Sr Pauline Campbell reports on the annual conference of Spiritual Directors Europe (SD-E) which was held in Ireland in March 2014.
History of Spiritual Directors Europe
This organisation seeks to encourage the ministry of spiritual direction throughout Europe, since many of the participants work mostly alone and in isolation. We have much to learn from each other, both from the richness represented by our different traditions, various church denominations, diverse cultures and from our collective discernment of what the Spirit of God is saying to us today. SD-E is committed to holding its annual gathering in different countries around Europe to enable attendance where appropriate. As some of these countries are quite poor and are unable to support people in the ministry of spiritual direction, the executive committee provides bursaries for those who need some help financially. All Ireland Spiritual Guidance Association (AISGA) were asked to host the event and they decided that the venue most suitable was Emmaus Retreat Centre with its proximity to the airport. Team leaders from both male and female religious orders donated €10,000 towards the bursaries. This ecumenical, international character of the organisation makes it enriching for all.
The planning for the conference began in August 2013 with monthly meetings and much research and work to do. Ireland is rich in culture and history. As we looked at our country’s deep spirituality, we felt that it would be the catalyst to transport us back to the ancient Celtic times of our faith. The theme for the conference that evolved over the months was: Windows on the Celtic Soul. The generosity of the team participants was a great experience for us all. We really desired that we would be able to share with our participants from Europe the Anam Cara, which is deeply embedded in the Irish soul.
The opening day for the conference was the 12th March. At the Opening Ritual we had ‘The Deer’s Cry’ on Video, followed by each country bringing a symbol and an introduction of themselves. We had the recitation of the Prayer of ‘Journey for the Traveller’ by John O Donohue and we ended the evening with a Celtic Night Blessing by Carmina Galetica.
We began the next day with Morning Prayer and Enya’s haunting music ‘The Pilgrim’. John Bennett MSC, who works as a psychotherapist, supervisor and spiritual accompanier, commenced the day with his presentation called ‘Going Deeper’:
This was followed by David Kelly OSA with a presentation of the High Crosses of Ireland and their significance which dates back to the 8th and 9th centuries. The High Crosses serve as markers of what would have been considered the ‘sacred space’ of the monastic settlements to which they belonged. The richness of our Celtic roots touched us as we listened to David explaining the outline of the crosses.
Dr. Bernadette Flanagan PBVM then spoke. Her presentation was on Moninne/Darerca and the Irish women saints who were Spiritual Innovators and are Guides for today. Moninne enjoyed the capacity to be spiritually innovative. She was known as “doctissima abbatissa”. When she recognized a natural gift of spiritual wisdom among those who participated in her movement she encouraged and supported their educational development.
Dr. Una Agnew SSL gave a presentation on Irish Literature and Spirituality. Early Irish lyrics tended to be monastic in tone and theme since it was the monks who were most likely to engage in writing. The most dominant theme in native Irish spirituality is the manner in which nature is redolent with God’s presence and the person inseparable from nature – for example, Joseph Mary Plunkett’s “I see his blood upon the rose/and in the stars the glory of his eyes, his body gleams amid eternal snows, his tears fall from the skies”.
On Friday we began our day in silence with silent Morning Prayer and silent breakfast as it was to be our retreat day. This quiet day or retreat day is most important in the conference for people to reflect or pray over the previous day’s input. Three optional pilgrimages were available:
The first was to the ancient Monastic site of Glendalough, where we were greeted by Fr Michael Rodgers. He took us on a pilgrimage tour of the Gatehouse, the Cathedral, St. Kevin’s kitchen with its corballed stone roof and one of the tallest and best preserved round towers in Ireland. He brought us to the lower lake, known as ‘Loch an Peist’ or the ‘Lake of the Monster’. In the afternoon he brought us to the upper lake where he pointed out ‘St. Kevin’s Bed’. This cave was used by St. Kevin and possibly by St. Laurence O’Toole as a hermit’s cave.
The second option was to see the Book of Kells, Chester Beatty Library and the Carmelite Church in Clarendon Street under the leadership of Brother Denis Gleeson.
The third option was the Emmaus Pilgrimage in the quiet of the retreat house with a packed lunch and a copy of Velasquez picture ‘Emmaus Supper’ (Mulata). This beautiful art painting was in the folder with a meditation.
Saturday 15 March was open to members of the AISGA and about fifty attended. Our guest speaker was Dr. Ruth Patterson, who spoke on Restoration Ministry in Ireland. This Ministry came into being during the most prolonged conflict in Ireland to try to address the anguish of loss – loss of faith, trust, hope and of life itself.
We then had the opportunity to attend two workshops and ended the day with a festive Eucharist in the Lutheran Tradition.
Afterwards we had a lively social with Irish ceili dancing. Each guest had been asked to bring some traditional delicacy from their country and friendships were renewed or formed. It was a most enjoyable evening.
We began Sunday 16 March with Morning Prayer. The AGM had many decisions to make, one of them being the venue for the next annual conference. It was decided to hold it in Slovenia March 4 – 9, 2015. Afterwards we had the experience of Triads in Spiritual Direction with people from European countries, where we listened and rotated to one another as a director, observer and directee.
The closing Liturgy that evening was the Mass for the Feast of St. Patrick celebrated by Fr. David Kelly OSA. The First Reading was from the Confessions of St. Patrick:
‘I am Patrick, a sinner the most rustic and least of all the faithful, the most contemptible in the eyes of a great many people.’
The homily outlined St. Patrick’s Trinitarian and missionary contribution to Europe. We had spent a lot of time in planning the readings, music and the symbol that we give to those who will be the hosts for the next conference. We had two Jesuits from Slovenia and our gift to them was an Irish bog oak High Cross. That evening we had a marvelous party with Irish music and Irish dancing and a harpist who gave a lovely rendering of our Irish songs. Next morning we said our good byes, grateful for the generosity of the Irish Team and the Irish Congregations who had contributed so generously to the bursaries. We felt that we had planted some seeds of Celtic Spirituality and had made many new friends in Europe.