in the Swiss Reformed Church), and Constance Aubry (a dance student). The first sign of the centre’s influence is that all four came to Manrèse at the suggestion of a friend, relative, or colleague who had already done the Exercises or a retreat!
Like the history of the Jesuits, the history of the Centre de spiritualité Manrèse is one of constant adaptation to the changing reality of the spiritual needs of local men and women. In order to renew its mission, the CSM is undergoing a major shift that will take into account current concerns, such as the sense of urgency about the environment and the dangers that threaten our “common home”; the search for collective and individual identity in a “globalized” world; and the thirst for unity and peace in a deeply divided world. To carry out this vision, Centre Manrèse has begun a fundraising campaign. The centre will be moving into a new space in July, the “common home” of the Jesuit mission in Quebec City, on Dauphine Street.
The fundraising campaign “Animer notre maison commune”will allow the Centre de spiritualité Manrèse to pursue its mission and reach a wider audience. You can contribute by sharing it or by participating in it.
A common home for all
Who can benefit from the Centre Manrèse? Everyone! The majority of people who do the Exercises or participate in formation programs to become facilitators are lay people. And not all of them identify as Christians, or even as believers, says Christian: “Many people are on a spiritual journey, but they have reservations about religious institutions. Here, we don’t hide our Christian identity, but people feel at ease because we don’t put pressure on anyone to change.” Retreats such as those centred on Zen, for example, allow people to discover that Christian spirituality is not alien to other forms of spiritual practice. Activities such as pilgrimage or artistic creation also bear witness to this.
“Places like this are necessary, and we need them now more than ever,” says Constance Aubry, who encourages young people in particular to come to the centre. “Even an atheist can take advantage of the Spiritual Exercises to grow in interior freedom,” adds Father Célestin.
Martine Sarasin shows the breadth of this welcome in a humorous way: “Before registering for the formation program in spiritual accompaniment, I met the director and listed all my flaws: first of all, I’m Protestant; second, I’m divorced; etc. I asked him if it would be possible to accept someone like me. I was welcomed with open arms at this first encounter, and the spirit of openness continued well after that, as I was always free to be myself and speak my mind! There is a genuine spirit of welcome, a way of listening to the other that is quite exceptional.”
One of the reasons for this openness is that the Spiritual Exercises are universally adaptable. As Father Célestin explains: “The core of the Exercises was written while Ignatius of Loyola was still a layman! Yes, the Exercises are tinged with a certain historical hue, but they are transcultural and trans-institutional. They span the ages and are a legacy for all humanity, not just for Jesuits.”
“As a Protestant,” Martine adds, “I felt completely at home with the Exercises, because what is at the centre is Scripture, and Christ.”
A person-centered approach
“To speak about the Centre Manrèse and my spiritual experience is also to try to say something about this unmediated, divine presence in the heart of every human being.” – Charlotte Plante
All who were interviewed shared that they were touched by the fact that the human person is always at the centre of every process or approach at the CSM. As Christian explains, “Spiritual accompaniment in the Exercises allows people to step back and take some distance in order to review or reread their lives. Something happens when they do this: people see themselves differently, as human beings on a journey.” This person-centered approach also allows people to open up to the rest of the world. “We are able to hear another type of message—one that heals us, lifts us up, makes us more human, and encourages us to contribute to building a more just and mutually supportive society,” continues the director.
Father Célestin left his native Cameroon to come to the CSM in order to get to know himself better, with a view toward healing and freedom that would enable him to better carry out his work as a novice leader and spiritual director. “Learning to really experience and savour things, becoming more sensitive to the spiritual and human reality allows one to better love and serve,” he explains.
Constance had a desire to rekindle the spark of her spiritual passion after an intense period of studies for a college diploma (DEC) in dance and a pilgrimage on the Way of St. James (Camino de Santiago). She thought of the CSM because she wanted to share with a group the Love that she had felt.
“It was important for me to have an approach that could go beyond the strict framework of the Church and where the body and the emotions would be taken into account. In the Exercises of Saint Ignatius and with the people at the CSM, we start from who we are, in other words, from our own embodiment. For me, there is no other way to connect with the Spirit and with Love.”
For Martine, too, the human aspect was at the centre of her experience. She explains that the Centre Manrèse offers a preparatory stage before one begins the Exercises, that is to say, a rereading of one’s own history: “I went through this whole stage of becoming rooted in my humanity without understanding anything. I was reviewing my history, but after a while, I said to the person accompanying me, ‘But when are we going to talk about God?’ And afterwards, while doing the Exercises, I understood the value of this preparatory process to enter into an experience of God with all that we are, all our history. In the course of the Exercises, all this is taken up again, deepened, evangelized. It was a turning point in my life.”
Savouring the fruits of the Centre Manrèse
The experience of the Spiritual Exercises and the formation sessions continue to nourish the participants for a long time. Constance’s mother has been meeting for twenty years with members of the CSM group with whom she did the Exercises in daily life. They continue to share their experiences. Constance herself felt a change right from the beginning of her journey:
“I was very touched by the attentiveness, the accompaniment. Right away, we began a dialogue with Jesus, with the Spirit, which immediately changed my daily life. I wanted this to become part of my life—to live alongside this love, to nourish it every day.”
After this first experience, she was invited to lead, with an accompanier, workshops called La Parole en mouvement (The Word in Motion), where participants read and then dance a story from the Bible. “It was really wonderful.”
Since his return to Cameroon, Father Célestin continues to be amazed each day by the fruits of his formation that nourish his accompaniment of others: “Although I am a novice master, it brings me much joy to realize that the one who accompanies others is neither a master nor a guide, but simply a privileged witness to the action of God in each of His creatures. This is a beautiful and noble mission that leads me to a deep sense of humility and gratitude!”
Charlotte poetically writes that the name Manrèse “resonates within me like the pure, distant, and joyful echo of an unassuming bell that begins to ring when I incline my ear to listen. A quote of unknown origin springs to mind here, as I express the essence of my Manrèse experience: ‘I drink from a previously untapped source that reveals to me a thirst of which I was unaware.’ A word is addressed to me on the banks of the Jordan, a word that goes beyond my limitations and calls for an embodied response from the ground of my being. How to live? How to see life and the world around me through the eyes of God?” Beholding these fruits in her accompaniment and formation activities has brought Charlotte and others great joy.
Finally, the goal of the Centre de Spiritualité Manrèse, rooted in Ignatian spirituality, is to help the world live as humanly as possible. In the words of Father Célestin: “It’s a little house that works miracles, that changes lives.”
The mission of Centre Manrèse is guided by the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, adapted for lay people who desire to make an important decision, to choose or modify their way of life, or to deepen their relationship with their Creator. After five hundred years, the interpretation of the Exercises has evolved, but they still have a spiritual and psychological depth that makes them relevant to people of various faiths or of no religious affiliation at all. The Exercises are a treasure to help the people of today, overwhelmed by stress and in search of guidance, to move toward inner growth. More than ever, the Spiritual Exercises are addressed to the entire people of God, beyond cultural and religious boundaries.
• Formation in spiritual direction (all three cycles): ~60 people per year
• The Spiritual Exercises in everyday life or the 30-day
retreat: ~40 participants per year
• Workshops (Zen meditation, creative journaling, etc.):
~70 people per year
• Individual spiritual accompaniment: ~30 people per year